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Let’s Celebrate Presidents’ Day with FDR!

Not since Abraham Lincoln have I been this excited about the next president on my journey through the best presidential biographies. Two years ago, twelve biographies of Lincoln consumed four months of my life with everything that 9,500 pages of gripping narrative could offer. Now I’m on to an even more audacious task: reading 18 […]



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What Makes an Effective President

Thomas Paine observed,  “a non-describable, chameleon-colored thing called prudence, in many cases a substitute for principle so nearly allied to hypocrisy that it easily slides into it.”   He was describing George Washington.

Government is the badge of lost innocence

Does the President make the events of the day… or is his molded by them?  America’s first historian, George Bancroft, noted that, “a good President will secure unity to his administration by his own supervision of the various departments. HE, who accepted advice readily, was never governed by any member of his cabinet, and could not be moved from a purpose deliberately formed; but his supervision of affairs was unsteady and incomplete, and sometimes, by a sudden interference transcending the usual forms, he rather confused than advanced the public business. If he ever failed in the scrupulous regard due to the relative rights of Congress, it was so evidently without design that no conflict could ensue, or evil precedent be established. Truth he would receive from any one, but when impressed by others, he did not use their opinions till, by reflection, he had made them thoroughly his own.”   Bancroft was describing Abraham Lincoln.

The public is wiser than the wisest critic.

Separating great Presidents from the not-great… is far from an exact science.  Presidential historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. summarized the difficulty,  “To succeed, presidents must have a port to seek and must convince Congress and  the electorate of the rightness of their course.  Politics in a democracy is  ultimately an educational process, an adventure in persuasion and consent.   Every president stands in Theodore Roosevelt’s bully pulpit.  National crisis  widens his range of options but does not automatically make a man great.  The  crisis of rebellion did not spur Buchanan to leadership, nor did the crisis of  depression turn Hoover into a bold and imaginative president.  Their  inadequacies in the face of crisis allowed Lincoln and the second Roosevelt to  show the difference that individuals can make to history.”   Obviously, the right man at the right time is needed for greatness. 

What makes the right man?


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