Friday, March 21, 2008

The Vicar of Baghdad

Editor's Note: I've met Canon Andrew White during his visits to Glen Ellyn's St. Mark's Episcopal Church. He's better known as the vicar of Baghdad, the only Anglican priest still working in the city. The words below are his and were printed in The Times of London on Monday, March 17.

"Five years ago today I had real hope that things would soon change in the nation of Iraq, after years of tyranny, dictatorship and suffering. Unlike any other non Iraqis I meet now in Iraq, I had been here before the war. I had experienced the fear and tyranny of the Saddam regime and I openly said we needed force to bring change. I knew that this could not be done by the Iraqi people. I feared what would happen to the people I loved during the days of the war. I was full of joy when the war finished so soon and I quickly returned to the nation I loved. On returning I found a sense of liberation, joy and freedom. There was a joy I had never seen before. Chaos was certainly there but we hoped it would soon cease. I will never forget the words of the top British General telling me to leave my return for a couple of weeks because 'security should then be sorted out'. Five years later it has still not been sorted.

"It is impossible to really describe what it is like here in Baghdad. I live in the fortified International Zone but even here I am surrounded by my bodyguards at all times and we can't move without carrying the right pieces of plastic ID around our necks. When we do move we can't move more than five miles an hour, have to stop every few yards a different security barriers and when we get to them the colour of your piece of plastic dictates how quickly you will be allowed through. All very intense, but it does not compare to my regular trips to St George's Church.

"This journey begins at the home of the Iraqi National Security Advisor. I am driven into the security compound by my bodyguards and transferred to the care of the Iraqi Army. With body armour on, I take my seat in an armoured car with blackened windows. Other military vehicles surround us and slowly we drive through the IZ stopping at it countless checkpoints. Eventually we leave the IZ and are met by an array of Iraqi police cars and further military vehicles. The sirens go on, guns are pointed out of the windows of all the vehicles and we speed down the road. If we meet a traffic jam, the other cars are yelled at through loud speakers and they try and make way. If that does not work our whole convoy just moves to the other side of the road, and moves the wrong way quickly down the road. At every crossroad, the police have stopped all other traffic. We come to the road where the church is- the road is closed off. We speed to the Church and drive into the grounds. The army run to surround the church, others check that it is safe and I am eventually allowed out of the car to be met by scores of our children.

"With the army remaining inside and outside we begin our worship. My mind goes back to the days before the war. There was none of this kind of security, and there was no congregation at our Church, why because it was Anglican. Commonly it is still known as the English Church. Our congregation is large, our worship wonderful but I only need to look at our people to realise what has really happened here following the war. We only have six men in our congregation of several hundred, the rest have been killed. Many of even the young women wear black as they are still mourning the loss of their husbands. Scores of people have been kidnapped, even this year. So from the pulpit every week I see the effect of war on these people. It is impossible for us to forget the tragedy outside. We hear the guns shooting and the bombs blasting and we simply continue worshipping. After the service food is provided for the whole congregation- we alternate; one week it is food the next week money. If we do not give, they do not have. The cost of this provision is colossal and it is primarily provided by Churches in England. Every week thanks go out to those who enable our people to live.

"So we can not forget the tragedy now, it is all around. I cannot forget the Iraq before the war, and the fear and oppression that were experienced everyday. I can not forget either the mistakes made after the war. The continual lack of engagement with the religious community and the continued belief that the secular position of Iraq would supersede was dangerous and naïve.

"Despite the many mistakes that have been made I still do not regret that the war happened. I regret deeply what happened after the war. I take hope from the work of the Multi National Forces in Iraq, not least the US and UK troops; they are doing an outstanding job. I also take hope from the way that the Iraqi Army is developing, and from the work of Dr. Mowaffak Al Rubbaie, Iraq's National Security Advisor, and General Dave Petraeus the Chief US Military Officer.

"Reconciliation is certainly needed here. It is at the very heart of our hopes in the rebuilding process. It is a process that must involve both the political and religious leaders. To this end we are met in Copenhagen from 18th February with the religious and political leaders of Iraq to try and find a way forward and to work together on this very point. It has taken months to get this meeting together but with the support of the Danish Government it did happen. We wait to see its results. Last week we met in Cairo with Sunni and Shia religious leaders, including the deputy of Muqtada Al Sadr and the representative of Ayotollah Ali Sistani. Top Sunni Clerics were also there. A total rejection of all violence was pronounced. It was a major achievement. This week a major reconciliation conference organized by the Iraqi Government is taking place. It is between political groups but key representatives have not shown up. The reality is that in our meeting last week in Cairo we had far more groups represented and it was paid for by the Pentagon. Reconciliation is the only answer. We still have a very long way to go but we can't give up.

"It can not be denied that the last five years here have been terrible. That all around we see such devastation. All I can say is that we cannot and must not give up our efforts to rebuild this once great nation. It is so hard, there are many days when we just wonder how more difficult it can get, but we have a big God on our side and we know that with His help we will succeed."

Coffee with Barack, Hillary and John

“So-called ‘global warming’ is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st- century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don’t let them get away with it.” Chip Giller, founder,, for the environmentally concerned.

“You can’t lead the people, if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people, if you don’t serve the people.” Cornel West, professor, Princeton University

“The most important thing in life is to stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will.’ Consider nothing impossible, then treat possibilities as probabilities.” David Copperfield, Emmy-Award winning illusionist.

“When I wake up in the morning, I want to know that my family, friends and fans know what I believe in and what I’m all about. That’s what should be important.” Robert Randolph, Musician, music heard on XM Satellite Radio Channel 75

“Can I just get a damn cup of coffee – fast?” Doug Page, blogger.

If you’re a Barack Obama voter, those phrases from the back of Starbucks’ coffee cups are more than just quotations. They’re Scripture. Those passages move you to action, define you as a person, tell you how to live, what to consume and influence your vote. You’re an “aspirational” consumer, marketers say.

If you’re Hillary Clinton voter, however, the highlight of your day just might be a Dunkin Donuts cup of Joe with a cholesterol-laden doughnut. Your values were determined by what you read in your newspaper, saw on television, heard on the radio and the amount of money in your checkbook.

Hillary voters don’t need no stinkin’ philosophy, especially if it’s on a coffee cup. They’re lunch-pail Democrats, whose outlook was formed by the University of Real Life, the School of Hard Knocks.

That’s the word from Gerard Baker, a columnist for The Times of London, who observes the United States first hand. A British citizen, Baker comes as close as anyone lately to being a modern-day Alexis de Tocqueville, that famous Frenchman who witnessed and wrote about Americans during the 19th century.

“Mr. Obama’s supporters are the latte liberals. These are the people for whom Starbucks, with its $5 cups of coffee and fancy bakeries, is not just a consumer choice but a lifestyle. They not only have the money. They share the values,” wrote Baker after February’s Super Tuesday presidential primary.

“They live by all those little quotes on the side of Starbucks cups,” Baker said.

Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, “is the candidate of what might be called Dunkin Donut Democrats. They do not have the money to waste on multiple-hyphenated coffee drinks – double-top, no-foam, non-fat lattes and the like … They are the .75-cent coffee and doughnut crowd,” Baker said.

So, in an attempt to confirm Baker’s point – not that I have any reason to doubt him – your correspondent spoke to the public relations people at both Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts.

Here’s what they said:

The phrases were placed on the coffee cups to spark a conversation, said the Starbucks spokeswoman. Starbucks sees itself, in the United States at least, as offering up the American version of an Italian café, where people gather to drink coffee and pontificate about life.

While an interesting an idea, I’ve never once seen a Starbucks consumer read those quotations and use it as a means to strike up a conversation, either with someone they know or don’t know. So Starbucks notion that someone will use these quotes to start up a conversation seems, at the very least, presumptuous.

“We have accepted submissions from very different kinds of people with varying points of view,” she said. In other words, left-wing and right-wing extremists have an equal shot (no pun intended) of having their words published on a Starbucks cup.

Anyone can submit their words of wisdom for consideration on a Starbucks cup by going to and then clicking on the way i see it on the left side of the page.

Under no circumstance – this is important for you Hillary voters to understand – is Starbucks sending our messages, through its coffee cups, suggesting that Democrats vote for the junior Senator who’s successfully winning the latte vote. He’s doing that all by himself, thank you.

Starbucks would not release details on how many submissions they’ve received; the spokeswoman said that each submission is reviewed by a committee. She would not say who sits on the committee or the criteria used to judge which submissions are printed or discarded.

At Dunkin Donuts, they see themselves very differently from Seattle's coffee behemoth and, possibly to Starbucks detriment, they’ve got their coffee competitor figured out.

“We’re not an aspirational brand,” said their spokeswoman. “We serve great coffee to be consumed wherever our consumers wish to drink it.

“People come into our stores, get their coffee and doughnut and then go to work,” she said. “They don’t have time to hang out and talk, which is why our stores are usually empty.”

Indeed, in a quick drive around Chicago’s western suburbs, Starbucks cafés were filled with patrons while the Dunkin Donuts stores had, at the most, one person sitting in them.

Sixty percent of all Dunkin Donuts revenue comes from coffee sales, the spokeswoman said, making coffee a high priority for them. She wouldn’t release revenue figures because the company is privately held.

Dunkin Donuts has no plans, the spokeswoman said, to print quotations on the side of their coffee cups.

So what are we to make out of all this coffee stuff? Are Barack voters the only ones who are aspirational? Are Hillary’s voters only pedestrian? What kind of coffee do Republicans drink?

I wish I had the answers but calls placed to the Obama, Clinton and John McCain presidential campaigns on their candidates’ coffee preferences went unreturned. I have noticed, in some of the television coverage, that Senators Clinton and McCain appear to drink Starbucks coffee. At least they’re holding Starbucks cups. I’m unable to confirm what’s in them. So far, I’ve not seen a Starbucks cup in the hands of Sen. Obama. (Perhaps he’s a closeted Starbucks drinker – just like he’s a closeted smoker.)

What does all this mean?

People running for president of the United States are aspirational – regardless of their coffee or their party affiliation. They believe they’re a force for positive change. And it’s my guess that many of their most enthusiastic supporters are equally aspirational – regardless of their coffee and how they take it.

Editor’s Note: Yours truly grew up in a day and age in journalism when it was considered inappropriate not to identify sources – unless of course there was some specific reason that required someone to go unidentified. In this particular article, I’m not naming the spokeswomen because they asked to remain unnamed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In the future: Governor romantically linked to top donor and male escorts; refuses to resign

Combined Wire Reports
SACRAMENTO, March 19 – A defiant and unapologetic Governor Juanita Hernandez today confessed to purchasing male escorts and engaging in an extramarital affair, saying the sexual liaisons provided her with “an emotional and physical high that has long since left” her marriage.

Gov. Hernandez, 50, married with three children, was the first woman elected governor of California and the first Latino to hold the job. In a hastily called news conference today, she confirmed rumors linking her romantically to Craig Theborg, 55, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, as well as using male escorts.

“I want to put a stop to all these rumors right now,” the governor said. “Craig Theborg and I have been seeing one another for the last five years. Yes, it has been a romantic relationship. I have been with male escorts but not for what you think.

“I did it because my marriage is on the rocks,” the governor said. “These interludes provided me, especially the ones with Craig, with an emotional and physical high that has long since left my marriage.”

The rumors about the governor, the male escorts and Mr. Theborg, a longtime financial contributor to her campaigns, surfaced two days ago, when photographs of the governor, Mr. Theborg and male escorts were posted on a number of Web sites, including and, a Web site owned by a tabloid newspaper, the New York Post.

The pictures showed the governor embracing and kissing Mr. Theborg, as well as entering a Sausalito motel room with him. Other pictures showed the governor presumably with male escorts in restaurants around the San Francisco metropolitan area.

In spite of a likely legal investigation into the governor’s use of the escorts, she plans to remain in her job and says she will run for re-election. The governor refused to provide any details of her involvement with the male escorts.

“I’m not stepping down,” the governor said. “I will be the governor of California until my time in office is up. I may have broken God’s law but I didn’t violate any State and Federal laws.

“And, yes, I will run for re-election.”

The governor would not discuss her marriage to Glen Droit, 53, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt School of Law. She would not discuss her future plans with either her husband or Mr. Theborg.

The governor, a Democrat and a former state attorney general, campaigned two years ago on a platform to cut the state’s crime rate as well as to put a halt to illegal immigration. She defeated San Diego businessman John Walker, a Republican, in her run for the governor’s office.

“I was sent to Sacramento to do a job, and I plan to do it,” she said. “My marriage, my relationship with my children, and my relationship with Craig are my business and no one else’s.”

Asked if she was sorry for her actions, the governor said, “If I need to apologize to anyone, I’ll do so in private – not to you. The most important thing is the children. I very much love my children and don’t want to hurt them.”

Gov. Hernandez, Mr. Droit, and their three children, two teenage sons and a daughter, live in Berkeley; the governor has been living by herself in the governor’s mansion in Sacramento, returning to the family’s home on weekends.

Mr. Droit could not be reached for comment. University officials said he conducted his classes yesterday.

“Our heart goes out to Glen and his family,” said Robert Tomlinson, dean of the Law School.

Mr. Theborg, a venture capitalist in Palo Alto, was an early investor in Google. According to his firm’s Web site, Theborg and Associates invests in technology companies. Phone calls to his office were not returned.

Theborg, a longtime donor to the Democratic Party, has chaired the finance committee for Hernandez’s campaigns for attorney general and her gubernatorial campaign. According to, he’s donated $20,000.00 to the Democratic Party and another $12,000.00 to Hernandez’s three state-wide campaigns.

Gov. Hernandez said she met Theborg at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Los Angeles while she served in the State Assembly.

The state attorney general’s office would not return phone calls, inquiring whether they would investigate the governor’s use of male escorts or any possible discrepancy between the governor’s actions and the donations she’s received from Theborg. The U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco would also not comment about their possible actions.

Meantime, political support for the governor appeared to be holding up.

“The way she handled herself, standing up there all alone in front of all those cameras, this was so very brave of the governor,” said National Organization of Woman chairwoman Patty Stompt. “We’ll support her in every possible way.”

“Women have sexual and emotional needs, too,” said 85-year-old Gloria Steinem, a
longtime leader in the women’s rights movement, from her offices in New York. “For too long we’ve only associated men with sexual needs. That’s just not true. I say to Governor Hernandez, ‘You go girl.’”

“Anyone who’s ever been married understands her feelings,” said California Assemblyman Joe Hugo, D-Fresno. “I’m not saying she’s right in what she did but, you know, there are a lot of people who understand.

“I’ll continue to support her – politically and personally.”

Republicans in Sacramento refused to comment on the governor’s announcement.

The governor’s plans to remain in office put a damper on the political career of her lieutenant governor, Henry Lee. Lee, 48, a former mayor of San Francisco, is expected to remain in office, helping the governor with her legislative plans.

“He will not resign over this,” said a member of Lee’s staff who wished to remain anonymous.

Ms. Hernandez, the daughter of farm workers, grew up in Fresno and graduated from California State University in Fresno in 1992 before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt School of Law, where she met her husband. They were married shortly after she graduated.

She moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to work for a law firm before heading into public life. She was elected to the State Assembly in 2004. She became the state attorney general 2006 and was re-elected in 2010. She worked for a law firm in San Francisco before being elected governor in 2018.

Asked about her use of male escorts, the governor said, “The world’s oldest profession serves the world’s oldest need.”

Friday, March 07, 2008

The history of the American presidency & what Lyndon would do

“In the United States … the national political agenda is a product of careless comparisons … The media contribute to this … Almost continuous political campaigns also contribute, for ‘ins’ have to allege that things are better now than they used to be, while ‘outs’ have to charge that things are getting worse. And the public at large has little immunity, first because change inheres in ‘the American way of life;’ second because most people have not had much schooling in history; and third because they have been so deluged with ‘news’ denoted ‘crisis’ that the memory cells are cluttered.” Richard E. Neustadt & Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers. New York: The Free Press, 1986.

If you caught Sen. John Kerry’s endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama, just ahead of the South Carolina presidential primary, you likely heard the Massachusetts Democrat say that America’s most transformational presidents were young men.

“Since the birth of our nation, change has been won by young presidents and young leaders who have shown that experience is defined not by time in Washington or years in office, but by wisdom, instinct and vision,” said Sen. Kerry in January, reported The New York Times.

There’s only one problem with Mr. Kerry’s conclusion – it’s wrong. The junior Senator from Massachusetts, educated at an Ivy League school, shows, with his endorsement, little knowledge of American history.

Of the eight men elected president while in their 40s, only two have been of any consequence: James K. Polk, a Democrat, and Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican. The others, which include Franklin Pierce, Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, were of little significance in the course of American history.

To be fair, both Garfield and Kennedy were assassinated, bringing their presidencies to a quick and unfortunate halt; there will always remain questions about what their presidencies could have been and, tragically, for their sake and ours, those questions will remain unanswered.

Should his wife win both the Democratic presidential nomination and this year’s presidential election, Bill Clinton’s legacy might improve. His will be seen as the launching pad for the first woman to be elected president.

If Sen. Obama is elected president, he’ll be the ninth U.S. chief executive to be inaugurated before turning 50. If the past is prologue, the odds are stacked against Sen. Obama’s presidency being anywhere near successful. It’s likely to wind up in failure. At the very least, a President Obama won’t come close to meeting his supporters’ expectations.

Presidents Polk and Roosevelt, taking the oath of office at the ages of 49 and 42, respectively, can lay claim to being some of the country’s more transformational and successful presidents. Compared to the many of their presidential peers, both men showed high amounts of executive skills, leadership ability, rugged determination, courage of their convictions, were opportunistic and, when necessary, conniving and ruthless in accomplishing their goals.

Looking back at the 42 men to have held the presidency, only 10 come close to being considered transformational or held the job during a period of time when the country underwent fundamental and wholesale change. These 10 showed all the traits listed in the previous paragraph. They also had something in common: They were, more often than not, older than 50 when elected president or, prior to their White House years, had a record of executive leadership.

Those presidents include Thomas Jefferson, James K. Polk, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.

George Washington and Andrew Jackson deserve special mention. Washington set the tenor and tone for the presidency; his most important accomplishment was showing how a president abides by the Constitution, something that has gone all too underappreciated. Washington was the “indispensable man” because, at a time when the country was vulnerable to being taken over by a despot, he demonstrated, instead, how a president could live within a new political system.

One of Washington’s greatest accomplishments was to improve the country’s standing in the world’s leading capital markets of his day. That was when he agreed to Alexander Hamilton’s plan for the federal government to acquire the bonds the individual states had written to fund the Revolutionary War. By supporting Hamilton’s initiative, and seeing it passed by Congress, the young nation found a new source of revenue beyond tariffs and taxes. Suddenly foreign speculators in places like Amsterdam were buying the new U.S. government-backed bonds.

Washington’s presidency, however, is not transformational. Which doesn’t mean it’s any less important. His presidency was about establishing the country, placing him on a higher pedestal which no other president, no matter how successful, will ever ascend. Washington stands alone, and no one stands with him.

Jackson, one of the more colorful characters to have ever occupied The White House, was, compared to his immediate predecessors, the first common man to hold the office; his presidency, while marked with some historic events – the Nullification Proclamation and the closure of the Second Bank of the United States – did not transform the country. Jackson is the first president to stand up to the South, thereby enforcing the Constitution.

Here are some highlights of our most successful, transformational and consequential presidents:

• Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president, doubled the size of the country through the Louisiana Purchase; by doing so, he showed the power of the presidency because he negotiated and signed the agreement with France without consulting Congress. This might go down as the first presidential violation of the Constitution. He also successfully fought the Barbary Pirates by launching a Naval and Marine strike against Tripoli. The Barbary Pirates, the terrorists of that time, and had been attacking U.S. shipping. Their defeat meant that the United States no longer paid them tribute. Prior to becoming president, Jefferson had been Virginia’s governor, the U.S. secretary of state and vice president. He was 57 when he became the president.
• James K. Polk, the 11th president and the first president elected while in his 40s, brought Mexico to its knees, forcing it to surrender all of its territory north of the Rio Grande River. This gave the United States territory that stretched from Texas to California. Had Polk been more ambitious, perhaps even ruthless, or had more control over his diplomat negotiating with the Mexican government at the war’s conclusion, he could have annexed all of Mexico, bringing our southern neighbor’s existence to an end. While the Mexican-American war was in full swing, Polk successfully negotiated a treaty with Great Britain, forcing it to surrender its claims to the Oregon territory. He did this by appearing to be a war-monger and the British fell for the bluff. With these two accomplishments, Polk sees to it that the United States is a country that stretches, as the song goes, from sea to shining sea. And it was all done in the course of one presidential term. Before becoming president, Polk had been speaker of the House of Representatives and governor of Tennessee.
• Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, successfully fought the Civil War and ended slavery, thereby allowing the United States to live up to its proclamations about being a country that supported and promoted freedom for all Americans regardless of their race, creed and religion. Lincoln was 52 when he became president and had little executive experience prior to his White House years.
• William McKinley, the 25th president, a former Ohio governor and Congressional leader, transformed the United States into an empire by defeating the Spanish during our war with them in 1898, giving the United States its first territorial possessions outside of its boundaries, including the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico and, for a while, Cuba. McKinley had never wanted to go to war but events and public opinion forced his hand; the most significant victory of the war was the Navy’s defeat of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. It put the world’s considered top naval authorities, which included the British and German Admiralties as well as the Japanese, on notice that they had a new rival for command of the high seas. McKinley was 54 when he was inaugurated as president.
• Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, came to office just shy of his 43rd birthday. His was an accidental presidency; he had been McKinley’s vice president and became president on McKinley’s assassination. Prior to becoming vice president, Roosevelt had been New York City’s police chief, New York’s governor and assistant secretary of the Navy. During his nearly eight years as president, Roosevelt’s transformed the United States into a world power. He ended the Russo-Japan war; sent the Navy on a worldwide tour, showing the world that the United States was no sleeping giant. He supported a revolution in Columbia so the territory that would become Panama could separate and become its own nation; and then, because of his support, Roosevelt successfully negotiated a treaty with the new Panamanian government for the Canal that would completely transform worldwide shipping. It also gave the United States the ability to transfer its naval ships between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans with ease, making the United States a two-ocean power. In addition, he ended a railway trust and became the country’s first “green” president by safeguarding and enlarging parts of the country from development.
• Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president, had been the governor of New Jersey and the president of Princeton University prior to becoming president of the United States. The most significant accomplishment during his presidency was the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank, thereby giving the United States an effective monetary policy that’s outside of the control of the president. He also reversed a long standing tariff that had protected American industry, and he established the Federal Trade Commission, which is empowered to investigate corporate practices. His other domestic accomplishments included passing a child labor law and limiting railroad workers to an eight-hour day, something that would become part of American lexicon. He led the United States into World War I but his attempts to make the country more influential on foreign affairs were defeated by Congress. Wilson set American foreign policy for most of the 20th century when he said that the United States would fight in World War I "for things which we have carried nearest to our hearts -- for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free people as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free ... America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured." This proposition, the centerpiece of American foreign policy, has been advanced by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Wilson was 56 when he took office.
• Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president, was 51 when he was inaugurated. Prior to becoming president, FDR had been the governor of New York and, like his presidential cousin Theodore, an assistant secretary of the Navy. FDR transformed the United States into a world power by leading the country into World War II and seeing to it that had a say in global events after the war. He also pushed legislative action to end the Depression, called the New Deal, which increased the government’s role in the economy. Two of his most significant accomplishments include establishing the United Nations and the Social Security Administration.
• Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president, was the first Cold War president. He established U.S. foreign and military policy so that it could counter the Soviet Union’s attempts to achieve worldwide communism. This would become a bipartisan initiative. HST succeeded FDR upon his death in April 1945. Some of his most significant decisions included using the atomic bomb to bring about Japan’s surrender during World War II; establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; the Truman Doctrine; and bringing about racial integration of the military. Truman was 60 when he took office.
• Lyndon Johnson, the 36th president, because of his years in Congress prior to becoming John Kennedy’s vice president, successfully pushed through much of the legislation that Kennedy initiated but failed to have enacted by Congress. Besides FDR, there was likely no greater presidential force on Congress than Johnson. And because he knew just about everything about every member of Congress, he saw much of his proposed legislation, called The Great Society, successfully voted upon by Congress. The Great Society program included the 1964 Civil Rights Amendment; Medicare; Medicaid; the war on domestic poverty; the Equal Opportunity Act; and Head Start. Johnson’s accomplishments also included establishing the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The great tragedy that affect’s Johnson’s legacy is the Vietnam War. Had he either unleashed his military commanders so they could fight the war as they saw fit or, instead, decided to remove U.S. forces from the Republic of Vietnam early in his presidential tenure, his legacy would be much brighter. Still, all in all, LBJ was highly effective and very much a transformational president. LBJ was 55 when he took office.
• Ronald Reagan, the 40th president, goes down as the oldest man to ever be inaugurated; he was just shy of his 70th birthday when he took the oath of office. During his presidency, he showed the Soviet Union that it would cost them far more than they had ever anticipated if they were to carry on the Cold War. Reagan forced them to the bargaining table through a strategy that was simple but understood, “We win, they lose.” By his actions, he forced the downfall of the Soviet Union and thoroughly discredited communism as credible politics. The departure of the Soviet Union made the world safer in some ways, more dangerous in others. By defeating the Soviet Union, without firing a shot at it directly, Reagan put an end to an issue that had plagued American foreign policy and military planners for nearly half of the 20th century. Prior to becoming president, Reagan had been a labor leader and a two-term governor of California.

So what makes for a transformational president?

Transformational leadership, as defined by Pulitzer Prize winning historian James MacGregor Burns, in his book Transforming Leadership: A New Pursuit of Happiness, involves bringing about “a metamorphosis in form or structure, a change in the very condition or nature of a thing, a change into another substance, a radical change in outward form or inner character … It is change of his breadth and depth that is fostered by transformational leadership.”

Transformational leaders, Burns writes, “define public values that embrace the supreme and enduring principles of a people … Such values are not ordinarily part of the daily discourse of the citizenry. But at testing times when people confront the possibilities – and threat – of great change, powerful foundational values are evoked. They are the inspiration and guide to people who pursue and seek to shape change, and they are the standards by which the realization of the highest intentions is measured.”

It is impossible to predict what anyone will be like as president. The best ones never entered the job thinking their presidencies would stand out more than others. They were certainly ambitious politicians but they never thought they’d achieve all that they did.

The most successful and meaningful presidents knew what they wanted to do once they took office. President Polk stated that he’d expand the country during one presidential term, which may make him the only president to have lived up to all of his campaign promises. He didn’t run for re-election. Franklin Roosevelt, elected during the Depression, knew the economy needed help; he didn’t think he was going to fight Germany, Japan and Italy and discredit fascism. Witnessing Jimmy Carter’s presidency, Reagan knew he had to free U.S. hostages from Tehran and reduce Soviet influence. He never thought he’d wholesale defeat Soviet-style communism and liberate Eastern Europe.

Some of our better presidents entered office thinking they would do something entirely different than they did. Woodrow Wilson thought he’d spend his time working on domestic policy, not fighting Congress over the country’s role in global events. On his inauguration day, Lincoln did not see himself as the great emancipator. McKinley would have been perfectly happy to serve out his time in office with Spain possessing Cuba and its islands in the Pacific. The term “Cold War” hadn’t been invented when Harry Truman became president.

So what made these presidents better than others?

There are two things that stand out in their backgrounds: First, they more than likely came to the presidency with a record of executive leadership; second, they were more than likely over 50. Their record of executive leadership provided them with experience in working and leading a legislative body; it also gave them experience in leading a public body of voters and citizens. With the exception of Presidents Polk and Theodore Roosevelt, their age likely provided them with the confidence they needed to make difficult decisions, face troubling times and, perhaps, understand the nuances of the human condition.

There was also something that each successful president possessed, executive ability. Each one had the ability to understand the issues critical to success and then make the necessary decisions to turn their vision into reality.

In The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, authors Thomas E. Cronin and Michael A. Genovese suggest that presidential leadership comes from having vision, skill and political timing. “The most important ‘power’ a president can have is to present … a clear and compelling vision” for the future, they write. Visionary presidents include Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and FDR; each is remembered for the ideas that they had on the country’s role.

Skill is shown by knowing to act when certain opportunities either present themselves or knowing what to do bring about attainment of political goals. Cronin and Genovese suggest that presidential executive skills are important but that success is also dependent on the task as well as the opportunity presented. This sounds like McKinley and the Spanish-American War. The authors say that “more experience (in politics) is better than less experience” in making a president successful.

Other important skills for presidents to possess, the authors say, include people skills. “They must know how to persuade, bargain, cajole and co-opt.” Think LBJ and the ‘Johnson Treatment,’ something the 36th president would bestow on wavering Congressman and Senators unsure of their vote on something near and dear to LBJ. Personality skills and self awareness also make for successful presidents, the authors write. Managerial skills, the authors write, help a president understand the institutional issues they face.

A president’s personal skills are also important, the authors say. A president “must be disciplined, intelligent, have stamina, show sound judgment and act with maturity. Good presidents are creative, empathetic, and expressive. They must also have a sense of humor, and learn to control their temper. President Reagan’s self-effacing sense of humor served him well as president, it disarmed his opponents and won over much of the public.”

Political timing, the authors write, is highly important in determining success for a president. A president-elect must know what they’ll do during their first 100 days in office. This is typically when a president holds the most clout to accomplish their goals. “Strong twentieth-century presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan began with clear goals and pushed Congress to approve bold new programs,” the authors say.

The presidency is, on the one hand, a magnificent job, and, on the other, one filled with potential pitfalls. Americans want, simultaneously, a president who will solve their problems as well as one who will not interfere in their daily lives. At least too much.

Authors Cronin and Genovese propose nine paradoxes involving the American presidency and the American public. They include the fact that while Americans want a strong president who can solve the nation’s ills, the citizenry is equally suspicious of “strong centralized leadership.” Americans also seek a presidential candidate who can unify “diverse people … but the job requires taking firm stands, making unpopular … decisions that … upset and divide.” One of the greatest paradoxes, write the authors, is that what it takes to be elected president is often entirely different from what it takes to govern from the Oval Office.

So given what’s known about the most effective presidents we’ve had, so far, how should we vote during the remaining primaries and in the coming election? Some of that answer relies on your politics. If you’re a Democrat, and have yet to vote in the primary, you have two choices, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. If you’re a Republican, you’re likely supporting John McCain.

The best presidential candidates, based on historical information, are Senators Clinton and McCain. They’re over 50 and have some experience in executive leadership. They’re also well aware of how Congress operates and know its members. Their age and experiences will make them more effective at the presidency, should they be elected, than Sen. Obama, who’s still serving his first term in the Senate.

Sen. Obama’s resume is weak in accomplishment. Yes, he’s charismatic speaker and offers up a wonderful vision of the country. But, so far, he does not have any significant victory in public life. When Reagan hit his presidential stride in 1980, he, too, offered up wonderful speeches for what the country would look like if he was elected president; the difference between Reagan and Obama is that he’d been an effective governor of the nation’s largest state. Sen. McCain has campaign finance reform to his name; Sen. Clinton’s failed initiative to reform healthcare, during her years as the First Lady, provides her with great insight on what needs to be done to make healthcare more accessible to all Americans – and how to get it accomplished. Failure can often lead to success.

Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, by Richard E. Neustadt & Ernest R. May, was originally intended for people in government. The idea behind the book was to educate government decision makers on a few historical examples, so they’d know to use previous experiences, historical ones even, as they considered policies that would affect the future.

You may wonder, then, what this means to you. If you’re a citizen, and a registered voter, you are the government. The lessons of Neustadt and May equally apply to you as to any government policy maker. Know the past, think in time, and you’ll likely make a better decision about the future. The authors’ lessons especially apply to you as you consider who you will vote for in the upcoming election. If you’re a Democrat, your best choice is Sen. Clinton. If you’re a Republican, even though the presidential primary is effectively concluded, your best choice was always Sen. McCain.


This year’s Democratic presidential primary, if you heard the endorsement from Sen. Ted Kennedy and his niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, is akin to the one in 1960, when another young charismatic Senator from Massachusetts, John Kennedy, ran for the nomination. He was up against some of the Democratic Party’s best veterans, Senators Humphrey, Symington and Johnson.

Johnson lost the nomination to Kennedy at the Democratic Presidential convention in Los Angeles. Johnson, Kennedy thought, had been the best Senate Majority leader in the country’s history. And while Kennedy didn’t like Johnson, he knew he needed him on the ticket to be elected. Johnson would strengthen the ticket’s standing in the South and the West.

Johnson could have remained in the Senate but he knew his position as majority leader would be very much diminished if Kennedy was elected; he also knew that Richard Nixon, if elected president, wouldn’t be as gracious to him as President Eisenhower. He was caught between a rock and hard place. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the noted historian, has suggested that Johnson thought his presence on the Kennedy ticket would help the South move into the twentieth century.

Johnson, however, had to be convinced to take the job. A number of his advisors told him not to accept Kennedy’s overtures. What moved Johnson especially was the counsel he received from his political mentor, former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, who told Johnson, in essence, it would be beneficial for him, as well as the country (and Texas) if he joined Kennedy’s ticket.

It appears that Senators Clinton and Obama are on course similar to that of Kennedy and Johnson. And the question is who will make the phone call to suggest to either Senator to join the other’s ticket, so the party is unified for the general election. Possible candidates for this task include but aren’t limited to former Vice President Al Gore, former President Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Walter Mondale and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

Who will be the great unifier for the Democratic Party? It remains to be seen.

If LBJ were alive, he’d tell that Senator, either Clinton or Obama, to accept the other’s invitation to be on the ticket. The election, he would say, must be won. The party needs to unify for the good of the country, he would say. And if the Democratic presidential ticket – whether it’s Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton – is elected, it would be a culmination of the civil rights battles that LBJ had fought for during his career. There’s no better way to mark the 36th president’s 100th birthday.


A History of the American People, Paul Johnson, New York: HarperCollins, 1997.

Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822 – 1832, Rover V. Remini, New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1981

Hamilton’s Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of our National Debt, John Steele Gordon, New York: Walker and Company, 1997.

James K. Polk, John Seigenthaler, New York: Times Books, Henry Holt & Company, 2003.

Leadership, James MacGregor Burns, New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1978.

The Leadership Factor, John P. Kotter, New York: The Free Press, 1988.

Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and his times, 1908 – 1960, Robert Dallek, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

LBJ: Architect of American Ambition, Randall B. Woods, New York: Free Press, 2006.

Oregon: A History, Gordon B. Dodds, New York: W. W. Nortorn & Company, Inc., 1977.

The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, Thomas E. Cronin & Michael A. Genovese, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Presidential Ambition: How the Presidents Gained Power, Kept Power and Got Things Done, Richard Shenkman, New York: Harper Collins, 1999.

Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan, Richard E. Neustadt, New York: The Free Press, 1990.

Transforming Leadership: A New Pursuit of Happiness, James MacGregor Burns, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.

The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History, Philip Bobbitt, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

The Use of Presidential Power, 1789 – 1943, George Fort Milton, New York: Octagon Books, 1965.

Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, Richard E. Neustadt & Ernest R. May, New York: The Free Press, 1986, official Web site of The White House