U.S. Presidents

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  • In the winter of 1973, 46 years ago, the three of us were assistant U.S. attorneys in Baltimore starting a federal grand jury investigation of a corrupt Democratic county chief executive in Maryland. That investigation ultimately led to the prosecution of his corrupt Republican predecessor — the man who went on to become the state's governor and then President Richard M. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro T. Agnew.
  • It’s not unusual for an American president to try and learn from this nation’s history. But the lessons that President Donald Trump has apparently drawn from his studies border on the surreal.
  • Satsuki Ina was born behind barbed wire in a prison camp during World War II, the daughter of U.S. citizens forced from their home without due process and locked up for years following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Roughly 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were sent to desolate camps that dotted the West because the government claimed they might plot against the U.S. Thousands were elderly, disabled, children or infants too young to know the meaning of treason. Two-thirds were citizens.
  • Flora Fraser has an illustrious pedigree. She’s the granddaughter of the renowned historian Lady Elizabeth Longford, the daughter of noted biographer Antonia Fraser, and the step-daughter of the late playwright Harold Pinter. So literature and biography are in her DNA.
  • It was a house call no physician would relish. On Dec. 14, 1799, three doctors were summoned to Mount Vernon in Fairfax County, Va., to attend to a critically ill, 67-year-old man who happened to be known as “the father of our country.” On the afternoon of Dec. 13, a little more than 30 months into his retirement, George Washington complained about a cough, a runny nose and a distinct hoarseness of voice. He had spent most of the day on horseback in the frigid rain, snow and hail, supervising activities on his estate. Late for dinner and proud of his punctuality, Washington remained in his damp clothes throughout the meal.
  • From the genteel halls of Princeton University, students are trying to pull another American hero from his pedestal. It turns out that Woodrow Wilson, who was president of Princeton before becoming president of the United States in 1913, was an outspoken racist. Therefore, the reasoning goes, Princeton should change the name of its Woodrow Wilson School for International and Public Affairs. This would be a lamentable mistake. Wilson is the ideal person for whom to name such a school. He perfectly represents the duplicity that lies at the heart of much American foreign policy. Removing his name from the school at Princeton would be a way of hiding or downplaying his legacy. Instead, we should study and learn from it.
  • Now we finally know what Bernie Sanders means by “democratic socialism.” Speaking on his political philosophy at Georgetown yesterday, the Vermont senator and Democratic Presidential candidate opened with a long invocation of Franklin Roosevelt and the social protections that the New Deal created: minimum wages, retirement benefits, banking regulation, the forty-hour workweek. Roosevelt’s opponents attacked all these good things as “socialism,” Sanders reminded his listeners.
  • As of this month, the unemployment rate is now lower than it was at any point during Ronald Reagan's administration:
  • President Obama's decision to return the former Mount McKinley to its original name, Denali, has the McKinley administration of 1897 to 1901 back in the news for the first time in more than a century. William McKinley, according to House Speaker John Boehner, "led this nation to prosperity and victory in the Spanish-American War as the 25th President of the United States," a record that allegedly amounts to a "great" legacy. The truth, however, is that pilfering Spanish colonies aside, McKinley was much more a lucky president than a great one — a case study in the heavy role of contingency in shaping political events.
  • Ahead of a historic trip to the Arctic, President Barack Obama erased a former Republican president's name from North America's tallest peak in a move applauded in Alaska and derided more than 3,000 miles away in Ohio. More contentious matters concerning climate change and Arctic drilling awaited. Obama departed Monday morning to Anchorage for the start of a three-day visit, bringing the American leader up close to shrinking glaciers, Arctic temperatures and a mix of messy energy politics. His tour of the nation's largest state is closely choreographed to call attention to the ways Obama says climate change is already damaging Alaska's stunning scenery.
  • In early 1942, a World War I veteran named Hideo Murata went to see his local sheriff. The two were old friends, and Murata wanted to know if the stories he was hearing were true, that every person of Japanese descent living on the West Coast would be evacuated to an internment camp. Murata came bearing an “Honorary Citizen” certificate awarded for his Great War service. He showed it to his friend. The sheriff told him that the order would apply to citizens and non-citizens alike, and even war veterans. He would be evacuated with the others.
  • “Presidents don’t get vacations—they just get a change of scenery,” said Nancy Reagan in 1985 in defense of her husband’s frequent trips to his ranch in California. Indeed, modern presidents are expected to take working vacations—to manage affairs of state, read weighty and important works of nonfiction (dutifully chronicled by obliging press secretaries), keep in close contact with their advisers and, of course, be fully accessible to members of the fourth estate. If they dare mistime their getaways and find themselves, say, answering questions about war or peace on the ninth hole, they can expect the media to pillory them.
  • The Nixon administration began disintegrating—the president unable to play his role as the leader of the nation and the free world—at 7:55 p.m. on October 11, 1973. The newly appointed secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, picked up his telephone. His trusted aide at the National Security Council, Brent Scowcroft, was on the line from the White House. The Arab-Israeli war of 1973 was in its fifth day, escalating toward a global crisis and a potential nuclear conflict.
  • On Tuesday, the nonprofit Women on 20s announced the results of its poll asking who should replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. The winner, by a margin of 7,000 votes, was former slave and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. It can be assumed that Tubman won the poll because she's a recognizable American hero. But putting her face on the $20 bill would be more appropriate than many of the poll's voters might realize.
  • In the late hours of April 14, 1865, 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln lay in a boardinghouse across from Ford’s Theatre, unconscious from a fatal gunshot wound to his head. A hodgepodge of family friends and government officials filed in and out of the chamber through the night and into the next morning to pay their final respects. “As the dawn came and the lamplight grew pale,” remembered Lincoln’s closest aide, John Hay, the president’s “pulse began to fail; but his face, even then, was scarcely more haggard than those of the sorrowing men around him. His automatic moaning ceased, a look of unspeakable peace came upon his worn features, and at twenty-two minutes after seven he died. [Secretary of War Edwin] Stanton broke the silence by saying: Now he belongs to the ages.
  • Early in the afternoon of Monday, February 23–the day following the anniversary of George Washington’s birth—North Dakota Republican John Hoeven rose from his seat, walked to the podium of the U.S. Senate, and began to read George Washington’s “Farewell Address.” In his seminal good-bye to the nation, the first president condemned the rise of political parties because they “distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration,” and warned against “a passionate attachment of one Nation for another,” which “produces a variety of evils.”
  • Fifty years ago on Sunday, President Lyndon Johnson stood before a joint session of Congress and offered his response to the moral atrocity that occurred a week earlier, when civil rights marchers were savagely beaten by Alabama police on the road from Selma to Montgomery. “I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of Democracy,” Johnson began in the speech that proposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to Congress. In a rhetorical flourish that moved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to tears, Johnson invoked the anthem of the civil rights movement itself — twice speaking the words “We Shall Overcome.
  • Sure, the war on education helps Republican lawmakers destroy unions and slash government spending, but it’s our history of progressive change that makes Conservatives hate accurate depictions of our past.
  • Bill O'Reilly has repeatedly claimed he personally "heard" a shotgun blast that killed a figure in the investigation into President John F. Kennedy's assassination while reporting for a Dallas television station in 1977. O'Reilly's claim is implausible and contradicted by his former newsroom colleagues who denied the tale in interviews with Media Matters. A police report, contemporaneous reporting, and a congressional investigator who was probing Kennedy's death further undermine O'Reilly's story. George de Mohrenschildt was a Russian emigre who befriended Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and testified before the Warren Commission investigating the Kennedy assassination.
  • Andrew Jackson is one of America's "great" presidents. At least that's what the federal notes in my wallet and the annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser for the Democratic Party tell me. My high school history textbook catechized me on an "Age of Jackson" and the bold inauguration of "Jacksonian democracy." I don't deny the bark-chewing, bloody-axe awe that his life story inspires. Jackson grew up in log-cabin Carolinian poverty, became an orphan during the Revolutionary War, and then rose into a kind of frontier aristocracy, making his fortune in Tennessee at the turn of the century. He was a plantation owner, who bought and sold slaves. He served in the House and briefly in the Senate.