Given the salvific and almost messianic accolades given to President Barack Hussein Obama upon his election and inauguration, I thought it wise to share this quote in the hopes that it would bring some back down to earth. Enjoy!
(The following is excerpted from Country Squire in the White House, by John T. Flynn)
A Tide and a Name
THE CITIZEN WHO SETS ABOUT forming a judgment on a president—something every American citizen is called upon to do—must brush away many illusions, good ones and bad.
A president is a party leader. His own party is forever busy displaying him in a favorable light. The opposition party is equally busy blotting out these friendly colors and putting in others of a more forbidding hue. Both hire publicity men; both have powerful journals on their side. One party woos the imagination of the voter with ceaseless stories of the leader's wisdom, benevolence, courage and vision. The other as continuously exploits fictitious tales of his folly, selfishness, weakness and shortsightedness. In the end the figure that emerges is apt to be very far from corresponding with the flesh-and-blood occupant of the White House.
It is probable that no such person ever lived as that strong, silent combination of homespun wisdom and superhuman cunning known as Calvin Coolidge. The figure in the public mind was created by advertising, publicity, twice-told tales. The image that most people had in their heads and that they named Calvin Coolidge was as completely a fiction as Lydia Pinkham, Father John, Dr Munyon or any of the other characters of advertising fiction. One can get a picture of the true Calvin Coolidge— the man who really existed, not the imaginary one in the White House—by reading that delightful and wise biography by William Allen White, A Puritan in Babylon.
To be fair, however, we must recognize that much of this fiction about presidents is not the work of paid propagandists. There is the unconscious propaganda that newspapers, radio, movies and people generally carry on without plan or direction from anybody. Republican critics of Mr Roosevelt are greatly wroth at what they call the "five hundred newspaper publicity men carried on the pay rolls of various New Deal bureaus, passing out daily hand-outs to the press proclaiming the glories of the New Deal." But they seem to me unduly disturbed. It is of course true that the President has organized an immense battalion of publicity men in the numerous bureaus of the government. But it is doubtful if all this army of puffers accomplish very much for or against their chief. A far more effective force is to be found in the wholly uncontrolled, undirected build-up that takes place with very little external stimulation in the minds of the people.
The office of the president is the most powerful on earth. No sooner is a man made president than he is at once caught up in a glamorous cloud of popular esteem. The people generally pay homage to the great office. But men do not distinguish very nicely between the office and the man. And so the man himself becomes the beneficiary of the esteem that originates in the office he holds.
He moves about amid scenes of power. Senates, courts, diplomats rise at his approach. Multitudes gather to see the human being who wields such power. Everything he does, even his slightest whisper, is reported. If he speaks publicly, every radio station carries his words to every home. If he has a fine voice, like the President, the effect will be attributed to that. But we must remember that people gathered reverently around their loudspeakers to listen to the dry, rasping Yankee cackle of Calvin Coolidge coming through primitive microphones mixed with a heavy ingredient of static. If the President goes in his motorcar from one place to another, crowds gather in the streets, scores of roaring motorcycles precede and follow him, and a scene of great power and majesty is created.
Now all this may very well do the President a very great injustice and often a great disservice. It is inevitable that people get the impression after a year or two of this that the man who is president is a figure of heroic mold—a greater orator, a greater student and thinker, wiser statesman, more resourceful leader than other public men. They therefore expect him to do only wise and resourceful things. Having made a hero of him, they insist on his performing like one. They are prone to measure what he says and does, after a while, alongside this enormously exaggerated pattern of a leader. It is hardly fair to him. As a rule he is just a human being, usually honest, patriotic, intelligent and eager to do what he thinks is right and frequently as completely bewildered as any other public man. This very excess of adulation and dramatization provokes a corresponding vehemence among his critics. His supporters rhapsodize about him, calling him the greatest of all presidents. Obviously it is in the light of this estimate that he is judged, first by those who hold this estimate and second by those upon whom it is imposed. Presidents get blamed for not solving problems that no man can solve.
That is what has happened to Mr Roosevelt. His opponents point with glee to the great army of unemployed, to the rising national debt, to the still suffering farmer, to the stagnation of business and a score of other problems that remain unsettled. The President's supporters reply, and with much justice, that perhaps he did not solve these problems but that at least it must be conceded that he has tried and with the best intentions; that he has done his best in every direction; that whatever may be said of the final result, he has been on the side of the poor and the underprivileged and, even though he has not been able to bring recovery, he has brought into being a number of splendid reforms in the interest of social justice.
This is a rational argument, and any honest-minded citizen seeking light will see the basis on which it is made. But this does not correspond with the picture of the superman who, we were told, was going to bring abundance. This description of a perfectly well-intentioned man who tried to end our woes and didn't is quite different from the vision of the giant of statecraft who was going to do it. The practical student of affairs will see at once the disadvantage at which this places the President. It makes it difficult for his supporters to claim credit for a good measure of performance because they had expected and promised so much; it makes it difficult for them to defend the President as a generous and well-intentioned person when they had built him up into one of the great statesmen of all times.
We shall all do the President—this one and all to follow—more justice and we shall serve the cause of the people more justly if we recognize that we are dealing, not with a superman, but rather with an ordinary man who, for the moment, holds vast power—a plain American citizen.