From the Left



History belle shares her pick of presidents

Jamie Stiehm on

WASHINGTON -- So, here we are on Presidents Day in Washington, the city hushed on the holiday. Picture me on the porch looking over my personal A-list.

George Washington receives visitors at his Mount Vernon plantation by the river, but reader, he was never my type. George dresses and dances like a dream yet hardly murmurs a word in company or to a lady he's waltzing with. Just looks like a Roman general on and off his white horse. The horse is always white.

Since I'm such a history belle, let me be as becoming as Scarlett O'Hara, surrounded by a sea of presidential beaux. Like Scarlett in "Gone with the Wind," there's one I truly love more than the rest, but I can't let on right away.

Onto the porch came a Princeton man, conceited about his charms while wooing women. Born in Virginia before the Civil War, he expected me to reach for smelling salts with his fine lines.

But I happen to know he let women suffer out on the streets for suffrage -- votes for women -- by the White House. He let women get arrested and abused in jail for protesting our ban from American democracy. Pity.

No, Woodrow Wilson can't fool me with gallantry and love letters. He was no friend to women. He was no friend to black people either, making the federal government a Jim Crow workplace. He's Old South, not my kind, dear.


Have you noticed the presidential historians club is always men? (Though they let Doris Kearns Goodwin in.) I'm here to change it up and judge the march of men in the Oval from the opposite sex's vantage point.

Among the presidents I like best, as a woman, are Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Both were fatherless and close to their mothers. Their temperaments had room to understand us and to marry strong women: Eleanor and Hillary were bold statements in choosing their wives. The presidents each enjoyed the company of women -- and I mean that beyond the affairs they had.

Roosevelt and Clinton each had a certain beguiling charm. Franklin's jaunty voice alone helped see the nation through the Depression with Fireside Chats. For my Wisconsin grandmother, a widowed nurse with four children, those consoling radio chats were like lifeblood. Being in a wheelchair, seldom mentioned, also gave Franklin a sympathetic streak, insight into humanity.

Franklin's relative, Teddy Roosevelt, was a hunter, warrior, a ruggedly masculine man -- beloved by men (before we could vote). His expression, "Bully!" is not exactly enthralling.


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