I was reading something about Dubya, and comparing him to his father and to Clinton. It got me thinking about the personalities different presidents have had, and the way they’re perceived by the public. Now, I’m not linking personality with ability to
Ford and earlier, I only know through books and archive footage, so I’ll stick to Carter, Reagan, Bush senior, Clinton and Bush junior.
I remember Carter as being more capable than he’s reputed to have been. He did speak with authority, but his statements were seen as incongruous with his accent. Also, his piousness turned some people off. Wrong time. Now everyone clamors to know where the President worships, and more importantly, that he does.
Reagan…You know, being the President is, in a small way, an acting job. Reagan always had the right tone in the right situation. Even if Nancy had to whisper his line. Now, whispering his line is not something she would have had to do had he not been shot. All along, people thought he was disoriented because of his age. He wasn’t; it was because of the brain damage he suffered in 1981. IANAWhite House press agent, so I don’t know if suppressing that information was the right thing or not. But letting everyone think that the President is an old codger when he actually has a medical problem is not good for morale.
Bush senior was sharp and vigorous enough for two each of Carter and Reagan, but he was very New England, which many people found cold. Still, iciness has its place. I remember a sound bite from a NAFTA-related speech or conference, with Bush saying, “Will you…please…be quiet…and let me finish?” not through clenched teeth, but with a crisp enunciation that defied response. I would not have wanted to be the person to whom he was saying that.
Clinton was everybody’s boy for most of the first term. He always smiled, he hugged people, he had a high-class southern accent, not a drawl like Carter, he was chubbier than you were, but not so much as to be gross. Mr. Rilch once said Clinton would have made a better vice-president. I said, yeah, but he would have stolen the show. But later, people wondered why, when so much was being thrown at him, he never showed an emotion stronger than, “I’m sorry, y’all.” Even earlier incidents were similarly soft-pedaled. His first statement about the OK bombings, during that time when we ironically thought Bin Laden was responsible, Clinton assured the nation that “We will not be intimidated by evil cowards.” Now, that is a strong statement. But he didn’t say it nobly; he said it reassuringly, the way he might once have said, “Ah promise you, Chelsea, there are no monsters under your bed. Now snuggle down and I’ll read you Curious George!” He was great when he was selling you something, but when faced with adversity, he still tried to sell, rather than defend, himself.
Bush junior. Well, people laugh about the pretzel, and other goofs, the way they laughed at Ford. But he does come off well to the press. He doesn’t move awkwardly, he has a good speaking voice, and he’s brisk; very brisk for a Texan. If he does turn out to be an automaton, well, they did a good job on him.