The Reputations of Presidents

In true tradition of Presidents Day, I dedicate today’s blog to the 44 honorable men who have led our country since 1789. Massachusetts honors the presidents who once called the commonwealth home – John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge and John F. Kennedy – by issuing an annual Presidents Day proclamation. The U.S. president has a very commanding and noteworthy role in the government, one of the most important jobs in the country. The decisions he makes often appease some audiences, while disappointing others. The president does fall under scrutiny and the image that he portrays has a tendency to be heavily critiqued in the media. As a result, Americans have unrealistic expectations of presidents, who are elected to drive the economy, defeat enemies, comfort victims in natural disasters, represent the country in foreign affairs and embody the wishes of the general public.

Our second president of the United States, John Adams, heavily influenced the creation our fledgling country through both his presidency and his previous role in drafting and ratifying the Declaration of Independence. Adams built his reputation as a blunt-speaking man of independent mind. His presidency was characterized by enduring crises in foreign policy. Equally known for his diplomatic duties in shaping America’s foreign policy was his son, John Quincy Adams, who became the sixth president of the United States in 1825. John Quincy Adams led the country through a period of transformation, innovation and reform. He was far from the liberal one would expect during a time of infrastructure and technological advancement, but was rather quite conservative and nationalist.

Our 30th president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, earned the nickname “Silent Cal” for his reputation as a soft-spoken and quiet gentleman. Despite his stiff demeanor, Coolidge was a skilled and effective public speaker, attributes that are vital to the role of president. He proved the saying that “actions speak louder than words” by holding more than 520 press conferences during his presidency, which was record–breaking at the time. Coolidge embraced radio, the newest communication medium, by broadcasting candid speeches about taxation, farm subsidies, flood control, civil rights and foreign policy, and his presidential inauguration speech was the first to be broadcast on radio.

John F. Kennedy remains one of America’s most revered presidents. Although JFK’s reputation declined abruptly in elite circles in the 1970s, when it was revealed that he had been unfaithful to his wife by compulsively engaging in sexual relations with an assortment of women, JFK was considered a scholar, a thinking man’s politician and a darling of the New York and Washington press. JFK was not the only president who was depicted as a playboy; President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 after lying about his sexual relations with a 22-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton should be remembered for his economic and peace process results, but his name will forever be tinged with scandal.

A lot has happened since our first president in 1789. Our first African-American president was elected, Barack Obama, in 2008. I hope to live to see the day when our first female president is elected, our first Hispanic president is elected, our first handicapped president is elected. Presidents come in all shapes, sizes, colors and forms; all that really matters is that they have the willpower to lead our country and lead it well.

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