Do You Know the Way to Tampa Bay? (Or, with the Past as Prologue, Who Will Be a Great President?)
In a family-oriented take on a favorite aphorism:
Like a nose, everybody has a political opinion.
Actually, more like hairs, everybody has dozens (if not millions) of political opinions. Thank goodness for places like RedState, where these opinions can be given a good airing-out without having to call out the haz-mat team when it’s all said and done; political opinions can get a tad messy.
For example: What ingredients, in the aggregate, make a great President? What particular skills dominate a leader’s personality that result in greatness– or foulness? Are there sets of “givens” that tend to be indicators as to the ultimate result, and the judgements of history? Most everybody with a decent sense of character can, when pressed, come up with a few answers.
One of the old stand-bys is: A president needs “executive” experience. Maybe so. Others say it’s more important to look at a potential President in far more personal terms– what of their family and marriage? Is the person vying for our Presidential affections a successful business leader? Or, what of their military experience?
Other folks view a presidential aspirant through the prism of their religious life, and how it informs their world-view. Some folks look at a candidate’s pedigree, or their manner and approach. Some proceed through the minefield of the most superficial– Do they have a nice smile and good hair? Maybe the tone of their voice was annoying and off-putting.
Really, though –as I say– there are a million such opinions. But, I think there may be common strands amongst those Presidents to whom we ascribe “greatness”, and those to whom we ascribe “foulness”. That is truly, I will add, one of the great attributes to the traditional, constitutional Conservative world-view: We tend to look at these traditions, our shared history, and devine from it that which has been inspiring and successful, and that which has been a downer and a tough, historical slog– and apply these lessons to the future.
This is in contrast to the modern political “liberal”, which lives entirely in a fantasy-future based not on a shared experience, or even personal experience, but on emotional, petty jealousies and altruistic appeals to a never-to-be-found utopia that’s always just one law away.
What of Mitt Romney? I think he’s a wonderful man, with a dynamic business background and loving family. Michele Bachmann? I find her truly inspirational and I think she strikes a deep resonance with everyday folks that’s really quite remarkable. Herman Cain is an American original and a treasure that makes our nation richer by his mere participation in the political process. The steady march of Reaganesque conservatism owes a debt of gratitude to Newt Gingrich we can likely never re-pay for his political life in the 80’s and 90’s. Rick Santorum is a passionate, articulate defender of American family life, and he deepens our national conversation. Rick Perry is a dynamic, successful governor that makes me proud to have him on our team. I can’t say that I remember being as excited about the Republican field of announced presidential candidates as I am right now, in September 20011. Right now, the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay late next summer promises to be an exciting, encouraging event.
How do these candidates stack up against the good and the great Presidents? Where do the lines of our current shared experience and our historical context converge? I’ve been somewhat of a Presidential sleuth for much of my adult life, and, while my list of Great Presidents bucks the likes of Arthur Schlesinger, I think I do share some of my verdicts on Presidential greatness with much accepted history– versus accepted lists. I think, for the most part, Michael Beschloss, for example, is full of horse dung… on the other hand, I have quite a bit of respect for the CSPAN polls (if, for no other reason, the number of respondents in their polls). Again, youse picks yer President, youse takes yer chances…
In the following list, I’ve attempted to square the circle of the de jour requirements for a president vis-a-vis the historical nature of their presidencies. Arguably, this is difficult, but it certainly gives a perspective that I think is important as the primary winnowing process moves along in the weeks and months ahead. So, I’ve listed what I feel are the ten greatest Presidents, and some of the reasons I think reflects their greatness, and given a list of current-day qualifications to see how they stack up. And, I’ve done the same for the worst (only in reverse order)…
OUR TEN GREATEST PRESIDENTS AND SOME OF THEIR SHARED ATTRIBUTES
1) George Washington. It is still awe-inspiring to behold the life of George Washington at the hinge-critical moments in the long narrative of our nation, especially in the context of his Presidency. With much fanfare, he could easily, even likely have become a sovereign– and almost every human being before or since in similar circumstance devolved down that road. Certainly, if Barack Obama were today in the shoes of George Washington, and everyone surrounding him seemed to be suggesting he bestow upon himself the mantle of an “excellency”, he would take it. Washington didn’t do it, and thus established the office as a the most benevolent head of government ever, especially for the major power toward which the United States evolved.
Private Business Experience: Some success. Governmental Executive Experience: None (did Chair the Constitutional Convention for four months). Military Experience: Exceptional. Religious Conviction: Episcopal, sporadic church attendance. Family and Marriage: No children.
2) Ronald Reagan. The most politically philosophical President of the modern era. His approach to leadership shines (and will shine for as long as the American presidency endures) as an exemplar of macro-thinking, applying his daily agenda always to the bigger goals of freedom, the rights of the individual and their juxtaposition to the state, and defeating worldwide Communism; Along the way, by dogged adherence to his macro world-view, Reagan achieved his ancillary goals of restraining the growth of government, slaying the dragon of inflation, and re-igniting a roaring economy. He was also a thoroughly decent human being.
Private Business Experience: Great success. Governmental Executive Experience: Yes. Military Experience: Almost none. Religious Conviction: Church of Christ, believer, somewhat sporadic church attendance. Family and Marriage: Divorced.
3) Calvin Coolidge. Probably my personal favorite. Coolidge is, in my view, the quintessential American President. Born of solid, mercantile stock, Coolidge endeavored to learn the law not in law school, but in apprenticing at the elbow of working lawyers– and thus, built a successful, private sole-proprietorship law shop. He rose as a wise counselor in local affairs, and married a loving woman. Although he clearly had the political bug, he always viewed his role in public office (-and he held many of them) as a sacred trust. His detractors found him taciturn and distant– but he was thoughtful: “The words of a President have an enormous weight,” he would later write, “and ought not to be used indiscriminately.” The only real blots on his Presidency were the Kellogg-BriandTreaty that –humph– outlawed war, and the acquiescence to the nomination of Herbert Hoover as his successor after he chose not to run for a second elective term. Historical nit-wits describe his era as “The Roaring Twenties”, as if the exhuberance of the time was bound to end, and we needed a governmental savior to set things right in the 30’s. Rather, his era was full of discovery (Charles Lindbergh, the explosion of commercial radio, Henry Ford and so on) that created the foundations for the America to come. These same historians poo-poo other non-interventionist and successful eras: the “Staid 50’s” and the “Greedy 80’s”
Private Business Experience: Success. Governmental Executive Experience: Yes. Military Experience: None. Religious Conviction: Congregationalist, believer, regular church attendance. Family and Marriage: Solid, loving home. Calvin, Jr. died at the White House.
4) Rutherford B. Hayes. Does not typically show up on lists of Great Presidents. My own readings, though, point to an extremely principled, thoughtful, loyal, dedicated man. He was wounded more in actual combat than any other president, sporting the scars of six battles in the Civil War. In some ways, he was Lincoln before Lincoln was Lincoln, and certainly was more traditionally successful. As an introspective Christian, he viewed the basic humanity of all men irrespective of color as it was clearly laid down in the Constitution– but he was only nominally Methodist. He vetoed a proto-bill that, four years later, in the future Arthur administration, became the Chinese Exclusion Bill (-which was a racist, nativist anti-immigration bill based solely on skin-color). He put the full force of the federal government (as it was at the time) behind the final efforts to end radical reconstruction, and ended the carpet-bag governments in Louisiana in South Carolina. He also, by executive order, outlawed electioneering by government employees, and thus defanged Roscoe Conkling and his powerful New York political machine. The activism of the Hayes Administration was thoroughly rooted in the constitution. And finally, he stuck to his pledge to serve only one term, and thus retired from government service.
Private Business Experience: Success. Governmental Executive Experience: Yes. Military Experience: Outstanding. Religious Conviction: Nominally Methodist, believer. Family and Marriage: Solid, loving home.
5) Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln falls a little farther down my list than those of some others. However, his steadfast belief that the way out of a national catastrophe was found in the words of the Constitution, and he never wavered in that belief, makes him a great President. Paradoxically, however, he oftentimes violated not only the letter of its law, but the spirit, as well. His arguments that, if a state can secede from the union, what’s to keep a county from seceding from the state, a town from a county, and an individual from a town is logically perfect, but less than perfect in real application. The reality was that, as he said, the endurance of such a belief was tested on battlefields that caused the deaths of 650,000 souls. We’ve not had a more introspective, thorough thinker before Lincoln in the White House, or since. His Second Inaugural Address is one of the best summations of Americanism ever put to paper.
Private Business Experience: Mostly failure, successful corporate lawyer. Governmental Executive Experience: None. Military Experience: Yes. Religious Conviction: No formal church affiliation, diligently read the Bible. Family and Marriage: Some difficulties, two sons died early.
6) John Adams. Although at times an insufferable elitist, unlike other presidential elites such as Woodrow Wilson and FDR, Adams tempered his with the absolute knowledge that, but for God’s grace, there went he. Also, unlike these other men, he was entirely self-made. His devotion to both the rule of law, and the sanctity of liberty, property and life was absolute. Like most of the Founders, his was a life consumed with the American Revolution, and with providing succor for it, from its very birth, through its infanthood, and its eventual flowering. Adams was second only to Lincoln in his introspective intellectualism, and greater in his Christian devotion. Adam’s home life (which he constantly was deferring throughout his life-long public service) was exceptionally loving and fulsome, and his wife set a high standard for all future presidential spouses. Adams, by avoiding war with France, (at a time when our nation clearly could not afford such a thing) laid very important groundwork for the Louisiana Purchase, and settling of boundary disputes with England. He also was very aware that history was observing his every move as he succeeded the legendary George Washington, and,while his administrative choices he made by leaving much of Washington’s cabinet intact wasn’t particularly smart, his orderly transition of power became a template of American democracy.
Private Business Experience: Successful attorney. Governmental Executive Experience: None. Military Experience: None. Religious Conviction: Congregationalist, Unitarian. Family and Marriage: Lovingly devoted, five children.
7) James Monroe. Monroe’s presidency stands alone amongst them all: A two term administration that was, by any measure, completely non-interventionist, more concerned with preserving liberty of the individual than increasing federal power. Thus, he was the father of the “Era of Good Feelings”, a moment of prosperity (mostly) and peace. Monroe, though personally in favor of national internal improvements, could find no constitutional means to fund a national road, which, eventually was funded and called the Cumberland Road. But, Monroe vetoed appropriations for its construction during his presidency, saying it was a matter of state prerogative. Also, he negotiated the purchase of Spanish Florida, and tried to stop Jackson’s wars against southern Seminole Indians, hoping instead to assimilate through more peaceful, agrarian means. He also codified what had been rather presupposed since the end of the War of 1812: That European powers were to stay out of American continental claims with the Monroe Doctrine.
Private Business Experience: Modestly successful attorney, unsuccessful plantation owner. Governmental Executive Experience: Governor. Military Experience: War veteran. Religious Conviction: Nominally Episcopal. Family and Marriage: Devoted, three children.
8 ) Thomas Jefferson. This is a man whose thoughts are beyond the comprehension of most politicians today. Yet, at the same time, he was a man given to life-long romps of pleasures that were both monetarily expensive, and morally questionable. He was full of paradox. On the one hand Jefferson movingly held tightly to the sanctity of a single human life, and yet also embraced the mob rule of the French Revolution. He wrote some of the most soaring prose about human liberty, and, unlike John Adams, owned slaves because they helped finance a lifestyle he could not otherwise afford. Yet, this seeming lack of cogency also doubled the land-mass of the United States territory, and treated the American Indians with a dignity that would begin to be erased at the end of his second term. Jefferson set up the system by which wealth would be created and protected on a scale unknown in human history when he established the United States Patent Office.
Private Business Experience: Plantation owner, private attorney. Governmental Executive Experience: None. Military Experience: No. Religious Conviction: No affiliation. Family and Marriage: Five children, ongoing infidelities.
9) Franklin Roosevelt (from 1940-1945 ONLY). Outside of a rather uncomfortable preening before the great Winston Churchill and his somewhat questionable mania to begin an Italian Campaign to get at Hitler’s “soft underbelly” (and, in the same time, probably trying to rehabilitate the judgements of his countrymen after his failed Dardanelles attack 30 years earlier), there is absolutely nothing to quibble about in Roosevelt’s tenure as Commander-in-Chief and America’s conduct of World War Two. Without his steadfast resolve to bring unconditional surrender to America’s enemies, Europe would likely have devolved into a 80-year darkness of totalitarian fascism… Sadly, most of Eastern Europe succumbed to this anyway because of FDR’s State Department’s sickening love affair with Papa Joe Stalin. But, the war was unquestionable won by FDR.
Private Business Experience: None (limited experience at a private law firm). Governmental Executive Experience: Governor. Military Experience: None (Assistant Navy Secretary). Religious Conviction: Episcopal. Family and Marriage: Married his second cousin.
10) James K. Polk. Although a rather strident Jacksonian Presidential activist, his activism was borne out of the conviction that the American ideal was superior in every way, and that Americanism ought to be spread from sea to sea. Polk also, in stark contrast to the likes of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, was probably the hardest working president ever, starting his day at 5AM or earlier, and oftentimes not retiring until close to midnight. He found the Presidency to be a profound honor, and crafted a schedule reflecting his thoughts that the people put him there, so, he needed to serve them. No vacations in Martha’s Vineyard on the taxpayer dime for Polk! During his campaign, Polk made four broad proposals, (Settling the Oregon boundary, acquiring New Mexico and California from Mexico, reducing the tarriff, and rebuilding the independent treasury) and, having succeeded in accomplishing them, retired after one term. Perfect.
Private Business Experience: None. Governmental Executive Experience: Governor. Military Experience: State Militiaman. Religious Conviction: Presbetyrian, regular attendance. Family and Marriage: Married, no children.
…AND THE WORST-?
10) Franklin Roosevelt (1932-1938 Period). If World War Two had not intervened, FDR would have made the top three of our worst Presidents. Even so, he lands at Number Ten on my list with full “weighting” given to his absolutely disastrous first six or seven years. His assault on private property and personal liberties remains unparalleled amongst all Presidents: He quite literally seized billions of dollars in private property and wealth with his gold policies, his proto-facsist NIRA, the Social Security Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act and a panoply of interventionist policies, many of which we are still paying for today.
Private Business Experience: None (limited experience at a private law firm). Governmental Executive Experience: Governor. Military Experience: None (Assistant Navy Secretary). Religious Conviction: Episcopal. Family and Marriage: Married his second cousin.
9) Andrew Jackson. An unquestioningly brave and resourceful man, his public life seems to have been fueled by score-settling, petty jealousies, and willful ignorance. His treatment of the aboriginal Indians in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi alone shows he could not have believed in the very document –the Constitution– he swore to uphold. His war against the Bank of the United States –and the personal hatred of its chief, Nicholas Biddle, eventually choked off vital capital at a moment in history when a sound currency may have prevented what became a civil war. Not as bad as our worst Presidents, Jackson does not belong on the lists of our greats, either; his vile racism and his damage to our fledgling economy outweighs his other successes, such as his strength in the nullification crisis and Jackson’s instituting a “spoils” system, which, if still in use today, would work as a check against the massive and unaccountable adminstrative state.
Private Business Experience: Successful planter, real estate developer. Governmental Executive Experience: Governor. Military Experience: Exceptional. Religious Conviction: Presbyterian, irregular church attendance. Family and Marriage: He and his wife adopted several children.
8 ) John Tyler. The haughty Vice President of “Tippecanoe” William Henry Harrison simply bestowed upon himself the mantle of the Presidency at the death of the Old General only a month into Harrison’s term. It was a brazen grab for power, and in its sheer audacity, steamrolled congress into giving it’s imprimatur to, at its mildest a lawful ambiquity, and at its worst, an essentially lawless act. The political theater of taking the Oath of Office a second time dates from this period, and it paved the way for such worthies as Chet Arthur, Teddy Roosevelt, and Landslide Lyndon.
Private Business Experience: None. Governmental Executive Experience: Governor. Military Experience: None. Religious Conviction: Episcopal. Family and Marriage: The most fecund President, with 17 children by two wives.
7) Franklin Pierce. In a cautionary tale to today’s unctious penchant toward compromise, Franklin Pierce saw his presidential role as a facilitator– and mostly managed to facilitate the groundwork for the Civil War. In his quest for compromise for the sake of compromise, he stumbled into creating the crisis that ended with the Kansas-Nebraska act, and the resulting Lecompton Constitution of the nacsient state of Kansas. In the end, much like Jimmy Carter, Pierce had flubbed and compromised his way out of the White House, leaving a broiling nation behind in his wake.
Private Business Experience: Successful attorney. Governmental Executive Experience: None. Military Experience: Yes, veteran. Religious Conviction: Episcopal. Family and Marriage: Much tragedy, three children died.
6) Theodore Roosevelt. Republicans are supposed to lionize TR. He was, in far too many instances, an activist fool. Just as G.H.W. Bush slighted the solid conservative foundation crafted by Ronald Reagan, and thus gave us the Bill Clinton conservative retrenchment, Teddy Roosevelt gave us Taft, and by undercutting him, gave us Wilson, who was unquestionable the biggest disaster in the White House until LBJ. Roosevelt conducted secret diplomacy with Japan (thinking them the “Britannica of the East”) that effectively gave them permission not only for their invasions of Korea and Nanking, but, eventually, the catastrophe of Pearl Harbor. Thus, TR is directly responsible for the diplomacy germs of both World War One and Two. He gave us Wilson, and he gave us an overly strong Imperial Japan. Also, he stretched executive power far, far beyond any reasonable limits, for the first time making real incursions into the strong and crucial independence of the markets and of congress.
Private Business Experience: None, born into wealth. Governmental Executive Experience: Governor. Military Experience: Yes. Religious Conviction: Presbyterian. Family and Marriage: First wife died tragically, loving home.
5) William Jefferson Blythe Clinton. A despicable man. Completely bereft of a moral compass, he lived entirely to quench his massive, out-sized carnal appetites and soothe his easily-deflated and mammoth ego. He had no core beliefs beyond his own personal empowerment, and embracing a world-view (-such as it was) that swayed hither and yon depending upon the audience. His bumbling foreign policy led directly to the disaster of 9/11. Of course, he is also one of only two presidents to be impeached, and his crimes were real (suborning perjury, obstruction of justice, lying before a federal grand jury)– unlike the trumped-up crimes of the Radical Republicans against Andrew Johnson. Credilby accused of rape and sexual assaults by those in his governmental service.
Private Business Experience: None. Governmental Executive Experience: 3-term Governor, Attorney General. Military Experience: None. Religious Conviction: No formal church affilliation, casual bible study. Family and Marriage:Extreme adultury, accused of multiple sexual assaults. Married.
4) Woodrow Wilson. A vile, racist, bigoted elitist. Openly advocated, as a young professor, for a parliamentary form of government, where power was to be shared by a core of benign and enlightened oligarchs. As a relic of southern Plantation society, he saw humanity through the lens of proto-Darwinism. A Total State (including the 16th amendment) was the inevitable result of the total war Wilson disastrouslyvisited upon the United States, after vowing that America would never get involved in the European conflagration. His aligning himself with Clemenceau against what he saw as a boorish Lloyd George resulted from his Francophone instincts, and he thus gave into France’s insistence upon ruinous monetary reparation against Wiemar Germany. His condescending stridency in support of the League of Nations completely was negated by his near-abandonment of most of his other “14 Points”, points that the Central Powers broadly agreed would bring about an Armistice. When these points were roundly ignored, war was very nearly kindled anew in 1919, and it resulted directly in war again in 1939. As a virulent racist,Wilson fired all the Blacks that Taft and Roosevelt had hired into the Civil Service, and re-segregated the armed forces. He also was a great admirer of D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation”.
Private Business Experience: None. Governmental Executive Experience: 2 years as Governor. Military Experience: None. Religious Conviction: Presbyterian. Family and Marriage: Widower, married again while in the White House.
3) Jimmy Carter. Here is the exception to the Peter Principal: Carter rose beyond the level of his own incompetence. Carter, while most probably a very decent man, was a horrible, uninspiring leader. Like many liberal democrats, he only succeeded in contrasting his incompetence against the failures of his opponents, never outlining philosophical or even pragmatic goals: “I will never lie to you” he famously said. Yippee-do. In the meantime, he would never govern, either. His sanctimony was matched only by his naivete, which was dangerously incomprehensible at the height of the Brezhnev-era Cold War. His malign neglect of Iran and its Shah gave us a world of strengthened Islamo-Nazism.
Private Business Experience: Great Success. Governmental Executive Experience: One-term governor. Military Experience: Yes. Religious Conviction: Born-Again evangelical, Methodist, regular church attendance. Family and Marriage: Exceptional
2) Lyndon Johnson. A thoroughly repulsive politician that was willing to say and do anything to advance his own personal power, and slake the worst demons of his enormous ego. He literally stole his election as United States Senator, and bragged about the accomplishment for years. He was a grotesquely promiscuous adulterer, who was forever bragging about his private parts. He would say anything, promise anything, ruin anyone in order to advance his personal wealth and power. He knew the “incident” in the Tonkin Gulf was a trumped-up mistake, but pursued the resolution granting him war-making power to simply billboard his own ego (an ego so big, he insisted that his own wife take his initials, and that his daughters should do the same). His ballooning of the federal government, and his escalation of the Vietnam War led to the inflation and stagflation of the 1970’s, and gave us an important underlying cause of much of the economic disaster we face today.
Private Business Experience: Very limited. Governmental Executive Experience: None. Military Experience: Yes. Religious Conviction: Disciple of Christ. Family and Marriage: Lifelong infidelities with his wife. Two daughters.
1) Richard Nixon. Dwight Eisenhower once asked, when discussing his Vice President “How could Nixon get so far in politics and not have any friends?” Nixon, in this statement, is revealed as the greatest tragedy of the American Presidency. He was the quintessential social-climbing technocrat. Other than a staunch hatred of communism, and its attendant stifling of the individual to an all-powerful state, Nixon really had no core, coherent world-view. His first campaign for congress advertised him as a “Practical Liberal”. And, even regarding his avowed anti-communism, he used the political expedient of opening doors to Red China only as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Rather than regarding either as doomed systems– as Reagan did–, but perhaps propping up China at a time when they could have been pitted against each other, and collapsed under their own combined weight. Domestically, he was a disaster, paying only lip-service to conservatism with a system of so-called “New Federalism”. Actually, we still live with some of the most reckless Executive Orders and Departments that came out of the Nixon White House: The EPA, OSHA, the Clean Air Act and the so-called “Philadelphia Plan”, that was the Federal governments first foray into “affirmative action”. His instincts always swung toward government activism– which, in a left-handed way, ended his presidency in the Watergate Scandal, and his eventual resignation.
Private Business Experience: Very limited exposure to the Private Sector. Governmental Executive Experience: None. Military Experience: Yes. Religious Conviction: Society of Friends. Family and Marriage: 50+ year marriage to Pat, two daughters.
Now, some may have serious qualms about some of my choices, including that of Nixon as the worst President, especially in the Age of Obama. Obama’s term isn’t over– I prefer to wait until the game is finished before I total up all the fouls and unearned runs. And, I put some stock in the overall ability of politicians, and how that ability manifests itself, for good or ill, across the broadest swath of history. Jimmy Carter, for example, was merely an incompetent fool, and, other than delivering Islamonazism to the world with a neatly-wrapped package in the form of Revolutionary Iran, Carterism actually brought on the golden era of Reaganism. Meanwhile, we still live with the disasters of the Wilson, Johnson, FDR and Nixon Presidencies every day: For example, one of Nixon’s most destructive legacies was the Democrat rout in 1974, which brought about everything from the Church Commission, (that emasculated the CIA), to the first really oppressive campaign finance rules. And Nixon was, in every respect, “competent”, which means his sins are of commission, rather than omission.
What, then, are we to conclude from this? Well, almost all, except notably LBJ, Carter and Reagan were lawyers. Hmmm…
And, both “good” and “bad”, nearly all were confessing followers of Christ– I will leave it the sociologists and theologians to figure this out. Oddly, the bigger number of them were Episcopal. Those on the “bad” list, as often as not, had no private business experience. And, having executive governmental experience didn’t save you from the “bad” list, either; Most striking, perhaps, is the preponderance of adulteress behavior on the “bad” list, and the faint hints of it on the “good” list– it seems to point to fidelity to a marriage results in fidelity to a nation. Also, the bad list is replete with “governmental executives”, but made up only half on the “good” list– a rough mirroring, by the way, of military experience.
It goes without saying that the needs of the times change what can make or break a presidency. For example, I think Chester Arthur would likely have made a better president in the 20th century than he did in the 19th. But, as Tolkien said, ours is to do the best with the times we are given.
Incidentally, this exercise in historical compare-contrast is why the likes of Barack Obama speak neverendingly about “transformation”: If we can simply erase –“transform”– all of the normative measurementsby which we make sound presidential judgements, then it increases the likelihood that he can get reelected, and his agenda can be more punishingly inflicted. This is why it is crucial to look at our past leaders, and measure our future ones by the yardsticks they’ve left behind.