Presidents: A Lifelong Obsession Has Blossomed into a Long-Term Dream Project

Presidents: A Lifelong Obsession Has Blossomed into a Long-Term Dream Project BRODNERSIGNER4.jpgBy Steve Brodner

Presidents is a book due out in 2018 from Nation Books on administrations that have been key to understanding the America we know. History can be thought of as a huge animal connected to the small tail we see as "news." To know the latter without a former is to know too little. So I have been reading and absorbing a good deal of history this year. These are some observations I have made so far, along with some early pieces done for the book. It is very important to mention: I am not a historian. This shouldn't, however, prevent one from treading carefully upon historical observation. But, of course, it is very helpful to have historians you can talk to. So that's what I am doing. And reading their work.

One thing I have discovered: these are all complicated people. No villain has not done something commendable. No great president is without his lapses. 

Wilson.jpgWOODROW WILSON was, for example, a walking contradiction: a great liberal from the South, the epitome of the great Progressive movement, getting a head-spinning amount done in his first term.

Wilson Birth.jpgBut Wilson also was the most racist president of the 20th century. Here he screens, approvingly, The Birth of a Nation, essentially, a recruiting film for the KKK.

Wilson Versailles sm.jpgWilson knew the seeds were planted for World War II at Versailles. He ended up losing his League of Nations, leaving the White House partially paralyzed by a massive stroke, which which was completely hidden from the public.

FDR Color.jpgFRANKLIN ROOSEVELT was a disabled American who, like Wilson, kept his personal medical problems secret. He was the greatest president of the 20th Century as he kept the nation unified through the Depression and World War II, successfully navigating through both. He also sent Japanese-Americans into concentration camps.

Truman.jpgHARRY TRUMAN, the man who dropped atomic bombs on cities and facilitated the Marshall Plan, which was visionary, and ushered in peace and prosperity in Western Europe. He also integrated the military. He also must be remembered for the kicking into place the National Security "Deep State" that has its grotesque spawn galloping out of control today.

Reagan Opener150.jpgRONALD REAGAN, whose brilliant acting skills persuaded America that he was a man of the people with a common touch, handed over wide swaths of government into private hands. His "Reaganomics" is responsible for the slide into debt and gross inequality that we see today. He (and Carter) helped touch off blowback from the Middle East with US cold war adventures. Many people feel that we are now in the ninth term of the Reagan administration.

Reagan Rooster 150.jpgReagan claimed credit for the end of the Cold War, an oft-repeated claim by Republicans this week on the  25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The facts suggest that he was a player, along with the West German police, the Pope and Mikhail Gorbachev.  An apt metaphor, I thought, was the rooster claiming credit for the dawn.

McKinley sk.jpgWILLIAM McKINLEY, thought to be a tool of the puppet master Mark Hanna, turns out to have been a fair and progressive thinker. Had he not been assassinated, it is possible he would have been the first three-term president. Instead, Theodore Roosevelt took charge. TR was so colorful that people quickly forgot that the soft-spoken McKinley had set the tone for the Progressive movement's political expression, extending from his, through Wilson's administrations. This makes him major. Historic regulation, labor advocacy, women's suffrage, the Panama Canal and the American Empire all start with McKinley

TR.jpgTEDDY ROOSEVELT, luckily for us caricaturists, was far more colorful.

Obama.jpgBARACK OBAMA is a mixed bag. He is now being judged, I believe, in unfair contrast with the sweeping romance of his first campaign. But the story is not over. The GOP will now have to show their far-right stripes in the hot spotlight of leadership. And Obama can be freer. I think we are seeing that this week, in fact. That said, he has Bushian tendencies. He has deported more people than GWB. He has killed more innocents with drones and fed the NSA beast beyond all reason. Like the others, he is highly complex and we won't know his true standing, probably, in our lifetimes. It will be up to history.


Thanks to SPD, Bob Newman and all the wonderful feedback from readers we've been getting all week. A special thanks to my friends and colleagues who have helped with this project. I am honored to be in your company and am in your debt.

It has been great fun. We return you now to your regularly scheduled programming.

Visit Steve Brodner's website for illustrations, news, great links, resources, and more.

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