Institute of the Americas
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Seminar: 'The Changing Presidential Politics of Disaster: from Calvin Coolidge to Barack Obama'

Disasters have played an important role in the growth of the federal government in general and presidential power in particular over the course of the twentieth century and beyond.  This presentation portrays the changing presidential response to disaster from Calvin Coolidge and the Louisiana floods of 1927 (satirized in the Randy Newman song), through New Deal disaster relief, on to George W. Bush and both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and finally to Barack Obama and Hurricane Sandy. It examines why and how disasters provide opportunity for presidential crisis management, public displays of empathy with victims, and enhancement of the president's role as national leader.

About the speaker

Gareth Davies is fellow and tutor at St Anne's College, Oxford.  He is a specialist in twentieth century American political history, particularly institutional change in American government since the 1960s.  He is the author of  From Opportunity to Entitlement: The Transformation and Decline of Great Society Liberalism, winner of the Organization of American History's Ellis Hawley book prize for public policy history, and See Government Grow: Educational Poliitcs from Johnson to Reagan, winner of the American Politics Groups Richard Neustadt prize.  He is also coeditor of Ronald Reagan and the 1980s: Policies, Perceptions, Legacies and his articles have appeared in numerous journals, including the Journal of American History, the Journal of Policy History and the Journal of American Studies. He is presently working on a book examining federal government response to disasters from the nineteenth century to the present.