Presidents In My Lifetime

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2008 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
Comment | Trackback Bookmark and Share

As November 4th inches ever closer It dawned on me that we’re about to have the twelfth new president in my lifetime. I decided to share some thoughts and memories with you about the first eleven.
Harry S. Truman (The “S” didn’t stand for anything)
I was born several months after Truman inherited the presidency from Franklin Roosevelt so I don’t have any early memories of him. Later, though, I recall that my dad..whose name was also Harry..couldn’t stand the guy.
Dad, like most Americans at the time, blamed Truman for the continuation of war rationing long after the Second World War was over. He also shared the feelings of those who thought the firing of American war hero, Douglas (my namesake, I think) MacArthur, for insubordination in Korea was a travesty.  My mom didn’t like Truman because he swore in public; sprinkling hells and damns throughout his speeches.
General Dwight David Eisenhower.
Everybody seemed to like Ike. I never paid a whole lot of attention to the man other than he always seemed to show up in movie newsreels playing golf with celebrities. He also mispronounced the word nuclear..saying nuke-you-ler. (Just like our current occupant.)
Oh yeah, there was that other thing; Ike and his cronies scared the crap out of all Americans, kids especially, through the build-up of nuke-you-ler weapons and the arms race with Russia during his two terms in office. I suppose the country didn’t have a choice but it wasn’t much fun trying to fall asleep at night after watching images on television of the devastating effects of another nuke-you-ler bomb test in the atmosphere and realizing that hiding under your desk at school during a nuke-you-ler attack, like we’d been trained to do, probably wasn’t going to save our little skins.  
John Fitzgerald Kennedy. 
I couldn’t vote yet but I was pulling for Nixon to win in 1960 until I saw the infamous debates on TV.  Even though he was Catholic, which my Lutheran sisters and brethren weren’t too keen on,  Kennedy came off cool, calm and collected while Nixon looked like a nervous, sweaty, shifty-eyed used car salesman who could use a shave. Most of us never knew about Kennedy’s sexual indiscretions and  I actually got caught up in the whole Camelot thing until October of 1962 when I and most of the country figured we were going to be blown to smithereens because of Kennedy’s decision to stop Russian ships from bringing offensive nuclear weapons into Cuba.  Once that crisis passed, though, I hopped back aboard the Kennedy bandwagon until, of course, he was shot dead in the head by a lunatic Russian sympathizer in Dallas a year later.
Lyndon Baines Johnson.
What a contrast to the handsome young assassinated president he replaced.  Johnson was this big lumbering loudmouth Texan who got what he wanted in congress and the White House through in-your-face intimidation of anyone who stood in his way.  But I felt in 1964 that he was a better choice than Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater who was an even worse diplomat than Johnson. Goldwater gave the impression that the only good commie was a dead commie and he was just the guy to take ‘em all out if need be by whatever means possible.
But as skilled at bullying as Johnson was, even he couldn’t bull his way out of Vietnam and finally just gave up on the idea of running again before he had another heart attack.
Richard Millhouse Nixon.
Never a big fan of this guy. Too stiff..too phony.  I appreciated his breaking the ice with Red China and I sorta felt like the media was unfairly ganging up on him over Watergate. But then I read the transcripts of the Oval office tapes and became less sympathetic.  No tears were shed when he finally gave in to pressure and resigned.
Gerald R. Ford.
Nice enough man. Well liked by members of both parties in congress but his pardon of Nixon in 1974 and his major gaffe during a 1976 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter in which Ford said there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, pretty much threw cold water on  any chance he had of being elected on his own.
James Earl Carter. (just call me Jimmy)
A peanut farmer and former governor of Georgia. He brought so much down-home humility and folksiness to the White House it was almost embarrassing. Sort of like the Clampetts moving into Beverly Hills.
He did get Israel and Egypt to stop fighting for awhile and actually sit down and shake hands which was no small feat. But over 400 Americans were taken hostage in Iran on Carter’s watch and he seemed powerless to do anything about it. Plus he punished U.S. athletes by boycotting the Olympic games in Russia as a way of showing displeasure over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  (go figure)
Ronald Reagan.
I never bought into that whole “great communicator” bit.  To me Reagan, the actor, was just playing another role..only it was a part that lasted for eight years.  I know he’s much beloved by a lot of folks but to me he was simply a guy who had a great way with words as long as someone else had written them for him.  
George Herbert Walker Bush.
Finally, a vice president manages to get elected on his own. I always liked Bush Sr. He seemed to be one smart cookie who could think on his feet and make tough decisions.  When Iraq invaded Kuwait he put Hussein on notice that we and the rest of the world weren’t going to just stand by and let that happen so he got a bunch of other countries to join with us and go kick Saddam out. A lot of people, including, apparently, the president’s oldest son, thought we should have kept marching right into Baghdad, but that wasn’t part of the deal.
His popularity soared after the Gulf War but came crashing down again when he failed to keep a campaign promise (Read my new taxes) which likely cost him reelection.
William Jefferson Clinton.
My first exposure to Clinton was during the 1988 Democratic National Convention when this four term governor of Arkansas was selected to make the nominating speech for Michael Dukakis. As Clinton rambled on and on, the crowd started getting restless..yelling toward the podium for him to wrap it up. The jeers got louder..but he kept on yakking. Finally, after 33 minutes of this, he uttered the words “in conclusion” and the whole audience erupted in cheers and applause. What a grandstanding blowhard, I thought, as Clinton just stood there smiling seemingly oblivious to the fact that he’d just made a total ass of himself.  Democrats have short memories, though, because four years later, Clinton was their party nominee and managed to get himself elected president for eight long years; two terms of phoniness and embarrassment. At the height of the Monica Lewinski scandal in 1998, Clinton ordered an unsuccessful missile strike in Afghanistan aimed at taking out terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. That’s what the president claimed anyway. But many, including members of Clinton’s own party, think it was an intentional distraction from the Lewinski Grand Jury hearing and that the attack so enraged bin Laden that he immediately began making plans for 9-11 to get revenge.  If it’s all true, that’s quite a price to pay for the President of the United States playing trouser tag with an intern in the White House.
 George W. Bush.
I was so ready to be rid of anything connected to Bill Clinton that it was a relief when Bush was finally determined to be the winner over Clinton’s vice president, Al (I’m as big a blowhard as Bill) Gore, in the 2000 election. I was hoping that Bush Jr. would be a chip off the old block and right up through 9-11 and throughout his first term, I thought he was.  Most Americans bought into his impassioned pleas for invading Iraq. The madman, Saddam, had stockpiles of chemical and nuke-you-ler weapons and had to be stopped before he unleashed them on his neighbors.  Lots of people were saying that Bush just wanted to go into Baghdad and finish up the job his daddy started 8 years earlier. Nah, I kept thinking, it’s nothing personal, the weapons are there. Well, they weren’t there but American soldiers still are..and still dying while our country goes deeper in debt and bin Laden remains free to dream up other murderous schemes in the name of Allah.  I feel betrayed by G.W. and can’t wait to see him sent packing.
So, who’s next?    
I have no idea but it wouldn’t take much to be an improvement over the last eleven. At least that’s my opinion. I suppose one or two of you may not agree. Don’t be mad, though. In fact, here’s a little image to brighten your weekend. Apparently covering a presidental campaign isn’t always that glamerous.

Leave a Reply