Why our ‘post-modern presidents’ fail


by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

Since the end of World War II, our country has had three great presidents: Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.

Their politics varied, but these giants stand in sharp contrast to our last three presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama. The first two presided over gravely flawed presidencies; the third is on his way to outright failure.

What makes these two presidential trios so different? A recent visit to the Truman Museum and Library in Independence, Mo., made me ask what made those great presidents great.

The answer is character. The three greats were men of great character; the three recents, men of great ambition — driven, in their different ways, by a fateful sense of entitlement.

And you don’t build character by punching your ticket at today’s Ivy-League universities, then dashing straight into politics.

The people I admire most in life aren’t the golden boys (or girls), but those who’ve come up the hard way. Frankly, failure builds character — in those who have the gumption to get back up on their feet and fight to succeed.

Until the Reagan years, it was still possible to become president without elite credentials. Harry Truman had only a high-school diploma. Reagan graduated from the sort of college today’s Washington insiders mock. Eisenhower was a Military Academy grad — back when West Point was still an engineering school.

Most important, each man tasted bitter disappointments along the way. Young Harry Truman had to return from Kansas City to work 16-hour days on his family’s troubled farm. After combat service in the First World War, he co-owned a men’s store — only to face bankruptcy in the postwar recession. Barely averting that bankruptcy, he paid each debt he owed over the years.

Eisenhower thought his career was finished when he failed to get a combat command during World War I. His peers gained medals while he trained troops Stateside. Years later, he was little more than a football coach in uniform. But he never gave up — and worked relentlessly at his profession.

Ronald Reagan knew what it felt like to be written off, to be regarded as a second-rater. Descending through B-movies to minor television jobs, he seemed finished. He wasn’t. Reagan remade himself to serve the country he loved. And the world’s better and safer for it.

Each of these men — all from rural or small-town backgrounds — knew hardship, failure and what it was like to sweat for a living. Not one of them would stand a chance of being elected president today.

Instead, we’ve had Clinton, Bush and Obama, with their laurel wreaths of degrees from Oxford, Yale and Harvard. Two did have challenging childhoods (who hasn’t?). But once they figured out how to game the system and get into top schools, Clinton and Obama never deviated from their identical goal of becoming president.

George W. Bush did fail in business — but he never had to worry about how he was going to feed his family. The Bush-dynasty safety net was there for him — Dad could always make the phone call.

As president, Bush showed tenacity — and far more character than Clinton or Obama — but he, too, fit the post-modern model of gaining the White House from an inside track.

Will we ever again have a president who didn’t go to an Ivy League school, who knows what it’s like to struggle — as so many Americans struggle every day — and who’s tasted defeat, but got back in the ring with his dukes up?

Wouldn’t it be a fine thing to have another president whose first serious taste of failure didn’t come in the Oval Office?

We don’t need presidents with exclusive academic credentials. We need presidents who know what it’s like to work for a living. We need presidents who understand average Americans. We need presidents for whom the White House isn’t just the ultimate résumé entry.

Truman, Eisenhower and Reagan had different visions of what was right for America — but their concern was America, not themselves.

These profoundly different men had two other things in common: They weren’t lawyers, and they had the courage to make tough decisions, from dropping the first atomic bombs to telling the chieftain of an evil empire to tear down a wall.

Our post-modern presidents can’t even decide what to do with blood-soaked terrorists. I don’t think that would’ve been a problem for Harry, Ike or the Gipper. ExileStreet

NY Post / copyright 2010 NY Post

Ralph Peters’ latest book is “Endless War: Middle Eastern Islam vs. Western CivilizationHis most recent novel is “The War After Armageddon,” is on the street. His most most recent non-fiction book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.” He is Fox News’ strategic analyst.

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

Leave a Reply