David M. Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History Emeritus at Stanford University, award winning teaching and author of more than a dozen, including Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history, spoke to a packed audience on October 22nd, 2019. Kennedy used the outcome of the 2016 American presidential election, which surprised many observers, to reflect on both its historical and current determinants. Professor Kennedy explored some of the deep structural features that have long characterized the American political system, as well as the social, economic, technological, and cultural issues that are shaping American politics today.
Professor Kennedy spoke about the process of “disintermediation,” where different branches of government lose part of their role in the policymaking process. He used this concept to analyze the long-standing struggle between congress and the president that continues today. Particularly insightful for current day understanding is how presidents increasingly succeeded in using the public to go around congress in pursuing their policy interests. Franklin D. Roosevelt redefined the president’s relationship with the public with his famous “fireside chats,” making use of the radio, reaching beyond Woodrow Wilson who had to rely on printed newspapers. John F. Kennedy took this even further via televised news conferences. The internet and social media have taken disintermediation to the extreme.