A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
THE RIGHT TO LIKE IKE – OR NOT
I liked Ike. I really did.
Granted, I was only 5 when President Dwight Eisenhower left office, so I didn’t have a lot of experience in matters political or ideological. I just liked how he looked. He reminded me of my Grandpa Arrowsmith – old and bald. And since Grandpa Arrowsmith was one of my favorite people in the whole world at the time (especially after he made that slingshot for me), anyone who looked like him was OK in my book.
So I liked Ike.
I also liked the guy who replaced Ike, President John F. Kennedy. In fact, it was during the Kennedy Administration that I began to become a little more astute politically. I came to understand that you are supposed to appreciate a president for something more substantive than how he looks or who he looks like. President Kennedy, for example, didn’t look a thing like anyone I knew. But he did have a really cute daughter about my age. I liked that.
President Lyndon Johnson didn’t have any daughters my age, but he did have a really cool Texas twang. I liked that. However, I was also aware that there were many who didn’t like President Johnson. This was sort of a revelation to me. I thought you were supposed to like the president because . . . well, because he was the president. The idea that you could publicly dislike the president and disagree with his policies was appealing in a late-1960s, don’t-trust-anyone-over-30 kind of way. So I eventually chose not to like President Johnson, if only because I could.
The same was true of President Richard Nixon. No matter how much good stuff he did – and you don’t have to search the historical record very far to find significant good stuff accomplished during President Nixon’s administration – the bad stuff is what is remembered.
And that’s not just true of Nixon. Gerald Ford tripped and stumbled. Jimmy Carter was naive. Ronald Reagan was an actor. George Bush was yoked to Dan Quayle. Bill Clinton had character flaws. George W. Bush is . . . well, the jury is still out on our newest president. But give us time. We’ll find something to pick at. And to remember.
I was having this conversation with a colleague at work the other day, and expressed a longing for the good old days of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, when presidents were heroes to be admired and not just comedic fodder for late-night talk show hosts.
"What are you talking about?" asked my friend, who is something of a history buff. "Washington had a difficult time marshaling support for the Continental Army, and had an even tougher time generating much enthusiasm for his administration. And Abraham Lincoln was never what you’d call a popular president. Even people in his own party belittled him publicly."
So I guess it’s always been this way. All of our presidents, from Washington to Bush, have been elected for their strengths and despite their flaws. Each one has been praised and vilified, honored and castigated – some deservedly so, some not. And perhaps that’s what we really celebrated this President’s Day. We’re not celebrating larger-than-life heroes who were universally loved and appreciated. Instead, we’re celebrating the fact that we live in a country where, for nearly 230 years, we have had the right to choose our leaders.
And then to choose whether or not we’re going to like them.
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--- © Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book,"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.