A couple weeks ago our AP Lang class read part of "Reverence for Life" by Albert Schweitzer. This essay is about having respect for even the smallest and peskiest living things, like bugs and weeds.
As you perhaps know, the day after tomorrow is the "big kahuna" - the AP US History test. And the pressure is completely on because last year I was just hoping to pass but since I got a 5, I have to get a 5 again. Or else I will hate myself.
So I decided to commit the nerdiest act I have yet - I bought the History Channel's special 8-[art feature on all of the presidents. My teacher has these videos and played them in class and I always liked them. So I used part of my iTunes gift card and I bought myself 8+ hours of historical footage. Nerd-alert!
But I like watching them, so it's all good.
They start with Washington of course, and they proceed through like that. I have watched up to Grover Cleveland (his first term, not his second non-consecutive term). And when I watch all of these segments on each president, I realize how hard each decision is - to go to war, to send the troops, to sign the treaty, to intervene, to drop the bomb - or not. And how difficult it is to figure out the right strategy to, say, get the Soviet missiles out of Cuba. Or how to confront the American public about the abysmal state of the economy in the country's worst depression. Or even how to understand the language and nature of politics themselves.
Various sources cite the following presidents as in the top 10 (generally, some are ties): Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, Lincoln (said to be the best), both Roosevelts, Wilson, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Reagan.
The worst are said to be: W. Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan (dubbed the worst president), A. Johnson, Grant, Garfield, Harding, B. Harrison, Coolidge, Hoover, Nixon, Carter, and Bush (the one we just had). Our current president, Obama, is ranked in 2 polls as around 14 or 15 out of 44.
We say the best are American heroes. They are the glory of the country. We are proud to say Lincoln held the country together and abolished slavery. We are happy to be the country whose president saved the western hemisphere from nuclear destruction. And we are proud to say that our first president held our fragile and vulnerably new nation together and withstood war, conflicting beliefs, and being the underdogs. We were the little nation that could - and did.
But the other presidents in between - the ones when you find yourself saying, "We had a president Arthur? Was there ever a James Garfield? Or a William Henry Harrison? Well, I don't respect you to know the last two - they served for less than a year (Harrison served a month).
But each had his own accomplishment that nevertheless furthered our country. Let's see: James Madison ends the War of 1812. James Monroe comes up with the Missouri Compromise to please as many people as he can - abolitionists and slaveholders. William Henry Harrison wanted to please the American people so much that he gave the longest inaugural address, caught pneumonia, and died in office. John Tyler annexed Texas. Chester Arthur reversed his ways and built up the Navy. Rutherford Hayes pushed for education reform and civil service reform. Lyndon Johnson had an entire domestic program dedicated to helping the poor and disadvantaged. Gerald Ford got us out of Vietnam. George W Bush, who ranks low on many historian polls, created the Department of Homeland Security. Carter, who had a heart of gold but less skill at politics, tried endlessly to get two rival nations to make peace. Even the worst president, historians claim, secretly bought several slaves and set them free in the north.
I have reverence for all the presidents. They put their careers, their lives, and their time on the line so that we can live our lives the way the Founding Fathers hoped our country would be. Some people aren't suited for the job. Some weren't even meant to become presidents and learned immediately that they were to handle a nation for the next 4 years of their lives.
They are men - and hopefully someday, women - who try their hardest to do what they think is right for the country. And we can only ask for the best someone can do.
* Also, today is my grandpa's birthday! He and my grandma are faithful readers of this fine web publication. Happy Birthday!