Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The populist presidency

We took a short vacation to DisneyWorld last week and saw the latest version of the Hall of Presidents. They update it each new presidency, including an animatronic figure of the current occupant of the White House and some historical context. It's a wonderfully inspiring show.

I noticed this time around some interesting qualities that I believe they didn't emphasize quite as much before. Andrew Jackson was primarily valued for being "one of the people," for aggravating the political elite, for carousing with literally unwashed masses, and for his gross ignorance. Lincoln was celebrated - less for uniting a divided nation, and certainly not for beginning the death of federalism - mostly for being self-taught and humble, using a quote that he hoped God would find a use for such a nothing as him. Teddy Roosevelt was hailed as a populist and FDR -- a political and social elite if ever there was one elected -- was similarly celebrated. JFK, LBJ, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush Jr got in quotes, not for inspiring us to reach new shores or seek for the best in us, but commiserating with us in sorrow.

It shows, I think, a very changed national mood. One that pictures us as a noble, suffering, common people. When our current President takes the stage at the end, he - like the presidents in the Hall before him - gives a very generic speech about our common struggle and reaching for the best in us.

They could have taken things a very different way. They could have built the theme around "presidents who have united us," or "presidents who changed how we see ourselves" or any of another of other themes. The populism and rejection of educated people seemed a little thick.

Then again, those are the times we live in.

No comments:

Post a Comment