Happy Presidents’ Day

Today is Presidents’ Day, which began as an amalgamation of George Washington’s birthday and Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but now is nobody’s birthday but just honors our chief executives.  So let’s take a pause from the current presidential campaign to discuss the institution itself.

Is it wise to have the same person be head of state and the  head of the executive branch?

Most democracies today have a Prime Minister as chief executive, who is the head of the party that has the majority in the legislature.  Is that better than our elected Presidents?  If not, why are Prime Ministers more common in modern governments?

Do our presidents have too much power or not enough?

What does it mean to be “presidential”?

Who do you think was our greatest president? The top five?

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    Having an American-style Presidency when you have a Congress and Supreme Court holding to the tenets of the Constitution is fine; having an American-style Presidency when the Constitution is worth less than the paper its written on? Not so much. But it’s not so much that the Presidency has too much power (he does), but also that Congress and the Courts have too much. And the Congress gives the Executive more power, and the Courts do the same, and the Executive arrogates to itself powers not even conceived by the other two, but which remain unchallenged and therefore become “established” law – look at the questionable modern practice of using Executive Orders, appointing “czars” and commissions, all of which have reached their current culmination under Obama, but were built up by armies of Executive branch lawyers under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II. Rome was not built in a day, as they say.

    What does it mean to be “presidential”? A shifting term to be sure and one that has changed with the advent of mass media, and now ubiquitous mass micromedia. To some extent, being presidential is to be some type of hero-god of the American People for Democracy (another shifting term), or Empire, or Peace Through War.

    Top 5 Presidents:

    1. Washington
    2. Jefferson
    3. Madison
    4. Cleveland
    5.(tie) Adams (not Q.) and Jackson

    Only one or two 20th or 21st century presidents make the top 10. Coolidge, maybe Harding. Eisenhower is probably top 15 or 20. Reagan maybe in the same range.

    Bottom 5 (from least worst to worst):

    5. Johnson, Lyndon.
    4. Nixon
    3. Wilson
    2. Lincoln
    1. Roosevelt, F.D.

    Hoover, Truman, the other Roosevelt, McKinley, and probably W.H. Harrison round out the bottom 10. For all his faults, Obama is a piker – basically a retread mishmash of the horrors of Nixon, Wilson, Johnson and FDR, yet eminently forgettable. Definitely in the bottom 20 along with both Bushes. In the middle – Clinton and Ford, Harding and the rest of the 19th century crowd.

  • SKPeterson

    Having an American-style Presidency when you have a Congress and Supreme Court holding to the tenets of the Constitution is fine; having an American-style Presidency when the Constitution is worth less than the paper its written on? Not so much. But it’s not so much that the Presidency has too much power (he does), but also that Congress and the Courts have too much. And the Congress gives the Executive more power, and the Courts do the same, and the Executive arrogates to itself powers not even conceived by the other two, but which remain unchallenged and therefore become “established” law – look at the questionable modern practice of using Executive Orders, appointing “czars” and commissions, all of which have reached their current culmination under Obama, but were built up by armies of Executive branch lawyers under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II. Rome was not built in a day, as they say.

    What does it mean to be “presidential”? A shifting term to be sure and one that has changed with the advent of mass media, and now ubiquitous mass micromedia. To some extent, being presidential is to be some type of hero-god of the American People for Democracy (another shifting term), or Empire, or Peace Through War.

    Top 5 Presidents:

    1. Washington
    2. Jefferson
    3. Madison
    4. Cleveland
    5.(tie) Adams (not Q.) and Jackson

    Only one or two 20th or 21st century presidents make the top 10. Coolidge, maybe Harding. Eisenhower is probably top 15 or 20. Reagan maybe in the same range.

    Bottom 5 (from least worst to worst):

    5. Johnson, Lyndon.
    4. Nixon
    3. Wilson
    2. Lincoln
    1. Roosevelt, F.D.

    Hoover, Truman, the other Roosevelt, McKinley, and probably W.H. Harrison round out the bottom 10. For all his faults, Obama is a piker – basically a retread mishmash of the horrors of Nixon, Wilson, Johnson and FDR, yet eminently forgettable. Definitely in the bottom 20 along with both Bushes. In the middle – Clinton and Ford, Harding and the rest of the 19th century crowd.

  • SKPeterson

    As you can see, I waffle on Harding – he’s part of the nondescript middle – the Polks, Buchanans, van Burens et al, who make up the majority. Sometimes he’s up, sometimes he’s down.

  • SKPeterson

    As you can see, I waffle on Harding – he’s part of the nondescript middle – the Polks, Buchanans, van Burens et al, who make up the majority. Sometimes he’s up, sometimes he’s down.

  • Tom Hering

    “Who do you think was our greatest president?”

    If the choice is limited to elected Presidents, I’d say Al Gore.

  • Tom Hering

    “Who do you think was our greatest president?”

    If the choice is limited to elected Presidents, I’d say Al Gore.

  • SKPeterson

    Tom – the good presidents are always the one’s who don’t get elected. the great ones never even run. ;)

  • SKPeterson

    Tom – the good presidents are always the one’s who don’t get elected. the great ones never even run. ;)

  • LAJ

    1. Washington
    2. Jefferson
    3. Lincoln
    4. Eisenhower
    5. Reagan

  • LAJ

    1. Washington
    2. Jefferson
    3. Lincoln
    4. Eisenhower
    5. Reagan

  • Tom Hering

    “… the good presidents are always the one’s who don’t get elected.” – SK @ 4.

    Then I propose William Jennings Bryan. He didn’t get elected three times (1896, 1900, 1908).

  • Tom Hering

    “… the good presidents are always the one’s who don’t get elected.” – SK @ 4.

    Then I propose William Jennings Bryan. He didn’t get elected three times (1896, 1900, 1908).

  • Tom Hering

    And Ralph Nader (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008).

  • Tom Hering

    And Ralph Nader (1996, 2000, 2004, 2008).

  • Mary

    Pat Paulson, and now Stephen Colbert.

  • Mary

    Pat Paulson, and now Stephen Colbert.

  • Tom Hering

    Let’s not forget the write-ins: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Adolf Hitler.

  • Tom Hering

    Let’s not forget the write-ins: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Adolf Hitler.

  • Bill Cork

    The Federal holiday today is Washington’s Birthday. Not Presidents’ Day, Presidents Day or President’s Day. Some states have a “Presidents’ Day,” others have a “President’s Day.” But the Federal holday celebrated today is Washington’s Birthday, and has been since its celebration was moved to the Third Monday in February back in 1971.

  • Bill Cork

    The Federal holiday today is Washington’s Birthday. Not Presidents’ Day, Presidents Day or President’s Day. Some states have a “Presidents’ Day,” others have a “President’s Day.” But the Federal holday celebrated today is Washington’s Birthday, and has been since its celebration was moved to the Third Monday in February back in 1971.

  • kerner

    John Tyler (no laws were passed during his administration).

  • kerner

    John Tyler (no laws were passed during his administration).

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    A terrible mstake was made to move away from Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays to this holiday which means nothing more to most than a day off.

    The best President is the one we have in office right now.

    Because he helps me realize that there is no hope in the princes of this world.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    A terrible mstake was made to move away from Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays to this holiday which means nothing more to most than a day off.

    The best President is the one we have in office right now.

    Because he helps me realize that there is no hope in the princes of this world.

  • kenneth

    Just as I thought in a post past. No hope for this world or in it’s Princes. There is just one thing. The two Kingdoms theory doesn’t let us off the hook. We are to choose the worst or best according to the candidate predliction to Christianity.

  • kenneth

    Just as I thought in a post past. No hope for this world or in it’s Princes. There is just one thing. The two Kingdoms theory doesn’t let us off the hook. We are to choose the worst or best according to the candidate predliction to Christianity.

  • helen

    Illinois took off Feb 13 (observed; Lincoln’s b’day was on Sunday this year).
    I don’t know if they do Washington’s b’day.
    Since it’s become another excuse for a “sale”, it doesn’t mean much else.

    I second Steve Martin’s comments.

    Nixon was not nearly as bad as he’s painted.
    [Someone said a man with heavy eyebrows will never be popular.]
    Reagan was a movie star in another role. That’s all.

  • helen

    Illinois took off Feb 13 (observed; Lincoln’s b’day was on Sunday this year).
    I don’t know if they do Washington’s b’day.
    Since it’s become another excuse for a “sale”, it doesn’t mean much else.

    I second Steve Martin’s comments.

    Nixon was not nearly as bad as he’s painted.
    [Someone said a man with heavy eyebrows will never be popular.]
    Reagan was a movie star in another role. That’s all.

  • formerly just steve

    Just as a side note, when are we going to change the name to Dear Leader Day?

  • formerly just steve

    Just as a side note, when are we going to change the name to Dear Leader Day?

  • Michael B.

    Nixon ended the Vietnam war. There’s a lot to be said for just doing that.

  • Michael B.

    Nixon ended the Vietnam war. There’s a lot to be said for just doing that.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    “We are to choose the worst or best according to the candidate predliction to Christianity.”

    I thought the Two Kingdoms Doctrine said that we are to choose on the basis of who would be the best President, regardless of their faithfulness to Christ, or not.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    “We are to choose the worst or best according to the candidate predliction to Christianity.”

    I thought the Two Kingdoms Doctrine said that we are to choose on the basis of who would be the best President, regardless of their faithfulness to Christ, or not.

  • Bob

    (no laws were passed during his administration).

    If that’s your criteria, then the current crap, I mean crop, of Republicans in Congress are Presidential.

  • Bob

    (no laws were passed during his administration).

    If that’s your criteria, then the current crap, I mean crop, of Republicans in Congress are Presidential.

  • kenneth

    Steve– I just wonder if that is true. If the “best president” happens to be a persecuting tyrant such as the tired anology of Hitler and Stalin. Extreme cases but possible. Why should human beings be thought to increase in wisdom if the theological Fall is always operative even mostly in the politcal and economic venues. So just maybe we should find the dummist president to vote for. The Gospel could still be breathed about.

    Helen– About Nixon being right to stop the Vietnam war I don’t think so. Perhaps North Korea would not be a rogue state and Vietnam not a have child pornograhy for it’s economy. It was the news media and the new left charachterized by Eugene Rostow that helped spread the communist states.

    Say I might be developing a Winston Churchill complex. Do you know any good therapists, if their are any even in Christianity?

  • kenneth

    Steve– I just wonder if that is true. If the “best president” happens to be a persecuting tyrant such as the tired anology of Hitler and Stalin. Extreme cases but possible. Why should human beings be thought to increase in wisdom if the theological Fall is always operative even mostly in the politcal and economic venues. So just maybe we should find the dummist president to vote for. The Gospel could still be breathed about.

    Helen– About Nixon being right to stop the Vietnam war I don’t think so. Perhaps North Korea would not be a rogue state and Vietnam not a have child pornograhy for it’s economy. It was the news media and the new left charachterized by Eugene Rostow that helped spread the communist states.

    Say I might be developing a Winston Churchill complex. Do you know any good therapists, if their are any even in Christianity?

  • formerly just steve

    Bob, #18, if the choice were, hypothetically, no laws versus bad laws then I’ll take a Tyler over another Obama any day. But if I believed the government should have unlimited ability to garner power, I would probably feel differently.

  • formerly just steve

    Bob, #18, if the choice were, hypothetically, no laws versus bad laws then I’ll take a Tyler over another Obama any day. But if I believed the government should have unlimited ability to garner power, I would probably feel differently.

  • http://steadfastlutherans.org/ SAL

    I judge Presidents on how they defend liberty and their contribution to the growth of the lands inhabited by the American race.

    1) Washington – He established the two-term tradition, a key limitation on the office. Provided the binding example of a humble non-monarchial head of state.
    2) Jefferson – He added the Louisiana Territory to America non-violently, restored democratic norms after Adams.
    3) Andrew Jackson – He killed the National Bank, paid off the entire national debt (the only time that’s been done).
    4) Coolidge – He delayed the nanny-state and provided a return to economic progress after Roosevelt and Wilson’s economically and politically disruptive terms.
    5) Polk – He peacefully added the Oregon Territory. He defended American settlers in Texas and won the Southwest for the American race.

  • http://steadfastlutherans.org/ SAL

    I judge Presidents on how they defend liberty and their contribution to the growth of the lands inhabited by the American race.

    1) Washington – He established the two-term tradition, a key limitation on the office. Provided the binding example of a humble non-monarchial head of state.
    2) Jefferson – He added the Louisiana Territory to America non-violently, restored democratic norms after Adams.
    3) Andrew Jackson – He killed the National Bank, paid off the entire national debt (the only time that’s been done).
    4) Coolidge – He delayed the nanny-state and provided a return to economic progress after Roosevelt and Wilson’s economically and politically disruptive terms.
    5) Polk – He peacefully added the Oregon Territory. He defended American settlers in Texas and won the Southwest for the American race.

  • Bob

    FJS,

    So there’s no in-between in your black-and-white worldview — between no laws and the “unlimited ability to garner power”? Really?

  • Bob

    FJS,

    So there’s no in-between in your black-and-white worldview — between no laws and the “unlimited ability to garner power”? Really?

  • formerly just steve

    Bob, that was tit for your tat. Apparently, there’s no difference between not passing laws and not passing the laws this administration is trying to push. Laws which, believe it or not, some people honestly disagree with, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

  • formerly just steve

    Bob, that was tit for your tat. Apparently, there’s no difference between not passing laws and not passing the laws this administration is trying to push. Laws which, believe it or not, some people honestly disagree with, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

  • kerner

    Bob and FJS:

    As you have probably figured out, my comment @11 was a partly facetious generalization. I consider our society to be over regulated. The government is simply trying to control far too many aspects of our lives. Most new laws, unless they repeal a larger number of the old ones, are likely to cause more harm than good. I ran across this yesterday in an article written by Michael Barone:

    “They want to turn back the Obama Democrats’ advance into what Alexis de Tocqueville, the author (according to Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield) of “the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America,” characterized as soft despotism.

    Tocqueville, after describing in “Democracy in America” how Americans avoided the perils of equality by forming voluntary associations, engaging in local government and believing in religions that disciplined their pursuit of self-interest into a pursuit of virtue, painted the picture of a darker future.

    Above a democratic populace, he writes, “an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, rigid, far-seeing and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that.”

    Thus Tocqueville, writing in the 1830s, foresees Obamacare and the crony capitalism that produces a Super Bowl commercial from a government- and union-controlled company that seeks Obama’s re-election.

    It is worth quoting more from a political thinker as far elevated above almost any other as Mozart was above almost all other composers.

    Thus, taking each individual by turns in its powerful hands and kneading him as it likes, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrial animals of which the government is the shepherd.

    Maybe being reduced to a “timid and industrial animal” with Obama as your shepherd is your idea of paradise, Bob, but it isn’t mine.
    So, yeah, I’ll probably vote Republican and hope for the best, and I’ll continue to praise the otherwise unsung John Tyler. ;)

  • kerner

    Bob and FJS:

    As you have probably figured out, my comment @11 was a partly facetious generalization. I consider our society to be over regulated. The government is simply trying to control far too many aspects of our lives. Most new laws, unless they repeal a larger number of the old ones, are likely to cause more harm than good. I ran across this yesterday in an article written by Michael Barone:

    “They want to turn back the Obama Democrats’ advance into what Alexis de Tocqueville, the author (according to Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield) of “the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America,” characterized as soft despotism.

    Tocqueville, after describing in “Democracy in America” how Americans avoided the perils of equality by forming voluntary associations, engaging in local government and believing in religions that disciplined their pursuit of self-interest into a pursuit of virtue, painted the picture of a darker future.

    Above a democratic populace, he writes, “an immense tutelary power is elevated, which alone takes charge of assuring their enjoyments and watching over their fate. It is absolute, detailed, rigid, far-seeing and mild. It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that.”

    Thus Tocqueville, writing in the 1830s, foresees Obamacare and the crony capitalism that produces a Super Bowl commercial from a government- and union-controlled company that seeks Obama’s re-election.

    It is worth quoting more from a political thinker as far elevated above almost any other as Mozart was above almost all other composers.

    Thus, taking each individual by turns in its powerful hands and kneading him as it likes, the sovereign extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrial animals of which the government is the shepherd.

    Maybe being reduced to a “timid and industrial animal” with Obama as your shepherd is your idea of paradise, Bob, but it isn’t mine.
    So, yeah, I’ll probably vote Republican and hope for the best, and I’ll continue to praise the otherwise unsung John Tyler. ;)

  • kerner

    SAL:

    I wasn’t aware that there was an “American race” per se. What is that exactly? (NASCAR? :D perhaps)

  • kerner

    SAL:

    I wasn’t aware that there was an “American race” per se. What is that exactly? (NASCAR? :D perhaps)

  • http://www.whenisayrunrun.blogspot.com Andrew

    Sam Houston. Oh wait wrong country.

  • http://www.whenisayrunrun.blogspot.com Andrew

    Sam Houston. Oh wait wrong country.

  • http://steadfastlutherans.org/ SAL

    #25 There’s an American race in the same sense there’s an English race or a French one.

    We’re bound together by descent and by American culture and an attachment to American ideals. Many people groups have assimilated into the American ethnic group with intermarriage and with acculturation.

  • http://steadfastlutherans.org/ SAL

    #25 There’s an American race in the same sense there’s an English race or a French one.

    We’re bound together by descent and by American culture and an attachment to American ideals. Many people groups have assimilated into the American ethnic group with intermarriage and with acculturation.

  • W.B. Picklesworth

    Nixon was a disaster, not because of Watergate, but because he took what LBJ had done and pushed it further. Political expediency bore very bitter fruit.

  • W.B. Picklesworth

    Nixon was a disaster, not because of Watergate, but because he took what LBJ had done and pushed it further. Political expediency bore very bitter fruit.


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