• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Here's Johnny - A presidential geek

The few folks who know me halfway well are aware of at least one of my deep, dark secrets: I am an amateur presidential historian - with the emphasis on "amateur." How one can be such a thing and still prone to insomnia is beyond me, but I am and I am. My knowledge is admittedly spotty, but I've read books about or studied all the presidents since the second Roosevelt, consumed at least half-a-dozen Lincoln books, and recently enjoyed a biography of Ulysses Grant. I've also read biographies of Washington, Jefferson, the first Roosevelt and a few others whose names and terms presently escape me. (Clarification: I've missed the written exploits of one recent president, having not yet read George W. Bush's autobiography, mostly because I'm still a bit irked about what Robin Williams called W's "whoopsie" on Iraq.) Such things keep me off the streets, though I do travel on streets and roads to get to various libraries and frequently walk up Main Street from The Sun to the main branch of the Woodford County Library. These thoughts leapt to mind while reading "Whistlestop," a well-researched, pithily written book by "Face The Nation" host and longtime television journalist John Dickerson. Dickerson not only tells fascinating tales about 21 presidential campaigns, but also explains their relevance to modern political shenanigans. It's a great read, and I borrowed it from our very own library. Maybe it's in my blood. Here's another of what "Cheers" character Cliff Clavin would call a little-known fact: I'm related to two presidents, on my mother's side of the family. That the first died a month after taking office and the other is regarded by many real historians as rather mediocre shouldn't prevent Dear Readers from contributing to my 2020 bid for the White House. Whig William Henry Harrison was elected in 1840 on a "log cabin and cider" campaign that played up his alleged heroism at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. The other campaign slogan involved the alliterative phrase, "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too" - the last two words a reference to running mate John Tyler. Opponents claimed Harrison was no hero at all - a charge Dickerson notes was echoed in the 2004 Bush campaign's "swift-boating" of John Kerry, who'd been awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in the Vietnam War. The log cabin and cider phrase had to do with the allegedly humble beginnings of my semi-illustrious, semi-distant relative - and the image of incumbent Martin Van Buren as a wine-sipping elite. (Sound familiar? See: 2004.) Before Harrison ever had a chance to really prove his value to the common American, the 68-year-old gave a nearly two-hour inaugural speech sans overcoat and hat. However, Dickerson writes that his death a month later likely was a result of enteric fever from bacteria in a marsh near the White House full of sewage, not weather-related pneumonia. Talk about draining the swamp ... Bottom line, his time in office was the shortest in presidential history: 30-and-a-half days. His Republican grandson Benjamin, in contrast, served what may have seemed an eternity to his critics: four years, from March 4, 1889, to March 4, 1893. Historians say while Benjamin Harrison should be praised for his commitment to African-Americans' voting rights and other matters requiring political courage, he's usually ranked in the bottom half of American presidents. His commitment to personal and official integrity, however, remain unchallenged. When I was in the Navy, I attended Journalism "A" School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, just outside Indianapolis. Though I frequently dropped my relative's name, I had to do the same amount of work as the other folks there. Fort Ben, as we called it, is closed now, as is my second and final duty station - the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Fla. However, I'm pretty sure those shutdowns are related to the end of the Cold War and not my service there. On a somewhat more serious note, I hope that my work in journalism has consistently followed the path of integrity of the second Harrison president, or, on this page anyway, at least made you laugh. Enough with history. Back to the future. I'm looking for a running mate. If you're an American citizen presently at least 32-years-old, independently wealthy, only drink cheap booze, will be free for at least four years beginning in 2020 and have a last name starting with "M," call me. I promise to treat you with great respect and never ask you to fib for me. That'll be my job. Hey, there's a reason the second Harrison didn't get reelected.

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