This post started out as an exercise in improvisation: “Improvise a speech supporting or refuting the statement that each of our past Presidents has something to teach us.” I limited myself to the ones that people I knew remembered…
Woodrow Wilson: Though not allowed to vote, a woman can function as President. (At least if she’s Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, who, even in Virginia’s Fightin’ Ninth District, was a woman you didn’t meet every day.)
Warren G. Harding: (It is hard to find good things to say about President Harding, but he did leave a generous bequest to a church college.) You don’t have to remain a member of a church to be loyal to the people whose fellowship you have abandoned.
Calvin Coolidge: Quiet is good.
Herbert Hoover: A person who genuinely rises above the love of money may be hated more than a corrupt sell-out like Warren G. Harding. (My grandfather was a great fan of President Hoover.)
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Polio survivors can be strong and tough.
Harry Truman: Any U.S. citizen can be President.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Hating the Third Reich has nothing to do with hating German people.
John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you but…” Or, if the Old Left’s most beloved icon of the twentieth century were around in this century, he’d be mistaken for a Right-Wing Wacko Bird. (Though he could disprove the accusation.)
Lyndon B. Johnson: It’s possible to die from guilt, if you have been the worst President of the century.
Richard Nixon: It’s possible to live with the guilt if you were only the third worst President of the century. (Nobody liked President Nixon much, but at the time the EPA was a big improvement over what we’d had before–nothing–and the food stamps program was an even bigger improvement over what we’d had before–donations of incredibly bad food to poor people.)
Gerald Ford: A nice guy can be President if he’s tall, decent-looking, and extremely rich.
Jimmy Carter: The President of the United States can walk on his own two feet, in public, no matter how the guards carry on. (Carter may not be remembered among our best Presidents, but he’s been a world-class public relations man for a world-class charity.)
Ronald Reagan: An aging actor who’s never had a good part before can be a great President if that happens to be the type he plays best.
George H.W. Bush: American body-type prejudice is truly ridiculous. (Although he was taller, stronger, and more dangerous than President Reagan, fair hair and a tenor voice caused him to be tagged as a “wimp.”)
Bill Clinton: An easy way to distract attention from ordinary bad ideas is to blame each bad idea on a subordinate employee. An easy way to distract attention from disastrously bad ideas is to get caught in a stupid lie about whether you got someone else’s clothes dirty. An easy way to be fondly remembered afterward is to claim the credit for subordinate employees’ good ideas.
George W. Bush: If your father has started a blood feud, and you get yourself elected to public office and get thousands of your constituents killed in an act of war aimed directly at you, it is possible to look wholesome enough on TV that many Americans will forgive you for it.
Barack Obama: A President who has really learned from all the foregoing examples, especially that of W Bush, can sponsor some of the world’s worst ideas and still be reelected…at least, by virtual ballots.
Image of past Presidents, looking worried, by Sgarton at www.morguefile.com/archive/display/937429 .