Choosing Presidents

Symbols of Political Leadership


In Choosing Presidents, Novak uses the election of an American president as a means to dissect the symbols of our national life and politics, exposing many as distorted perceptions of American realities. This work is a guide to the complexities of electoral politics and a lasting contribution to our understanding of the presidency.

Originally Published: 1974


“Novak sees politicians—from McGovern to Wallace—as real people, and understands the perplexity of the world in which they operate. He puts his finger on their central dilemma: the conflicts between personal morality and the sometimes messy realities of politics. He sheds light on this gray area in a most helpful way.”

John D. Rockefeller IV, President
West Virginia Wesleyan College

“…a superbly useful book. It kept me up until three this morning and was worth all the mild misery of the day that has followed.”

Daniel P. Moynihan
U.S. Ambassador to India

“To think freshly about the Presidency, to break the easy, well-worn patterns of Liberal and Conservative thinking, to understand the mind of the American people—this is no mean achievement, but Novak, has done it in this book.”

Max Lerner
New York Post

“Brilliant and exasperating–profound in its view of American symbols and American character, penetrating in its thesis of the president’s symbolic priestly role…. It should be read.”

Anthony Lewis
New York Times

“An intelligent and generous political morality…picks up Reinhold Niebuhr’s attack on liberal moralism…puts America’s civil religion in a new perspective…”

David Tracy
University of Chicago, The Divinity School

“Novak’s genius lies in exciting our imaginations to pursue the subtle paths behind events… an advance beyond Niebuhr in relating morality to politics, especially in the section on dirty hands… incisive… timely… the most astute writing of Mr. Novak’s to date.”

David Burrell
Notre Dame University

“A rich, sensitive and extremely rewarding essay and one of the most stimulating treatments of the presidency that I have read in several years.”

Thomas E. Cronin, Editor
The Presidency Reappraised