Andrew Polsky

Position: Professor
Campus Affiliation: Hunter College
Degrees/Diplomas: Ph.D Princeton University
Research Interests: American politics, government and American political development

Prof. Polsky is the author of The Rise of the Therapeutic State (Princeton University Press, 1991). Recent publications include: “Seeing Your Name in Print:  Unpacking the Mysteries of the Review Process at Political Science Scholarly Journals,” PS:  Political Science and Politics 40 (3) (July 2007):  539-43; “The Presidency at War,” in Michael Nelson, ed., The Presidency and the Political System, 8th ed. (Washington, DC:  CQ Press, 2006), pp. 557-75; “No Tool is Perfect:  Periodization in the Study of American Political Development,” Polity 37 (4) (October 2005); (co-authored with Daniel M. Cook) “Political Time Reconsidered:  Unbuilding and Rebuilding the State under the Reagan Administration,” American Politics Research 33 (4) (July 2005):  577-605; “The Political Economy of Partisan Regimes:  Lessons from Two Republican Eras,” Polity 35 (4) (July 2003); “‘Mr Lincoln’s Army’ Revisited: Partisanship, Institutional Position, and Union Army Command, 1861-1865,” Studies in American Political Development 16 (2) (Fall 2002); (co-authored with Olesya Tkacheva) “Legacies versus Politics: Herbert Hoover, Partisan Conflict, and the Symbolic Appeal of Associationalism in the 1920s,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 16 (2) (Winter 2002); “When Business Speaks: Political Entrepreneurship, Discourse, and Mobilization in American Partisan Regimes,” Journal of Theoretical Politics 12 (October 2000); and “The New ‘Dismal Science’? The Lessons of American Political Development for Politics Today,” Polity 32 (Spring 2000). He served as the program co-chair for the Politics and History section of the American Political Science Association at the 1999 APSA Annual Meeting.  In July 2005 Professor Polsky became the editor of Polity, the journal of the Northeastern Political Science Association.  The transcript of his talk on preparing for an academic career can be found here.


Andrew Polsky, Rise of the Therapeutic State (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991).

Assuming that “marginal” citizens cannot govern their own lives, proponents of the therapeutic state urge casework intervention to reshape the attitudes and behaviors of those who live outside the social mainstream. Thus the victims of poverty, delinquency, family violence, and other problems are to be “normalized.” But “normalize,” to Andrew Polsky, is a term that “jars the ear, as well it should when we consider what this effort is all about.” Here he investigates the broad network of public agencies that adopt the casework approach.

polsky elusive victoriesAndrew Polsky, Elusive Victories: The American Presidency at War (Oxford University Press, 2012).

On April 4, 1864, Abraham Lincoln made a shocking admission about his presidency during the Civil War. “I claim not to have controlled events,” he wrote in a letter, “but confess plainly that events have controlled me.” Lincoln’s words carry an invaluable lesson for wartime presidents, writes Andrew J. Polsky in this seminal book. As Polsky shows, when commanders-in-chief do try to control wartime events, more often than not they fail utterly.

In Elusive Victories, Polsky provides a fascinating study of six wartime presidents, drawing larger lessons about the limits of the power of the White House during armed conflict. He examines, in turn, Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, showing how each gravely overestimated his power as commander-in-chief. In each case, these presidents’ resources did not match the key challenges that recur from war to war. Both Lincoln and Johnson intervened in military operations, giving orders to specific units; yet both struggled with the rising unpopularity of their conflicts. Both Wilson and Bush entered hostilities with idealistic agendas for the aftermath, yet found themselves helpless to enact them. With insight and clarity, Polsky identifies overarching issues that will inform current and future policymakers. The single most important dynamic, he writes, is the erosion of a president’s freedom of action. Each decision propels him down a path from which he cannot turn back. When George W. Bush rejected the idea of invading Iraq with 400,000 troops, he could not send such a force two years later as the insurgency spread. In the final chapter, Polsky examines Barack Obama’s options in light of these conclusions, and considers how the experiences of the past might inform the world we face now.

Elusive Victories is the first book to provide a comprehensive account of presidential leadership during wartime, highlighting the key dangers that presidents have ignored at their peril.

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