As government workers – though only about a third of private-sector office workers – get a day off Monday for Presidents’ Day (legally, though not in fact, George Washington’s Birthday), I thought I’d offer some reading about presidents.
First, my own tribute to our first president, the man who led America in war and peace and who gave up power to make us a republic:
Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”
“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Then, of course, Gene Healy’s book The Cult of the Presidency, which argues that 200 years after Washington, “presidential candidates talk as if they’re running for a job that’s a combination of guardian angel, shaman, and supreme warlord of the earth.” Buy it today, in multiple formats.
Gene updated that argument with a short ebook, False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency. As they say, start reading in minutes!
And then you can read my short response to Politico’s 2010 question, “Who were the best and worst presidents?” I noted:
Presidential scholars love presidents who expand the size, scope and power of government. Thus they put the Roosevelts at the top of the list. And they rate Woodrow Wilson – the anti-Madisonian president who gave us the entirely unnecessary World War I, which led to communism, National Socialism, World War II, and the Cold War –8th. Now there’s a record for President Obama to aspire to! Create a century of war and terrorism, and you can move up from 15th to 8th.
Hmmm, maybe it would be better to just read a biography of George Washington.