Monday, August 04, 2008

A cereal box as food for thought

Honest Abe

There must be a name for people who love to read so much that they even read the backs of the cereal boxes as they eat their morning bowl of Life or Cocoa Puffs or Wheaties whatever. I am one of these people, and this past weekend I found some great reading material on the back of my box of Giant® brand Corn Flakes.

The box read "Know Your Presidents" and had a bunch of trivia questions about cities named for presidents (i.e. Lincoln, NE, etc.), and a quotations section. Most of the quotations were pretty easy, well known to those who've taken even a junior high history class: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" (FDR) and "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" (JFK). One of them was familiar because so many people have been referring to it during our long national nightmare of Emperor Chimpy's imperial rule: "Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President." Good one, Teddy!
TR also said, "I will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do." Perhaps he didn't lie, cheat, or steal--but he was one of the first global imperialist presidents, so I don't much trust him as our leader. I'm sure he probably was a good guy, though.

One quotation in the quiz, however, was new to me:
I pray heaven to bestow the best blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.
John Adams said this about the White House in 1800, when he and his wife were the first First Couple to move in. The fact that he used the word "men"--we'll gloss over that. Sexism is to be expected of a man in 1800. Let's look instead at the last line:
May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.

My mind reels when I think of these simple but important standards for the people who've served as president. Honest men? Hmm... Lincoln? Eisenhower? I can't really think of anyone else I'd regard as "honest," though I'll admit I'm only thinking of the last few presidents. I admire FDR and JFK, but I believe that neither was truly an honest man; Roosevelt may have known about Pearl Harbor but allegedly chose to let it happen so he'd have a causus belli. JFK's personal life was filled with dishonesty, if tales of his womanizing are true.

I think of the presidents who've served while I've been alive: LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush. Wow. Not exactly a bunch of Honest Abes--the only one I'd call honest in that bunch is Carter. And you see what it got him.
I guess honesty isn't exactly a presidential characteristic anymore, assuming it ever was.

The second standard Adams prayed for was to have a wise man. Now we're really going to have a short list! I'd call Carter wise, though I don't think he always displayed that wisdom during his term. JFK was a wise man, I think, keeping his head and pulling us back from the brink of nuclear war. He was a man of thought before action. And of course Lincoln--arguably the best president we ever had--was a wise and honest man who kept this nation whole through its greatest crisis up until that time. Could a Nixon have done that? Or even an FDR? (I'd bet on FDR before Nixon, though--who wouldn't?)

But can any of us label any of these other clowns as "wise?" All you history buffs out there--put on your history caps and tell me: have we had any "honest and wise" presidents during your lifetime?

More importantly, is there any chance of ever getting an honest and wise president in the future? Certainly, McCain is nothing close to honest or wise; his changes of position and willingness to do or say whatever it takes to get elected pretty much disqualify him from being anything other than a parasitic lifeform, barely even human.

Obama has a great intellect, and he seems fairly honest--but he's shown once that he will vote against the people and for the big corporations when the chips are down.

Will we ever get a Lincoln or an Eisenhower again? Given the idiots we've elected (or who we've let steal elections), do we even deserve one? Would we know one if we saw him or her?


Liberality said...

I think Carter was a great president too. He did some things I didn't like but mostly he did a pretty good job while in office. Little surprise then that we find out years later that Reagan and the republican party set out to discredit Carter by negotiating with the Iranian group who had held the Americans captive to not let them go until after Reagan got in office (making Carter look weak and ineffectual cost him the election).

It was Carter who put solar panels on the White House and wore his sweater and encouraged people to turn down their thermostats to save fuel. When Reagan cheated his way into office the solar panels were ripped down and he scoffed at the idea of conserving fuel.

That moment of history when Americans really considered becoming less fuel dependent upon the Middle East and looking at alternative sources of energy was the moment we should have started down our green path as a nation. But Reagan, arrogant fool and tool that he was, led us away from this road and now look where we are...
rising fuel prices
war in the Middle East over oil
and global warming.
Gee, thanks you republican fucks, thanks a whole hell of a lot!

FranIAm said...

Holy crap- I will be brief due to lack of time but this is one GREAT post sister, really great.

Anonymous said...

This a great post and I love the way you lift the rose-colored glasses off Presidential history with the facts people tend to ignore. But lest we for get, these were huMEN and, as such, subject to making decisions based on the information at hand, the direction the political winds are blowing, and, of course, their own flawed logic. And I agree, Lincoln is arguably the best President we've had, although there are probably still many Southerners who would beg to differ.

Randal Graves said...

To answer your questions, doubtful, no, and yes, because he/she would be the one run out of town on a rail after one term.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Hell yes, we deserve an honest president... but you're right, it doesn't look like we'll have a well-respected, long-admired president any time soon. Boo hoo.

Dad E said...

Carter didn't know how to effectively cosy up to Congress probably because his integrity got in the way. And his soft spoken manner projected a softness that was taken to be weakness. Honest, yes, but lacking essential qualities to be a better than average president even though his policies were good.

Washington desires more credit and John Adams and Jefferson were some of our best. Lincoln is a given. I liked Truman a lot. LBJ accomplished much.

Our government operates best when there is transparency, which we have not had in the last 7 1/2 years. Both McCain and Obama will be an improvement, but Obama has better policies IMO.

So there are many qualities needed to be a good president, but I use transparency, grasp of world and economic issues, and an ability to inspire all Americans to come together to solve problems as the most important.

enc said...

I'm a little worried that it's too much to expect "honest" in this day of payoffs and pork barrels. I think there is "wise" available to us. But for me, the big question is, will "wise" trump "honest?" Will "wise" be able to say no to lobbies?

dguzman said...

Lib--I hate the way the rethugs cast everything we liberals do as weak or silly or stupid. And you're so right--we had a golden opportunity during The Energy Crisis back then to change our ways, but just in the nick of time, Corporate America got Reagan into office and the rest is shitty history.

Fran--thank you, glad you liked it.

Spartacus--yes, sadly, there are still "Suth-nuhs" who despite Lincoln. He used to be the reason that southerners were democrats. Now they've forgotten all that and gone republican. Ironic.


GKL--I don't think we have the system to give us an honest president, and I count the media as part of that system.

Dad E--thanks for your perspective on the Carter years. I agree that he lacked the arrogance I mean "swagger!" to project confidence to an American people too easily swayed by Hollywood cowboys like Reagan. Idiots. Those three qualities you give are also great; McCain lacks all of them, especially a grasp of world and economic issues--and yet the media wants him crowned ASAP. Sad.

Enc--there's the billion-dollar question.

Bradda said...

What about Millard Fillmore? He was a bigger "celebrity" than Obama could ever become! His mentor was Thurlow Weed and he looked just like Alec Baldwin is going to look in like 2 years!!(lazy link follows sorry)

Jess Wundrun said...

Huzzah! Great post.

My favorite Carter quote--stop me if I've posted it here before--is that he thinks that the Iranian hostage crisis was settled successfully: no hostages were killed, all returned home safely, and we didn't start a war in the Middle East.

Cons hate him for his handling of the situation because he didn't land on an aircraft carrier swagger around like his nuts were being pinched by the flight suit.

Just like an abusive parent, I'm sure it's alot quicker to smack your kids when they do something wrong. Patience is the difficult road.

vikkitikkitavi said...

I agree with Liberality. People always say that Carter stunk, but when I ask them to say why, they rarely have an answer. It's mostly just an oft repeated Republican talking point.

One story I remember from a biography of Carter is that when the military was laying out their plan to rescue the hostages, Carter asked if the terrorists guarding the embassy could be shot with a tranquilizer or something that would incapacitate them, but not kill them. Apparently the officers looked at him like he was crazy, but to Carter, his Christian values dictated that to take a life was wrong.

Imagine that.

dguzman said...

Dammit, Slappy, shut the fuck up. Your comments will ALWAYS be deleted. Go away.