In an article written for The New York Times (Saturday, March 6, 2010), Brian Stelter discusses a video (Fake Former Presidents Use Comedy for a Cause) during which five former presidential impersonators from “Saturday Night Live” joined Jim Carrey (as Ronald Reagan, substituting for Phil Hartman who died in 1998) and the show’s current mock president, Fred Armisen, “in a White House bedroom set for a sketch that immediately achieved world fame.”
The program was directed by Ron Howard and its primary purpose is to have six former presidents meet with the incumbent to discuss the need to “do more to curb troublesome banking and lending practices.” In a dream sequence in the Obamas’ bedroom as they retire for the night, George W. Bush (Will Farrell), Bill Clinton (Darrell Hammond), George H.W. Bush (Dana Garvey), and Jimmy Carter (Dan Ackroyd) appear. The video lasts almost six minutes and is hilarious.
Here’s a link to the video:
Presidential scholar Richard Norton Smith responded to that question when he spoke at a recent Wharton Leadership Conference. He offered 10 rules for presidential evaluations that stand the test of time. “There is no single rule for assessing presidential performance,” said Smith, who addressed the recent 13th Annual Wharton Leadership Conference, co-sponsored by the Center for Human Resources and the Center for Leadership & Change Management. “Eisenhower illustrates better than anyone the need for each generation to revisit its assumptions” in light of new evidence, the performance of succeeding presidents and the perspective that comes with time.
“Americans have been revising their estimates of presidents for as long as we have had presidents,” said Smith, who has published biographies of Thomas E. Dewey, Herbert Hoover and George Washington, and is the presidential scholar in residence at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. People forget that the revered Washington “was in fact an enormously controversial president” who was burned in effigy and denounced as a “betrayer of the Revolution” while he was in office. Bouts of historical revisionism and counter-revisionism explain why assessments of the nation’s leaders “bounce around like corn in a popper,” Smith said.
Smith offered his personal list of “10 rules to judge a president” as a more objective approach avoiding the distorting effects of changing societal values, such as the pro-government activism of the New Deal and the 1960s. Here is the first of the ten:
1) History rewards the risk-takers. The list of presidents and the bold initiatives that pushed them up in the rankings are obvious, including Thomas Jefferson (the Louisiana Purchase), Harry Truman (stopping Communist aggression in Korea), Lyndon Johnson (Civil Rights Act of 1964), and Richard Nixon (dialogue with Red China).
But risk taking does not always conform to our notion of a “swashbuckling, agenda-setting executive” that began with Teddy Roosevelt 100 years ago. “Sometimes, doing nothing is the most difficult form of leadership of all,” Smith said. He cited George H.W. Bush’s diplomatic refusal, despite strong pressure, to attend “the photo opp of the century,” the destruction of the Berlin Wall that symbolized Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.
“By not rubbing Mikhail Gorbachev’s nose in the humiliation of the demise of the Soviet empire, he made it possible for Gorbachev to go along with a peaceful integration of Germany and for the Soviet Union to support Bush’s coalition in the First Gulf War,” Smith said, noting that few would have predicted Soviet acquiescence to these American initiatives.
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