Blessed to be able to reflect on 75 years of Presidents
I recently survived to a 75th birthday. When you reach three-quarters of a century, your thoughts naturally turn to recollections of major events and leaders over that time. Thirteen Presidents served: Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama.
I was born in the Great Depression, but didn’t feel deprived, because Dad had a job, using a shovel provided by the Works Projects Administration, created by Democratic President Roosevelt, who put thousands to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure—roads, sewer systems– literally digging us out of the economic collapse. .
Most people loved FDR—elected him four times—because he did so much for the country, leading us through World War II, and starting government programs that helped everyone, and explaining them in his “fireside chats.” Social Security, unemployment compensation, worker rights, and bringing electricity to much of Appalachia. It helped individuals, and the economy as a whole, giving everybody more purchasing power.
FDR was succeeded by Harry Truman, who implemented Roosevelt’s idea of the United Nations, where countries could, “jaw, jaw, instead of war, war.” The U.N. has helped us avoid a World War III. Truman, a Democrat, racially integrated the military, and stood for non-discrimination in employment.
He was succeeded by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. Though a Republican, Ike raised the minimum wage, used troops to protect minority students in Arkansas, and increased Social Security.
Ike was succeeded by Democrat John Kennedy. JFK was one of our most eloquent leaders, which he demonstrated in many live news conferences. He forcefully supported the racial integration of colleges, jawboned the steel companies to back down from inflationary price increases, and became the first President to recognize the right of government employees to unionize.
Kennedy’s assassination produced Lyndon Johnson, a President whose considerable accomplishments were overshadowed by the Vietnam War. LBJ signed laws creating Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs that helped reduce poverty, and laws guaranteeing voting rights to minorities. The minimum wage, now only $7.25, peaked at the end of the Kennedy-Johnson years at $10.00, in today’s dollars.
President Richard Nixon, a Republican, signed legislation creating the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Title IX, providing more equality for women.
Gerald Ford, Republican, restored stability to the nation after Nixon resigned in disgrace. Jimmy Carter, Democrat, helped bring a measure of peace to the Middle East, and was the first President to push for alternative fuels.
Republican icon, Ronald Reagan, was the anti-Roosevelt, blaming government for most of our problems. His tax cuts helped the wealthy and the stock market, but not so much working people. He ended the Fairness Doctrine making possible the rise of the one-sided radio and TV we see today. He does deserve credit for signing a major nuclear weapons treaty with the then Soviet Union.
George Herbert Walker Bush, a Republican, led the nation in an invasion of Iraq and raised taxes after promising, “Read my lips. No new taxes.” That cost him his job to Bill Clinton, the Democrat.
Stable energy prices and the growth of technology helped the Clinton-Gore administration achieve increased prosperity for most Americans, with even lower income groups gaining ground, and a balanced budget achieved.
George W. Bush, Republican, became President in 2000 with a minority of the votes, the election decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. His tax cuts and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan helped crash the economy in 2008.
Barack Obama became our President, as the nation embraced more diversity. He’s been vilified as a “socialist,” which he obviously isn’t, or as born in Africa, which he demonstrably wasn’t. He bailed out the auto industry, is winding down the wars he inherited, supports gender equality, and is working to develop industries of the future. Inheriting a nearly catastrophic banking system and economy, he’s reversed the downward trend. His “Obamacare” is already providing health care benefits to millions of Americans.
The next President will be Obama again, continuing his policies of moderation, or Republican, Willard Mitt Romney, and back to Bush era policies. It’s a pretty clear choice, though many pundits and political operatives, as well as some billionaire bigwigs, will try, as they always do, to muddy the waters.
Jack Burgess is a Portsmouth native and retired southern Ohio teacher of American & Global Studies.