Happy President’s Day ya’ll! This is the day we celebrate the leadership (or lack thereof) that has been so instrumental in making us the nation we are today. In order to celebrate, I thought I’d list my six favorite Presidents, my personal (not always logical) reasons why they are my favorites, and some random thoughts on the kind of President we need today.
Sixth is John F. Kennedy. He has slid some in my estimation as I’ve grown older, but honestly, not much. As a twelve year old I might have listed him fourth or fifth, but then, all I really knew was he had made great speeches, faced down the Soviets, and challenged America to go to the Moon. The geek in me will always love him, if only for the Lunar Landing Challenge.
Fifth (and I have liberal friends who will hate me for this) is Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan was the president through most my teenage years, from the time I was nine, till I was seventeen. I remember well the deep malaise of the seventies, and Reagan was the voice of hope. Democrats likely see it differently, and that is ok, I know he made some pretty profound mistakes. But his eloquence (whether he wrote his own speeches, or just had the best speech writer since Kennedy, the man could produce a speech like nobody else in my life time) stirred us, made us proud to be Americans again when we had learned from Vietnam to be ashamed. He stayed strong to his principles, yet he called the Democrats “our friends across the aisle.” And without irony, he meant it. He knew that the average Democrat loved America too, they just had a different perspective. He wasn’t into the demonizing and villainizing that have become the name of the game today. And I can never forget his speech to Gorbachev, “tear down this wall.” I never thought I’d outlive the Cold War. I fully expected to spend my last days on Earth coughing out my last breast in agony from a nuclear war. But I think few will argue that at least a part of the Cold War ending was Reagan’s strength of character, and his willingness to stick to his principles, even in the face of sometimes harsh criticism.
Number four was a hard choice for me, but I decided on Teddy Roosevelt.
Likely this will seem (hell, maybe it actually is) a logical contradiction of my basic belief that ceteris paribus, government intervention is usually at best bungling, at worst tyrannical. But while I’m largely a capitalist, I am no laissez–faire capitalist. I don’t trust humanity enough to believe that most of us are willing to put the well being of all the other people over our own greed. Some government regulation is necessary. The crux of the argument is, how much is necessary, and have we over reached that necessity?
The three reasons I place him so highly in my esteem, first, he led us into becoming a world power. Before him the talk was always “some day in the future, when America is a great power.” During his presidency we entered the present tense. We still weren’t “the” superpower, but we had become “a” superpower. His presidency gave credibility to the progressive movement, which arguably has gone to far today, but at the time was badly needed to improve the lives of average citizens. He was not afraid to stand up to big business on our behalf. My great grandfather’s brother died of botulism from badly packed sardines. Had he eaten that tin ten years later under the Roosevelt administration, maybe that tragedy wouldn’t have happened. He strengthened our navy, he spearheaded the Panama Canal project, he negotiated peace between Russia and Japan, becoming the first President to win a Nobel Prize. And finally, the Teddy Bear. We wouldn’t have Winnie the Pooh if it weren’t for Teddy Roosevelt.
Two of my top three have been in the top three all of my life. When I was young, Lincoln and Washington were the hero’s of the nation. They were the confirmed models for what a President and a Man should be. While I now know as a grown man that neither man was a Saint, I still hold they were “Great Men” and the current controversies baffle and sadden me.
The three reasons I love him as a President, one he was so different from the average politician, especially in these dark days. He had a humility that you just don’t see in these times. Could you imagine Trump leading the country through the Civil War? “We’re going to send the biggest cannon, I tell you these are the most incredible cannons ever made. My stove top hat is the biggest….look, nobody in Washington has a bigger stove top hat. Those Southerners, we love them. Especially the uneducated ones. But if they try to shoot my stove top hat then we’ll send the mother of all bombs”…..I can attest from personal experience that the world hates humility, but like Christ, Socrates, and Washington, Lincoln actually found a way to be humble and make it work. Second, he did his level headed best. He started the war knowing virtually nothing about modern warfare. Carl Sandburg documents his own journalistic journey with the president. At the beginning of the war he felt the man was a hack and a clown. By the end of the war he felt like he was in the midst of a hero, and Lincoln’s assassination affected him with the same haunting sorry we usually reserve for the loss of spouses or children. The nation (even the South) felt an outpouring of grief like we had never felt before, and it wouldn’t again until the death of Kennedy. Last of all, his personal spiritual journey, especially as it pertains to the freeing of the slaves. He was always a Christian, but in his last years, faced with an entirely unique set of catastrophes no President before or since has had to face, he deepened his spirituality, seeking answers not just from military or economic might, but from an All Mighty who he felt was offended by the sins of the nation. And few national sins compared with slavery. To say that we based our beliefs on Christian charity and the dignified freedom of all was a cruel mockery in the face of slaves whipped, dehumanized, worked to death, raped, bred like animals, owned like cattle. People criticized him for not knowing that before, but let’s be fair here. How many of us spend more than a token word about the child sweat shops of Nike? How many have even written a letter to Amazon or Wal-mart to protest their inhumane treatment of workers (of which I have personal experience, so please don’t try to tell me it doesn’t happen)? Yet we want to get on to this man because it took a Civil War to awaken him? How many of us will never awaken, even though the prophets come back from the dead and tell us the truth?
What can I possibly say about Washington that has not already been said? I had an ancestor serving at Valley Forge, and while it is likely Washington wouldn’t have known the man from Adam, I can’t help but feel pride that the same blood flows in my veins that froze and suffered and struggled and fought so we could be free. Washington is known as the Father of our Country, he led as as Commander in Chief in the most difficult struggle we have yet had (with the possible exception of the Civil War). Against impossible odds, leading a rag tag army of largely untrained volunteers against the greatest superpower of the day (though I don’t doubt France and maybe even Spain might have taken some exception to the title), Washington actually won. Then he led the convention that forged our Constitution, then was elected twice as our first President, and only one that received unanimous votes from all of the Electors. He could have been King of America, but he chose instead to help forge a government based on Democratic-Republican premises of liberty. I wonder if we will ever see his like again? Or is it possible for his like to rise to the top in this corrupt, derelict age?
I know it is strange. And frankly, until I read a Biography about him a few years back by Harlow Giles Unger called The Last Founding Father, all I really knew about him was that he was the dude who originated the Monroe doctrine. But he also fought personally under George Washington in the Revolution. He is in the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware holding the flag, and in Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, he is portrayed wounded for the cause, laying in agony behind victorious Washington and other commanding officers. Monroe took a bullet to the lungs, and still recovered. Talk about tough as nails. I learned about his amazing career, in which he had the greatest variety of posts of any man that ever served as President. I learned how he was instrumental in acquiring the Louisiana Purchase, nearly doubling the size of the still young nation. He led the rescue, fire brigade, and led some of the few troops to actually fire back on the British when they burned Washington D. C. in the War of 1812. While the commander in charge at the time could not rally his troops, Monroe did rally the forces he could, one of the few government figures (he was Secretary of State) to put up any competent action. He rallied a stand that cemented his fame as a hero, and led the efforts to repair the damage and to feed the refugees. Madison ended his presidency in disgrace (this is all but forgotten now) and Monroe was elected in the second biggest landslide in Presidential history. Both terms, he was one vote shy of a unanimous election, and that only because both time an elector felt only Washington should ever have that victory. He was also the last American President, and only one of two, that ran unopposed. He spearheaded and signed national road improvement bills that would impact our growth for the next century.
So….we live in pretty dark times, and none of these folks are alive to help. We need the leadership of a Washington, a Lincoln, a Monroe, we have crises that only such people could lead us through, and I’m not so sure we even have the leadership to deal with a candy bar theft.
We need the honesty of Washington, the bravery of Monroe, the humility of Lincoln, the industriousness of Roosevelt, the communication of Reagan, the vision of Kennedy. Instead we have cowards who are full of themselves, who don’t have any vision, or know how to communicate it. Without a vision, the people perish. Welcome to the Apocolypse.
What a great list! I wouldn’t have even known to consider Monroe as one of my top 3.
I wouldn’t have until I read his biography. I wish I could find the book, it had so much information…..