A new study of the US presidency, focusing initially on the stewardship of Barack Obama, will be the topic of research for Professor Haig Patapan as part of a 2014 Fulbright Senior Scholarship.

The Director of Griffith University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy will formally receive the prestigious fellowship from the Australian-American Fulbright Commission at a presentation dinner at Brisbane City Hall tonight (March 6).

BookwebA dedicated period of research will start in the United States in December, continuing until February 2015. It will build on his body of work around democratic leaders and democracies.

“I will examine how such a visionary role defines the nature of the institution of the presidency, and in turn shapes the character of democratic politics in America,” Professor Patapan said.

“This research will be especially important for Australia because it will provide a useful contrast to the office of the Prime Minister. It will address current debates that suggest Australian politics is becoming presidentialised and inform the continuing republican debate in Australia.”

Professor Patapan’s most recent research at Griffith University has brought new attention to the unique opportunities and onerous demands imposed on leaders in democracies. He is the co-author of The Democratic Leader.

“I intend to explore in greater depths the moral dimension of democratic leadership, including the extent to which the office of the presidency has a larger moral or visionary dimension.

“Obama had a direct moral appeal in his first election campaign with his themes of hope, change and transformation. My research will examine his emphasis on this moral dimension and his ambition to do politics in a different way, especially in his appeal to young people.

“He was initially seen as a moral leader but he had great difficulties in fulfilling expectations. His failure around health care reform cost him a lot of moral capital, and he has had to address international concerns and make tough decisions about Egypt, Syria and Guantanamo Bay.

“It has been a very complicated engagement and this can be seen in some ways as an explanation for the rise and fall in his popularity. His presidency offers a suitable first case study, a perfect platform for a more general examination of the US presidency.”

Thirty-one Australians will travel to the United States on a 2014 Fulbright Scholarship, including three Griffith University researchers. Scholars will complete research across a range of fields, including science, technology, the arts, education and public policy, joining a community of nearly 5000 alumni.

The international Fulbright Program was established in 1946 as an initiative to build lasting world peace through cultural and educational exchange.

“It is a great honour and a wonderful opportunity to meet fascinating people while pursuing new research at some of the world’s foremost centres of scholarship,” Professor Patapan said.

“It is also an important opportunity to establish and secure long-term links between Griffith’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy and leading education institutes in the US. I will take an active part in the life of the university community and present papers at institutes around the US.”