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Why Presidents Always Disappoint

June 2024
1min read

Most overrated:

All U.S. Presidents since George Washington. Nearly a century ago Henry Jones Ford proclaimed that the Presidency was an “elective kingship,” a phenomenon that has resulted in distorted, President-centered accounts of history and politics. We speak of the “age of Roosevelt,” the “Eisenhower years,” the “Reagan era”—convenient mileposts but misleading guides to the historical landscape. We credit Chief Executives with stupendous historical feats (remember “Dr. New Deal” and “Dr. Win-the-War”); our public rhetoric continues to offer the hope that newly elected Presidents will bring us peace, prosperity, and Olympic gold medals. Then we turn on these individuals when, as inevitably happens, they reveal all-too-human frailties. President worship leads us to undervalue the rich strata of middle-level leadership and talent that contribute to our civic history: legislative leaders, state and regional figures, even bureaucrats. More fame is due the Justin Morrills, the Gifford Pinchots, the George C. Marshalls, the James Webbs.

Most underrated:

George Washington. The father of his country is strangely undervalued, or at least underappreciated. For all his iconographie fame, he is perhaps the least vivid personality among the Framers, less known to us than Jefferson, Franklin, or Hamilton. And yet, without Washington our nation might not have survived. Although he delivered few speeches and wrote little of note, his very presence enhanced our national identity and legitimized the new government. With no model to follow as Chief Executive, he became that model.

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