Gil Troy: A Short History of Presidential Politicking
Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University, is the editor, with Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Fred Israel, of “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008,” fourth edition.
In running for re-election, Barack Obama commands the most powerful democratic platform in world history and the greatest backdrop, the White House. A seemingly casual announcement in a TV interview can trigger a political earthquake, as Obama did when he endorsed gay marriage. But the president’s magnificent residence can also be what Harry Truman called the Great White Jail.
Presidents are handcuffed by their power. Presidential statements can crash financial markets or start wars. The dignity of the presidency also inhibits, even in today’s brutal political environment. Obama’s campaign ad attacking Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital made some Democrats squirm as Republicans labeled the president “another gut-punching politician from Washington.”
The ambivalence about presidents politicking goes back to the nation’s founding. George Washington liked “going on tour,” getting “huzzahed” north and south – but, reflecting his contemporaries’ distaste for democracy, he avoided explicit political talk. When the less popular President Martin Van Buren toured before his 1840 re-election campaign, his fellow Democrats feted him. Nevertheless, the new partisanship polarizing American politics had Whig Party critics denouncing Van Buren’s activities as “undignified” and “insulting,” while mocking “His Majesty, King Martin the First.”...
comments powered by Disqus
- Film Conjures Era That Some in Selma Would Rather Not Revisit
- White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier
- The best history books of 2014 – as rated by historians
- High school students now must take a world history class to graduate, new law says
- Newly Released Sandia Labs Film Presents Story of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Safety Effort
- Majors in history earn more than others in the humanities
- The director of Mount Vernon’s library says it’s difficult to pierce the Washington myth (Interview)
- The Unsuspecting Thing Conservative Historian David Barton Did With $1 Million Awarded to Him in Defamation Lawsuit
- Celebrated Holocaust archivist Robert Wolfe dies at age 93
- New Churchill Museum director shares vision