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Images of the executive: Michael Dukakis and the progressive legacy

James W Cundy, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In America, the elected chief executive faces pressures, arising from roles the officeholder must play, that can potentially push in different directions. He must simultaneously be both a political figure who responds to and makes demands of other members of the polity, and an administrative chief who sees that the law is executed in a satisfactory manner. The executive challenge is to reconcile these possibly competing pressures successfully toward the end of providing leadership. Leadership, in this thesis, is the maintenance of a successful electoral coalition based on a stable, coherent program of governance, which is implemented once the candidate is in office. Because politicians and thinkers have conceived of politics and administration differently at different times, American politics has produced three broad conceptions of the executive: the constitutional executive, the partisan administrator, and the popular manager. Each conception of the executive also is a reflection of a broader political culture that an officeholder is able to emphasize. Each of these conceptions has appeared at both the national and state levels. This thesis examines the executive challenge using as a case study the development of the Massachusetts governorship from colonial and Revolutionary times through the present day. It then focuses on the political experiences of Michael Dukakis as an in depth examination of each conception of the executive. The position taken here is that the governors who were most successful at providing leadership were those who were attentive to competing political cultures and who sought to lead a discussion including all members of the community. Executives are most effective at exercising leadership when the officeholder remembers the legitimacy of other constitutional institutions; when the chief executive remembers that carrying out the law is a political activity; and when the president or the governor presents a vision while also allowing sufficient opportunity for discussion within and about that vision.

Subject Area

Political science|American history

Recommended Citation

Cundy, James W, "Images of the executive: Michael Dukakis and the progressive legacy" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950147.