When I was a kid I read a lot of books about Presidents. I know why I spent so many hours reading about Presidents: it was because I thought I was brushing up against greatness. I now know that being President does not make someone great. Greatness, in fact is rarely determined by the jobs we hold. Character, for example, is a much better indicator of greatness than employment.
The thing about the Presidents of the United States, of course, is that so much of what we’re told about them is pure hogwash. The story goes that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree, was confronted about it by his father, and admitted to the deed with the words, “I cannot tell a lie.” But George never did such a thing. He surely lied too, somewhere along the way.
That’s a nifty little tale designed to make American school children believe that George Washington was so pure he couldn’t tell his Papa a fib. Innocent enough, but unfortunately the history books tell so many whoppers that are too often swallowed as the truth. Thomas Jefferson was a visionary leader dedicated to the rights of all free men, for example. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Theodore Roosevelt was a great reformer. Balderdash! All of it.
It works the other way too. Some Presidents are unfairly castigated. Herbert Hoover was a detached buffoon who helped usher in the Great Depression. Richard Nixon was a complete failure. These are nifty bumper sticker-like descriptions, but not completely accurate. Oh yes, and FDR – Teddy’s cousin – didn’t end the Great Depression with his wonderful alphabet soup of social programs. The Second World War did it for him.
So, the reader will forgive me if I don’t get too excited about recent and current Presidents of these United States of America. It’s common for Democrats and Republicans to trumpet the feats of their respective Presidents while trashing those of the other party. Next time you find yourself in a room full of Democrats bring up the name of George W. Bush. Let me know how that works out. Or ask your Republican friends about the eight “dark” years under Bill Clinton.
I lived through those fellas, and Bush I, Reagan, Carter, etc. I have to say things seemed pretty much the same regardless of who was sleeping in the White House. There have been wars, tax increases, tax cuts, scandals, terrorist plots, public demonstrations, recessions, inflation, and so on under each of them. In the end we’re pretty much on the same course no matter which privileged middle-aged white guy we elect. (Sorry, Obama, and you too)
Next fall, Barack Obama will run for re-election. Why anyone would want to be President two times is beyond me. Maybe it’s the comfortable accommodations. Obama will either be a “two-termer” or he’ll be shown the door. Whichever it is, we’ll all keep doing the same things we’ve always done: cheering for our candidate and lambasting the other one. It’s all so predictable, and unlike when I was nine years old, it’s not worth reading about.