New Collection Re-evaluates Presidents

Roundup: Talking About History

David J. Foster, in the News Gleaner (June 17 2004):

Even the most buoyant Reagan booster must have watched last week's revisionism in disbelief.

While conservatives have long listed President Reagan among the near great presidents, for restoring the country's faith itself while pushing Communism into the ash heap of history, suddenly former foes, like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, could be heard praising Reagan for his optimism and breaking the Soviet's stranglehold on Eastern Europe.

History will be the final judge, and, as it has for so many of out chief executives, you can expect more revisionism. Look no further than James Taranto and Leonard Leo's new book"Presidential Leadership" (Free Press/Wall Street Journal Books)

Released, coincidently, just days before Reagan's death, this collection of essays examines our chief executives through new, usual prisms.

Conservative Judge Robert Bork questions the economic effectiveness of liberal icon Franklin Roosevelt, while Teddy Roosevelt's audacity is celebrated by (who else?) brash U.S. Sen. John McCain.

Humorist Chris Buckley confirms the ineptitude of James Buchanan:"It's probably just as well that James Buchanan was our only bachelor president. There are no descendants bracing every morning on opening the papers to find another headline announcing 'Buchanan Once Again Rated Worst President in History.'"

New impressions

John F. Kennedy: Though JFK is rightfully praised as a Cold Warrior, notes speechwriter Peggy Noonan, she believes he was motivated by the fear that he and the nation would be perceived as weak.

"But what did he think of Communism?" she writers."What did he think of capitalism?" On these questions he lacked a bold vision. Kennedy, she argues, represented the hedonistic side the Greatest Generation. He used heavy drugs to cope with debilitating pain and illnesses, and was a sexual libertine, making him closer to the boomers than his contemporaries. In short, he was as much a Rat Packer as his cronies Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford.

Warren Harding: Harding and Buchanan often spar for the title of Worst President. Harding is blamed for not predicting the coming depression and he's blasted for Interior Secretary Albert Fall illegally selling favors, a scandal that did not implicate Harding. Jeremy Rabkin, a professor of government at Cornell University, urges a more balanced view. Harding cut taxes and spending to below pre-war levels, and ignited an economic boom. And after assuming the presidency, he freed the socialists and labor leaders imprisoned under Woodrow Wilson during the 1919 Red Scare....

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