I noticed yesterday that people were “celebrating” “President’s Day” by naming their favorite president or creating lists of “the best” presidents. (If this is a typical thing I’ve honestly never noticed it before.) My wife’s aunt asked my nine-year-old daughter who her favorite president was, and of course my daughter said “Barack Obama” because she doesn’t know any other presidents. I can’t imagine the criteria used by adults were much better though. I mean, what is the average person (someone who hasn’t actually studied history, that is) basing her opinion on? Given the laughably simplistic hagiographies we get from the media and our K-12 indoctrination facilities, I’d have to say: not much. George Washington beat the British and chopped down some cherry trees. Abe Lincoln freed the slaves, and he was honest. Ronnie Reagan told the guy with the stain on his head to tear down that wall and he liked jelly beans. Slick Willy really seemed to care. It reminds me of the scene in Back to School where the lit prof asks Thornton Mellon to tell her about the The Great Gatsby, and Thornton says, “He was…uh…great!”
So who’s my favorite president? The one who died a few months after taking office (I never said I studied history) because he wasn’t in the job long enough to do any damage.