The juxtaposition of two videos I saw today is eerily representative of the current state of American affairs.
The national hero, Buzz Aldrin, speaking on the future of space travel. It all sounds great, unless you listen to more that five contiguous words and try to make a coherent concept out of them.
Obviously Xeni Jardin had a great opportunity to interview such an important man, and couldn’t let the footage go to waste. The inanity is somewhat like a bus wreck. A bus full of parakeets juggling crystal goblets. Shiny.
The other interview was Bill Moyers talking to Andrew J. Bacevich (includes transcript). I actually only heard the audio to this one, though the video snips I did watch made it that much more revealing.
This almost hour of discussion is one that every American should be required to listen to and ruminate on. But we’re much more likely to watch the first one and yell “Go, Buzz!” (Hey, despite the incoherence, I did.)
Such is America’s attention span, and such will be its downfall.
I think I may have to go back and listen to Bacevich again. He did such a good job of relating his points, and the discussion was thick with content.
[Edit: a few days later SciAm had a cogent interview with Buzz. Seems like Xeni just had the bad luck of catching him when he had brain overload â€“ apparently he's been on a publicity tour of late for several things.]
As I’ve been reviewing past presidents’ experience prior to becoming president, the topic has come up a few times in the media recently. As we head for a Tuesday penultimate in its Superness, it’s been in some of the political coverage.
The question was raised directly by George Will on This Week: Does that experience count for anything? Of course he had to do it such a was as to attempt to show himself to be the smartest Ass in the room. Who was the most “experienced and prepared” president? James Bucannan, generally judged one of the worst. Because it was such an obviously researched and prepared fact and delivered with much smugness, it failed at making Will seem superior. Not that it’s not an interesting data point.
Also in Slate.com this week, John Dickerson broached the subject in Tough Call, Will Clinton or Obama Protect Your Children.
â€¦ the essential question the ad asks is a fair one: Which of the candidates do you trust to keep his or her head when everyone around them is lighting theirs on fire, and at a time when your kid’s safety could be on the line?
The answer touches on the elements of experience as we’ve batted them around so far this electionâ€”who has broader exposure to the world, who has dealt with more foreign leaders, and who knows more about the military. But the ad also raises a new question the Clinton campaign has been stressing over the last few days: Who has been tested?
“The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.” -James Monroe
Getting back to the list of presidential qualifications, we have number five: James Monroe.
He presided over the acquisition of Florida, and the statehood granting to Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, and Missouri. The Missouri Compromise and the Monroe Doctrine are all you’ll likely remember about him from grade school history.
In one of the most famous presidential portraits in history, he’s “the guy holding the flag”: Washington Crossing the Delaware, Emanuel Leutze.
Born in 1758 in Virginia, he served two terms from 1817-1825, and died in 1831 (age 73). He was the third president to die on the 4th of July.
- born land rich and money poor to a woodworker and tobacco farmer
- graduated the College of William and Mary, age 18
- fought in the Continental Army, age 19-22
- practiced law, age 22-24
- became member of the Virginia House of Delegates, age 25
- participated in the Continental Congress, age 26-28
- married, age 28 through his presidency
- Minister to France, age 36-38
- lawyer, age 39-40
- Governor of Virginia, age 41-44
- Ambassador to the Great Britain, age 45-48
- Virginia House of Delegates, age 49-51
- Governor of Virginia, age 51, resigned
- Secretary of State, served while running for president, age 51-58
- Secretary of War (filling two cabinet positions), age 55-56
- elected at the age of 58, a year after the end of the War of 1812
He lived on the grounds of the University of Virginia for five years after his presidency, moving to New York after his wife’s death to live with his daughter until his death.
Next step on my attempt to see if the past history of pre-Presidential experience can be a guide to what it takes to be president: James Madison.
I have to admit that while the first three presidents came easily to my tongue, I struggled to remember number four to no avail. I just haven’t used that information (which is somewhere in my head) recently, so could not access it. But, of course, four and five are the Jameses. I’m sure my experience is not unique among Americans.
Like all of the initial presidents, he was one of the Founding Fathers.
Born 1751 in Virginia, he served two terms from 1809-1817, and he died in 1836 (age 85) in Virginia.
- born to tobacco plantation owners, the oldest of 12 children (7 living to adulthood)
- attended College of New Jersey, graduating in half the time, age 18-19
- studied with the college president for an additional year, age 20
- Virginia legislator, protege of Jefferson, age 25-29
- persuaded Virginia to cede claims of northwest territories (modern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois) to the Continental Congress, age 32
- drafted Virginia Plan, which became the basis of the 3-branch system of government, and the US Constitution, age 36
- authored 1/3 of the Federalist Papers, age 36-37
- orated for Virginia ratification of the Constitution, age 37
- US Representative for Virginia, age 37-45
- see-sawed on the Creation of the Bill of Rights, eventually authoring them, age 38
- organized Democratic-Republican party with Jefferson, age 42
- unsuccessfully opposed Alexander Hamilton’s Bank of the United States, funding of state and national debts, and the Jay Treaty, age 42-43
- married Dolly Todd, age 44
- Secretary of State for Jefferson, age 50-57
- tried to balance relations between waring Britain and France
- attempted an embargo against foreign nations – caused hardship for Southern ports
- oversaw purchase of Louisiana Territory
- party in the Supreme Court case Marbury v Madison
As president, Madison was the first president to have a vice president leave office. Both of his vice presidents died in office and were not replaced.
He left office at 65. He retired to Montpelier, his tobacco plantation in Virginia; his finances were in a failing state.
He became obsessed with his legacy, anxiety riddled over his finances, and was often in poor physical health because of it.
At 78 he helped Virginia redraft its state constitution.
He died at 85, ignored by the modern polity, the last remaining signatory of the US Constitution.
Q: What was the first amendment proposed to the United States Constitution?
The third president, twelve years into a new government, Thomas Jefferson had plenty of work ahead of him when he came into office. He presided over the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and the addition of the Ohio Territory to the Union.
Born in 1743, Jefferson became president in 1801 (age 56), presided for eight years, and lived seventeen years longer dying in 1826 (age 83), a few hours before John Adams, 50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
- born and raised in Virginia
- began studying Latin, Greek, and French, age 9
- received classical education, heavy in history and science, age 15-16
- College of William & Mary, studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy, graduating with highest honors, age 16-19
- studied law under George Wythe, age 20-24
- admitted to the Virginia Bar, age 24
- Wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America in 1774, age 31
- in a twist of fate, named to replace the intended but sick original author of the Declaration of Independence, age 33
- Virginia legislator, drafted 126 bills, age 33-35
- Governor of Virginia, barely escaped British capture, generally disapproved of, age 36-38
- minister to France, age 42-46
- Secretary of State, under Washington, age 46-49
- co-founded the Democratic-Republican party, to counter the Federalists
- spent Washington’s second term opposing him and Alexander Hamilton, and encouraging James Madison
- lost 1796 election, but became Vice President, age 53-56
After his presidency, Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. Much of the design and architecture was led by him, and he was involved in it as much as possible in its early years.