As Presidents Day, Feb. 18, approaches, it’s time again for me to share some thoughts and quotes about those who held the highest office in America, continuing a topic I started a year ago.
The best and the worst president? No telling how many arguments — or fistfights — such conversations have launched.
At the bottom, at least on my list, allow me the liberty to introduce President James Buchanan, who served from 1857 to 1861.
The 15th president gets low marks for his failure to take any noteworthy action to prevent the onset of the American Civil War. He was considered a spectator.
Criticism about Buchanan also emerged from his campaign statement saying that 10 cents a day was good pay for a worker. Hence the nickname critics coined for him: “Ten-cent Jimmy.”
As the beleaguered Buchanan left office, to prevent his portrait from being defaced officials decided to remove it from the Capitol rotunda. He returned home to Pennsylvania.
“If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed,” Buchanan said.
Don’t think he ever heard the chant, “Four more years!”
In that era, between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, only one president, in many historians’ opinions, deserves a high ranking. That’s James Polk, who was called “Young Hickory,” because of his ties to Old Hickory.
Polk accomplished almost all he set out to do. He increased the size of the country more than any president other that Thomas Jefferson by acquiring New Mexico and California. His administration also formed a treaty with England that acquired the Oregon Territory.
Polk died of cholera shortly after his strenuous years in office from 1845 to 1849.
“No president who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure,” he said.
Not sure I agree. Plenty of presidents found time to play golf, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of my favorite commanders in chief.
Eisenhower played at the Augusta National course during his presidency and was known to hit a pine tree on the 17th hole so often that he asked to have it removed. The club declined, and the tree became known as the Eisenhower tree. It was considered unsafe due to an ice storm and removed in 2014.
After leaving office, Eisenhower planned to continue to play golf.
“How has retirement affected my golf game? A lot more people beat me now,” he said, tongue-in-cheek.
John F. Kennedy was considered a good golfer — as far as presidents are concerned.
But rather than getting too off course with golf anecdotes in this column, I’ll report a shot he took at a political adversary:
“Do you realize the responsibility I carry? I’m the only person standing between Richard Nixon and the White House,” Kennedy said.
President Harry Truman lambasted Nixon and his political adversaries.
Found this gem the other day attributed to Truman:
“You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.”
“Always be sincere, even if you don’t mean it.”
Can’t write a column about presidential quotes without using a line or two from T.R.
Trust buster, conservation advocate, imperialist — call Theodore Roosevelt what you will — but he remains one of our best presidents, simply for his knack for getting things done.
Found this T.R. quote the other day:
“A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.”
I also read recently a great tribute from Anwar Sadat to Jimmy Carter, who received lukewarm reviews for his one term in office. Nevertheless, I always admired his sense of decency, integrity and willingness to help others.
Sadat, the late Egyptian president and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, said this in 1978:
“President Carter is true to himself and true to others. It is because he is so honest with others, that is why I have no difficulty in dealing with him … “(He) is a man impelled by the power of religious faith and lofty values — a farmer like me.”
Speaking of farmers, our first president, George Washington, who was often thought of as having a reserved personality, also had a sense of humor.
Got a chuckle when a few years ago I read about a discussion our founding fathers had pertaining to the size of the force needed to protect the capital from a British invasion. If memory serves me right — which is a fleeting occurrence — some of our founders suggested only a small force was necessary, prompting a rebuttal from Washington. Here’s the gist of it:
Washington would be willing to guard the capital with a small force if the British would agree to attack the capital with a small force, he said wryly.
My final salute is to the late George H.W. Bush, who always impressed me by the broad experience he had leading up to his presidency: congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, chief of the Liaison Office in China and CIA director.
Former ABC Correspondent Sam Donaldson gave Bush high praise for his dealings with the press.
“I never heard of him calling a reporter to chew him out, never being angry at a reporter," said Donaldson. "He understood what we were about.”
Other journalists on the CNN report also said Bush respected journalists and was accessible.
To wit, a quote from the late president about the fourth estate:
“We need an independent media to hold people like me to account.”
Hear, hear. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
To be continued next year.
Happy Presidents Day, and hail to the chiefs — even Ten-cent Jimmy.