Jul 29, 2020

Perfection and Presidents: Never the Twain Shall Tweet

So Biden Isn’t Ideal. Who’s Ever Been?

By Ed Goldman

When I was four, I learned there was no Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny told me. (This is one of my favorite Dad Jokes). Not long thereafter, when I was about five or six, my mom let me know that everyone dies, sooner or later—she was getting ready to attend a funeral for Sid Kass, a boy a few years my senior who’d been killed in a freak accident at school.

When I was a little older, my brother Stuart pointed out the stunt doubles on TV westerns (I wrote about this seminal experience here on February 10). In short, as my childhood progressed, the scales continued to fall from my eyes—just as they had for St. Paul in the New Testament—Acts, 9:18, if you’re keeping score. I throw that in because someone told me the column is popular with Bible watchers. (In fact, he might have said “libel watchers.” I’d blame it on a bad phone connection, but it actually took place in person on the checkout line at Save Mart.)

Barack Obama with Ed Goldman

Anyway, one thing I figured out by myself throughout the years was that we have never had, nor will ever have, a perfect President of the United States.

I thought about this when I realized the Democratic National Convention is scheduled to get underway on August 17, about three weeks from today—and the presidential election will be held (or at least begun) just two-and-a-half months thereafter. All of this precludes the possibility that Donald Trump will leave office beforehand for a variety of stated reasons except the real one (he doesn’t want to lose, because, as he sees it, losing is for losers).

About this lack of presidential perfection: Like many of you, I miss and admired Barak Obama, even though he wasn’t asking my advice in the accompanying picture by the talented photographer Melanie Mages (she managed to make me look 12 years younger in the shot—possibly because she took it 12 years ago.) But there was a long period in his second term when Obama wasn’t able to do very much but look and act cool, thanks to having almost every initiative he tried to get through stymied by Senator Mitch “Dr. No” McConnell, my top candidate to star in a live-action film bio of Foghorn Leghorn. “Hey, what about Obamacare?” you ask. While to this day it’s often referred to as that, especially by Dr. No, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was actually enacted in 2010, during Obama’s first term.

I voted for but never cared for Bill Clinton, who was a far better actor than even Ronald Reagan (I loved Bill’s about-to-sob underlip—what my mom used to call, in fractured Yiddish, my “hoopkellah” when I used it to pout at the age of three, when a gesture like that is often described as cute, but not so much when a grown man does it). But Reagan was even less trustworthy than “I-never-had-sex-with-that-woman” Bill. I realize this is a pretty big accusation until you recall that Reagan was POTUS at the time of the Iran-Contra Affair and that he still holds the title for Most Convictions of White House Administration Officials (nearly 140). As records go, this even trumps Trump’s. So far.

Like many people, I grew to admire Jimmy Carter more as a former president than it was possible to do when he was a current one. He sounded down-home and earthy but he was actually pretty arrogant about not working with Congress. He also fell prey, as so many of our presidents do, to the Optics Consultants, symbolically carrying his own suit-bag off airplanes and suggesting that the answer to the energy crisis was to simply wear cardigan sweaters and sit by roaring fires. Someone also talked him into switching the part in his hair from left to right (as you faced him) but I’m not sure that won him much support during the Iran hostages fiasco.

Bush 1.0 was a decent man but had a patrician image that not even the conspicuous consumption of pork rinds could fix (no doubt, another Optics Consultant recommendation). And his son, W, would have been our worst president since Millard Fillmore if Trump didn’t claim the honorific beginning on the day of his inauguration in 2016.

Because John F. Kennedy was classy, handsome, funny and actually read stuff—and, tragically, because he was assassinated (on the day of my Bar Mitzvah, effectively cattle-branding the date of November 22, 1963, into my memory)—he’s still recalled as a great president by those who never heard of the Bay of Pigs debacle and firmly believe that had he lived, he’d have pulled us out of Vietnam. Well, mebbe, mebbe not. But I never forgave JFK for a moral lapse considerably larger than Joe Biden’s plagiarism of a speech many years ago: as a U.S. senator, he was listed as the author of (and accepted the Pulitzer Prize for) the inspirational book, “Profiles in Courage.” The trouble is, it was written mainly by JFK’s eventual speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, one of the many highly educated, old-monied couturiers who comprised the Kennedy brain trust or fiefdom, depending on your level of reverence or bemusement.

Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson were such obviously flawed leaders it seems pointless to put them forth as examples of my thesis that no U.S. president is perfect. 

My main point is: Why do we want people who are supposed to be reflections of us to be without shortcomings? Do we have any idea what it’d be like for an opposition-research team to comb through the unkempt nests of our own lives with the specific purpose of uncovering those moments when we weren’t good eggs? (Sorry about that sentence. I should never order from that website metaphorsforadollar.com.)

Joe Biden remains the best man for the moment, in my opinion. Not the best man for the ages, not the best man for even this century. But, unlike Trump, Biden’s an authentic, flawed man—not a loud-mouthed, know-nothing, racist carnival barker who had his moment and repeatedly blew his opportunity to be more than one of the country’s most embarrassing footnotes. He was never a real president and someday, if we’re very lucky, his egotistical rampage of destruction and stupidity will be erased, as though he never existed and was just someone the Easter Bunny told us about.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).