Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Presidency: How Do Historians Evaluate the Modern Presidency?

Presidency: How Do Historians Evaluate the Modern Presidency? This is a nice essay on how historians look at more recent presidents. It is by Marc Landy and Sid Milkis.

From the site:

The scandalous politics of Bill Clinton's second term, which saw the president of the United States ensnared by revelations of an affair with a White House intern, deeply embarrassed the nation. No less disconcerting was the zealousness with which the special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, pursued the investigation of the president's peccadilloes, and the alacrity with which a Congress bitterly divided by partisanship supported it. That a constitutional crisis could be brought by such a tawdry episode led government officials, pundits, and a benumbed public to decry the current state of leadership in American politics -- to lament the absence of great leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt as well as the fractious state of American democracy, which appeared to make such extraordinary statesmanship a chimera.

The discontent aroused by the current state of American democracy may have deepened the public's wish for extraordinary leadership, but the demand for greatness far exceeds the supply. In the words of Alexander Hamilton, the American people "build lasting monuments of their gratitude" for certain presidents and not for others. Only a few presidents -- Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and FDR -- have been deemed worthy of such enduring respect and reverence. Cities, towns, and babies are named for them. Monuments are built in their memory. They are the subjects or popular novels and TV docudramas. Even when they are reviled, they are spoken of with awe. It is almost as if they occupied a different office and lived on a different political plane from other numerous incumbents of the presidential office, many of whom seem to be forgotten almost as quickly as they leave office.

No comments: