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TCU Magazine "Academe"
Articles: Meandering | Message in a bottle | That old time religion | "Dr. Lorenzo" | Ross . . . Robyn Ross

Clinton's class

Bill might be better off had he forgone a Cabinet meeting or two for a certain class in Beasley Hall this fall.

By David Van Meter

"How say you? Is the... President of the United States...guilty or not guilty of a high misdemeanor?

The question was asked in late October, and while most were thinking of Ken Starr and dresses that needed dry cleaning, the 15 students in the fall's "Rating the Presidents" Freshman Seminar went back to 1868 and to the nation's 17th president, Andrew Johnson, who was impeached but whose removal fell one vote shy in the Senate.

Before semester's end, students would examine 12 of the nation's "good" chief executives and six "bad" ones, with any luck learning what it means to be presidential.

"I've always considered myself a student of the president, so teaching this class was an easy decision for me," said History Prof. Ken Stevens. "When students come here, they don't know that much about the presidents. But even with that limitation, I've been extremely impressed with how thoughtful they've been in their discussions."

Freshman Katherine Neumon is among those who sit in roundtable fashion three hours a week. A solid Democrat (among a class of mostly conservatives), the extent of her politics before this fall was a few high school classes and discussions at her Ohio dinner table.

"I guess I just wanted to know the presidents as an educated person, to know the things that each of them did," she said.

What has she discovered? That a lot of times, the Presidency is given as a reward for valor elsewhere (Grant). And a president may have checks and balances on his power, but his influence can be endless (FDR). And that even though times may be bad, a president can be a solid individual, and vice versa.

"Reconstruction would have happened much quicker and would have been a lot less painful had Lincoln lived and Andrew Johnson not served; he set back civil rights 100 years," she said. "But Johnson was known for his integrity, and he definitely stood by what he believed. Today, things are going pretty well, but that has more to do with Alan Greenspan (Fed Chair) than with Bill Clinton. Even though his impeachment is unlikely, I don't know of anyone who views him with any amount of respect. They call him Slick Willy and that fits him perfectly."

Fort Worth freshman Ram Luthra agrees, adding that he'll be ready at the polls in 2000.

"Good presidents have character, vision and surround themselves with good people," he said. "If you can find a person like that, you should vote for that person rather than just vote Republican or Democrat. All you can do is vote for what someone stands for, or allegedly will stand for once they get into office."

Hail to a few chiefs

EMERITUS History Prof. Paul Boller writes in his revered Presidential Anecdotes that "at sunrise on April 30, 1789, George Washington had his hair powdered, donned a brown suit with buttons decorated with spread eagles, and put on white silk stockings and shoes with silver buckles. He also got out his dress sword. By the time he had eaten breakfast, church bells were ringing, and people were gathering before his house."

The scene of his inauguration, Washington wrote friends at day's end that he feared "that my countrymen will expect too much from me."

And maybe we do. After all, as Boller points out so well, they are just men:

Andrew Jackson

During the 1828 campaign, the Whigs circulated a thick pamplete...which listed 14 fights, duels, brawls and shooting and cutting affairs in which Jackson "killed, slashed, and clawed various American citizens. There was some truth to the chargesŠ. He seemed to have taken seriously the advice his mother was said to have given him: "Never sue for assault or slander; settle them cases yourself."

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln attended his first ball in Springfield because he wished to see Mary Todd [who later became his wife]. "Miss Todd," he said, "I should like to dance with you the worst way." Afterward Mary told a friend: "He certainly did!"

Ulysses Grant

Grant's behavior when he met with General Robert E. Lee to discuss terms of surrender. . . was characteristic. He was plainly, even sloppily, attired, got off the point several times to reminisce about the old days before the war, and refused Lee's proffer of his sword as a token of surrender. He also let the Confederate officers keep their horses, remarking that they would need them for the spring plowing when they got home.

Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt was without doubt the most energetic of all our PresidentsŠ. [French Ambassador Jean-Jules Jusserand] joined the President for two sets of tennis one day; then Roosevelt suggested a bit of jogging; and after they had jogged on the White House lawn for a while, they had a workout with the medicine ball. After that, Roosevelt turned to his guest and asked, "What would you like to do now?" "If it's just the same to you, Mr. President," sighed Jusserand, "I'd like to lie down and die."

John F. Kennedy

Once, flying on Air Force One, JFK was asked by a reporter what would happen if the aircraft crashed. Kennedy smiled. "I'm sure of one thing," he said. "Your name would be in the paper the next day, but in very small type."