January
3rd 2010
Assemble your own Frankenstein President!

Posted under: American history, fluff

frankensteinLately, I’ve noticed a slew of articles in magazines, newspapers, and on the non-peer reviewed internets that make arguments as to how Obama fits into the American Pantheon of former Presidents.  Some (usually progressives drunk on hopium or fearful conservatives) argue that he is the next Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  (Interestingly, most of those stories date to last fall and winter–few are making the argument that his performance in 2009 is worthy of FDR now.)  Others (usually fearful progressives or gleeful conservatives) argue that he is the premature reincarnation of Jimmy Carter.  In the recent battle over how precisely the U.S. government will demand that citizens subsidize the private, for-profit health insurance industry and to what extent the U.S. will continue its occupation of Afghanistan, we’ve seen a lot of comparisons to Lyndon Johnson–again, depending on your political perspective, conservatives warn darkly that Obama must not be permitted to be as effective as LBJ, whereas progressives and liberals are begging please! please! Mr. President, be just like LBJ on domestic issues, but please avoid him on foreign policy! 

For a more exotic argument, see Tim Murphy’s argument for Obama to be more like “the Napoleon of the West,” James K. Polk (srsly?  In a so-called “progressive” monthly?  Since when is throwing Indians and Latinos under the bus a “progressive” value?  I get that it’s a Democratic value, of course, at least since the days of Thomas Jefferson and Andy Jackson!)  I wrote last summer about Kevin Baker’s comparison of Obama to Herbert Hoover, and recently, it’s become fashionable to proclaim that Obama is George W. Bush’s third term on left blogs that are critical of Obama’s performance so far.  As I delight in reminding you, it’s been clear to me since the 2008 primaries that Obama would govern much like Bill Clinton–although why he does so with substantial Democratic congressional majorities (instead of the Republican congresses that Clinton faced for 6 of his 8 years) is something that even I didn’t see coming. 

So let’s play a game:  assemble your own President Frankenstein Monster, and make hir as evil as you want, or as ineffective as you want, or as great as you can imagine, based on the performances of the previous 43 U.S. Presidents.  First, decide whether you’re building a President Frank or President Frances Monster.  You can make up an interesting backstory–or, just let history be your guide.

For example, my ideal President Frances Monster would have:

  • the foresight and foreign policy goals of George Washinton
  • Thomas Jefferson’s intelligence and commitment to civil liberties
  • the unshakeable determination of Andrew Jackson
  • Abraham Lincoln’s ability to use a crisis to her advantage
  • domestic policy goals aligned with Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson
  • the political skills of Ronald Reagan
  • the ruthlessness of George W. Bush (Yes, this will be especially tricky for a woman.  I think she’ll specialize in the smooth double-cross:  shanking people with the left hand while shaking hands with the right.  Think Prime Minister Francis Urquhart in House of Cards, minus the homocide.)

Your turn.  Make it count.  (Or, argue with me about any or all of the above.)

7 Comments »

7 Responses to “Assemble your own Frankenstein President!”

  1. GayProf on 03 Jan 2010 at 1:51 pm #

    I would blend the steely determination of Laura Roslin with the far-reaching vision of Rassilon and the calmness of David Palmer.

    Oh, wait, did they have to be real people?

  2. Indyanna on 03 Jan 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    Eisenhower’s ability to (pre)envision in, c. 1939 (?) something like the Interstate Highway System, and then to actually begin building one on his watch. Only in this case it would be an improved version of Amtrak, with lots of affordable and comfortable overnight trains. Woodrow Wilson’s graciousness to have once lived in a house that could be turned into a plush faculty club. What am I leaving out here….?

  3. KoshemBos on 03 Jan 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    As representative of professors in the brick and mortar professions, e.g. engineering, many of us are newcomers. Our knowledge of American history is limited (on the average). I cannot form a monster or a god out of 43 presidents, but I can look at those I saw in action, namely from Carter to Obama. I know a lot about LBJ as well.

    Monster:
    Fake like Reagan
    Racist like Carter (He hated Begin from the get go; go watch the video and the body language; you’ll be astonished.)
    Vision like the Bushes
    Intelligent like G.w. Bush
    Adult mature hormones like Clinton

    As for Obama: he is faking it. He talks a great game but sells out at the tip of the hat. He isn’t a racist although he used a fake racist card against Hillary that made him, for me, beyond the pale. He may have a general vision of improvement and progress, but doesn’t have a detailed understanding of what it means. Part of it is due to just an average intelligence that is confused daily as bright. Obama is mature but green behind the ears; he has nothing until he became president.

    LBJ domestic policy is a real gem one has once or twice a century; none of the presidents I saw comes even close.

  4. Paul S. on 03 Jan 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    I’ll give this a try –

    My ideal President Frank Monster would have:

    - Jefferson’s intellectual brilliance
    - Lincoln’s ability to handle a massive crisis
    - FDR’s ability to influence public opinion in his direction against bitter opposition
    - The charisma of Kennedy or Reagan
    - The willingness to speak bluntly of Teddy Roosevelt or Truman
    - The commitment to a “moral vision” of the country’s future seen in several of the best-known presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, even Reagan – never mind that those presidents had different and sometimes contradictory visions!
    - John Adams’ (that’s right!) willingness to ignore political considerations in favor of doing what he felt was the right thing
    - Eisenhower’s determined political moderation.

  5. Shane in Utah on 03 Jan 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    Perhaps the “brick and mortar” disciplines don’t have the same expectations as, say, historiography for citing sources or supporting claims with evidence . Nevertheless, I’d like to see a link to the Carter/Begin video that so unequivocally establishes Carter’s racism through the incontrovertible proof of “body language.” And I’d love to see any evidence at all of Obama (himself, not his supporters in the comments of some blog) playing a “fake racist card against Hillary.” In the absence of such evidence, these strike me as absurd claims, to the point of being offensive.

  6. Historiann on 04 Jan 2010 at 8:33 am #

    Koshembos: I think it’s probably a big stretch to call Carter “racist.” I haven’t read anything about the history of his diplomacy in the Middle East, but it seems to me that he only became more openly pro-Palestine after his presidency (and perhaps esp. only in the past decade.)

    Shane, Obama didn’t personally accuse Bill and Hillary Clinton of racism, but he didn’t have to. His campaign spokesperson implied it after the “fairy tale” comment by Bill, and campaign surrogates and allies made insinuations repeatedly in January and February of 2008. They were careful not to use the specific words “racist” or “racism,” but that’s what clearly was at stake when raising questions about the “tenor” of the Clintons’ remarks and asking if “this really [was] an isolated situation, or is there something bigger behind all of this?” Hillary Clinton’s defenders–Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Sheila Jackson Lee, for example–were more explicit in their rebuttals of allegations of racism.

  7. rootlesscosmo on 04 Jan 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    I wonder if this exercise doesn’t ascribe too much importance to the occupants of the office and correspondingly too little to their circumstances. Lincoln’s opinion of slavery changed dramatically while he was President; I’d attribute that mostly to the war, not to an inward reformation of character. FDR became the darling of the labor movement only after the Depression gave rise to the Wagner Act which conferred quasi-official status on recognized exclusive bargaining agents. Eisenhower inherited the Cold War, which he didn’t start, in a period of economic growth he didn’t cause; LBJ inherited a later phase in the Cold War, and Carter a later one still, when growth had plateaued. Reagan’s political skill lay mostly in being a pliant spokesmodel for corporate interests that annexed white ressentiment to advance their own anti-union, anti-regulation agenda. I agree with William Fulbright and Gore Vidal that the power of the Presidency has expanded enormously, and mostly for the bad, since the 1920′s; I don’t think that means Presidents are particularly powerful people.

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