The First Woman President?

Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States...

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I have recently completed  a biography of Woodrow Wilson written by August Heckscher. There are many things that I could say about our 28th president from reading this somewhat lengthy tome, but I choose to confine my musings to just one topic.

Prior to reading this book I would have thought of probably three things when thinking of Wilson. They would be his efforts at establishing the League of Nations, his wartime presidency and his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, whom he married on December 8, 1916.

The events surrounding Wilson’s stroke in 1919 and the subsequent effect on his life and his presidency have always been a fascination to me. For the first time I was able to read a detailed account of those events, by, I might add, a sympathetic biographer.

As most observers of presidential history know, Mr Wilson’s stroke occurred on October 1, 1919. This event took place shortly after his return from  a grueling trip to the western US  in a vain attempt to sell the League of Nations. The stroke probably was not a great surprise since warning signs had been clear both in the recent and more distant past.

Mrs Wilson was actually the person to find  Wilson  and  from now  to the end of his term, she and his physician Dr Cary Grayson were those most in the know. Grayson was generally   responsible for issuing the concerned but generally unspecific health bulletins, as well as having the medical responsibility.

Although the cabinet, a few trusted advisers and the vice-president knew of his  condition, no one was willing to certify as unable to perform his presidential duties, although he was. Thus began the most elaborate cover up in presidential history, at least to that point.

So, what of Mrs Wilson’s role?  Throughout she had one overriding goal. Her husband’s life was above the effective functioning of the government. Mrs Wilson said of her activities, “the only decision that was mine, was what was important and what was not.” Now if that were true, she would be in effect acting as a modern chief of staff and serving as the gatekeeper for the president. For that alone she was not qualified, much less some of her other duties. She was intelligent but with very, very little formal education. She was of course affected by her own prejudices, preferences, likes and dislikes.

The author asks and answers this question, Was she running the country? He said no, that the country was not running at all. I realize that I am disagreeing with one far more informed and knowledgable than I about the events, but will proceed to do so.

Here is his reasoning. She only had power in  determining who saw Wilson and what he would hear, as well as exercising control over what information went out. Even in that day, that was  significant indeed. Among other things she pushed aside long serving advisers such as Col  Edward House and  Joseph Tumulty. On the signature issue of that time, the League, evaluate this. When she received a letter from Senator Hitchcock about  a possible compromise, her response was no. Other questions submitted to him came back with a reply in Mrs Wilson’s handwriting. She often prevented letters he attempted to write from reaching the light of  and thus embarrassing Wilson. She was even influential in forcing Sec of State Lansing to resign.And Joshua Alexander who was  a sort of random pick as the new Sec of Commerce was actually interviewed by Mrs Wilson. Her influence was often felt in deciding where Wilson coud appear and for how long.

So on the two major issues that affected the entire course of the government, she had no effective opposition. The first, keeping hidden the true nature of  Wilson’s illness ( already  mentioned) and keeping Wilson  from resigning. And what strikes me as perhaps the most intriguing of all is this. Prior to their marriage, Wilson was sending the widowed Mrs Galt state papers of which he expected her to read and comment. The future even then foreshadowed ? Seems so, does it not?


June 4, 2011 Posted by | History, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling with Mr Madison

stippling engraving of James Madison, Presiden...

In what I deem to be a significant accomplishment, I finally managed, on the third try, to complete a bio of our fourth president. The book is entitled, The Fourth President- A Life of James Madison by Irving Brant. Here I was thinking that this 642 page tome, written in 1969, was a tough read. This book is actually drawn from Brant's 6 volume, 3000 + page work. Guess I got off easy.

As always seems to be the case, I came away fascinated with Madison himself and all that he achieved, but also with the entire cast of characters with whom he interacted. Perhaps foremost among would be first lady Dolley, she who saved Washington’s  famous portrait just before the White House was burned in the war of 1812. She  was often described as glamorous and  arguably one of the best of our  first ladies. Or, as Brant wrote, ” Madison’s marriage had given him an effective sidearm.”

So, how can one describe the man who was the “father of the Constitution,” Secretary of State for 8  perilous years and the only president who served when his country was invaded? Brant used 3000 pages and  I will use fewer words than that. That is always a real dilemma when reading about a president, particularly an accomplished one, although his average ranking among presidents{ from 1948-2000) comes in around 12th. He just seems worthy of more. I kinda like him above Jefferson myself. His relationship with Jefferson himself was quite  was intriguing. They were rather close, although Madison want Jefferson’s puppet as he was accused of being. Nor was Jefferson controlled by Madison when he was Secretary of State. It was said that Madison often rescued Jefferson from some of his worst ideas.

Madison was often pilloried in the press, by the Federalist opposition and by  a somewhat belligerent Congress. It was amusing to hear him described by some of the above as well as the representatives of foreign governments. He was simultaneously weak nad timid but power mad. He was beholden to France , no he was in league with Britain. He wants war, why doesn’t  he  want war?

This quote from page 674 of Brant’s book in some ways summed up Madison for me. This was during some of the worst times of the war.

For more than four days the 64 year-old President had spent up to 20 hours in the saddle. Accused of fleeing to safety, he had been with the army at its farthest point of advance, followed it to battle, was under fire and came back to Washington  ahead of the army after the debacle. He found the  White House, (and) the Capitol………… a mass of gaunt and blackened ruins.

It often appeared that lies and falsehoods spread during his day were actually not refuted for many, many years leading to a less than flattering opinion of one to who, we owe much.

As he wrote in 1834 near the end of his life, the following,  which he desired to be  published after his death. ” The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated.” A man small  in stature and  by no means physically  imposing, what he wrote and championed secures his place among the Founding Fathers.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Who is the President of the world?

Monday, February 21 is Presidents Day. Ostensibly  it is a day set aside to honor two of the greatest, if not the greatest of the 43 men who have served in that office.The 42nd president as we all  know was William Jefferson Blythe Clinton from Hope, AR. Mr Clinton has been called many things by friend and foe alike. He may now have acquired the ultimate title, “President of the World.”

Thanks to his new bff, Chris Matthews (alias tingles) , that is the title of a special set to air on Presidents Day. Matthews spent time with Clinton on  a veritable  whirlwind week  chock full of all the wonderful things in which he is involved. I will acknowledge that Mr Clinton has done some  very good things since leaving office, partnering with George H W Bush in humanitarian activities, pushed for aid to Haiti, just to name a few. His global initiative has  also been quite active.

This program and its title raises a few questions. The title itself may be the most significant. Come on, fellows. No one merits such a designation. Perhaps the title is meant to catch one;s attention or maybe it is just a blatant example of fawning from a network who has done it before. Remember the tingle that ran up a newsman’s  leg when a certain president spoke; the same president that he was bound to help succeed. Who was that gentleman? Why the same president often spoke of as the One. Have we changed our allegiances?

Have we turned our back on the individual often called the greatest former preside, Jimmy Carter? He too has been a prolific traveler abroad since leaving office in 1981. He has monitored  elections, met with many world leaders and also started the well-known Carter Center in Atlanta.

Now, if were to attempt to compare the two men since they left office, there would be strong similarities. Could the main difference be that along the way Mr Clinton  has become quite wealthy and maybe, just maybe seeks out the spotlight a bit more? Bet he’s a lot more fun to travel with as well.By the way, remember that only two of these three presidents have won the Nobel peace Prize. Could this have anything to do with that, Nah!

February 3, 2011 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Self-appointed Kitchen Cabinet

It is no secret  what “objective” journalist Chris Matthews thinks of President Obama. I almost hate to mention the “tingles” episode that occurred during the 2008 campaign, although I have seen the word used quite well as  a nickname for Matthews. Not so long after Obama took office, Matthews proudly admitted that it was his job to make sure that Obama succeeded.( Remember for a moment that Rush was roundly criticized for hoping that Obama failed.) I cannot  recall any approbation at what  Matthews said.

But  at least  Matthews is consistent. He remains firmly on the Obama/Democrat bandwagon. In a  recent interview with Democrat senatorial candidate Joe Sestak ( from  Matthews’ native state of  Pennsylvania) who is running against Republican Pat Toomey, Matthews openly longed for Sestak and the Democrats to do well in November by saying this.” I hope your party gets organized and wins this thing.”

But, there is even more. Matthews seems to be moving beyond the cheerleading/publicizing phase into the advising stage. I actually watched the video clip with Matthews providing this advice, so I am not making this up. His first piece of advice was to replace Def Secretary Robert Gates with, guess who? You will never get this one, so I’ll just tell you.  It is  Hilary Clinton. Wait, there is more. He has two options for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; either Treasury Secretary of Chief-of-Staff. No mention of who would succeed Mrs Clinton ( Bill maybe) or what would happen to the current hatchet man,Rahm Emanuel.

This advice brought to mind something used by a number of former presidents, the “kitchen cabinet.”  I believe Truman actually coined the phrase for his group of informal advisers, although it was quite popular with Jefferson and Jackson among others. Guess the only difference is that Matthews is self-appointed. But just think of the benefits. The Democratic National Committee could pay Matthews annual salary  of  $5 million and he could continue his tv show just like it is and work for the White House on the side. Better than Obama accepting Michael Moore’s offer to replace Emanuel, huh?

September 4, 2010 Posted by | History, Media, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Term Limits Or Age Limits

Periodically, there comes a call for some limitation on the length of  time that  a Senator or Congressman or Congresswoman can serve. After all, there is a limit for the President. To date, these efforts have born no fruit. I am wondering if perhaps this issue is being approached from the wrong angle. What if there were an age limit rather than a term limit? The Constitution already specifies a  minimum age of 30 for a Senator and  25  for  a  Representative. For some inexplicable reason, there is no maximum age. That has given us Republican Strom Thurmond who served to age 100 and Robert Byrd who is  still  serving at age 92. On the House side, Ralph Hall of Texas is still present at age 86 and 76 of his colleagues are over age 65.

Now, I realize that any attempt at setting  an age limit would be met with significant resistance, especially from those whom it would affect. After all, there is the power, the prestige, the$(nah, couldn’t be that, could it?), the opportunity to  serve the greater good and of course, the franking privilege.

I don’t have any magic figure in mind, but just for discussion sake, why not 65 or until the end of one’s current term. A number of jobs would open up, new ideas and faces wuld have an opportunity to serve and the excessive power of incumbency would be somewhat cut down to size. Of course, we would lose Kennedy, Byrd, Hall, McCain, Feinstein, Hatch, Specter, Reid, Leahy, Boxer, et.al. Now before one goes overboard, remember how McCain’s age and health was used against him in the campaign for President, both in subtle and not so subtle ways. I confess it would be  a potential problem unleashing all those members of Congress on the  public at once. Might have to be phased in a bit gradually.

Now, let me hasten to add that I am definitely not age biased since  I qualify for AARP already and aspire to hang around for  a few more years.  Taking the Senate first, we learn that the average age is 62 and the House at around 56. So younger could be better, you never know until you try.

Anyone know how old Speaker Pelosi might be?

August 14, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Parade of Wealth

One of my favorite things in the newspaper is the annual issue of Parade magazine that gives examples of what people earn. This intrigues me on several levels. It is of course very interesting to see what certain celebrities earned last year. But, equally interesting for me is to note what just regular folks make. This years issue gave us the earnings of 21 celebrities and 120 “non” – celebrities. I am always intrigued by how people get on the list and why  they would choose to display their annual earnings for all to see,along with their job and their place of residence.( Several on the list are from North Carolina.)

So, let us take a glance, inside the numbers, so to speak. Of course, we begin with the  notables. The highest earner on the list was media mogul, Tyler Perry. who makes successful movies and television shows( Tyler Perry’s House of Payne) to the tune of a cool $125 million last year. He was followed by Eldridge Woods with a paltry $110 million. You may have heard of  him as Tiger. He plays a little golf, makes some good commercials,etc. Skipping a spot to #3 to make it fair to the ladies is Beyonce Knowles, singer, actress and model. Alas, she only made $80 million in 2008.

Now, it is always intriguing to discuss. Are these folks worth what they earn when the President only makes around $400,000? They probably are not,  but relating it to the President or school teachers or law enforcement to illustrate flaws in our society’s value system is not valid either.

For example, candidates running for President don’t do it for the money, since they know the salary in advance. For them, it is more about power or serving their country,etc. Similar arguments could be made for those in public education or many of the service professions. They don’t enter these field s to amass wealth. Should they be adequately compensated? Of course, but that is not an easy question to answer.

In today’s economy, teachers and nurses and the like   are subject to layoffs just as are  blue collar workers. Our entertainers, which includes those in professional sports are somewhat more immune. Teams may lay off ticket takers or office personnel but the big ticket folks sail along, largely unscathed. Example, the New York Yankees reduced their player payroll by about $8 million from last year but there are still a number of players making over$10 million annually.

Since most of us are far removed from mega or semi-mega wealth, this primarily serves as an an interesting topic for  discussion. But perhaps it can help  us a bit with how to  value things and occupations and those who perform them.

Oh, the highest paid individual on the list was someone  I did not recognize, at $1.2 billion(billion with a  “b”) 0 while the lowest was New York mayor Michael Bloomberg at a salary of $1.00. Figure that one out.

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Culture, economy | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Person or the Party

Which one are you ? Straight ticket all the way, no matter what or I always look at the individual who is running . Admittedly it is much easier to vote a straight ticket once you decide which political party  is more palatable or less distasteful . My mother was a straight ticket Democrat for her entire voting life , I guess ; except once . I dont remember if it was 1968 or 1972 but her firstborn son ( yours truly ) convinced her to to vote for Nixon . Seems like she reminded me of that grievous faux pas more than once . My wife actually tried to explain to out 8 year old grandson that Nana and Papa try to look at the person rather than just the party . He was actually interested since he had an opportunity to vote for president in his class at school- sorry cant divulge his choice . One interesting note – in North Carolina , if one is voting a straight ticket , one must still vote separately for president . Seems that this change was made in the late 60’s when state legislators feared that a weak presidential candidate would hurt in statewide races  ( insert name of Democrat party here ) . So if you havent voted yet, n=by all means do so and read the entire ballot and make an effort to choose on an individual basis .

October 29, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , , | 2 Comments

The Olympics are Coming

Yippee – so the protesters must register, the hotels are bugged, the internet is restricted Olympics aka Bejing Olympics begin on Friday . I really dont care sad to say . I hope the American athletes do well, especially those who come from the hallowed grounds of Chapel Hill ,NC But the interest I used to have is gone. I guess the 200+ hours the NBC guys are devoting to the extravaganza are more or less a waste or they are for me . However,I do sincerely hope the President can register concerns over China’s human rights record or better said their human rights violation record . Maybe it will be worth a watch to see if the Chinese can in fact control the smog and other weather related issues as well as they seek to control their people .

August 3, 2008 Posted by | Sports | , , , , , | Leave a comment