Presidents in the Movies

January 31, 2015

Each president is different.  In their own way, each has impacted the office.  What may be an accurate theatrical representation of one president will differ greatly from another and both may be right or wrong.  In recent years, the office has become forced into a more consistent template, this because of the demands of security and technology.

Almost any movie or tv portrayal of a president is flawed.  but some are more accurate than others.  West Wing had some accurate moments.  Although the constant rushing about – shuffling paper – and the extra large, movie set offices were far-fetched and distracting.  The open, team oriented president is also unlikely.  Presidents quickly become corrupted and become more private.  Because of the nature of the office, all of them become isolated.  This leads to moments like Katrina for George W. Bush and Paris for Obama.  These are moments when presidents lose touch with reality.
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Some movies are literally scripted by history.  Oliver Stone’s W used many historical events and real life conversations, with some very notable exceptions. (They had Karl Rove advising GWB back in the 80’s.  I never saw Karl or even heard of him back them and was with GWB almost every day.)  But even with accurate conversations the movie still managed to portray GWB as “the dummy” characterized by Saturday Night Live, which was inaccurate.  I guess you would call that art mimicking art. Ha.
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The movie Lincoln also stuck to real events recorded by history and like a good newspaper editor, they didn’t use a conversation unless confirmed by more than one source.  The exception were the private conversations between Abe and Mary, which only Mary gives us in her recollections.
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It was a great movie that was ruined by one stark, totally unnecessary, inaccurate scene at the very beginning.  Lincoln is sitting with soldiers, black and white and they are reciting back to him the Gettysburg Address.  I promise you that nothing like that ever happened.  It would be like someone reciting back to President Obama or Reagan a speech they had just given a few months before.  At that time in history, no one memorized the Gettysburg Address.  Lincoln, himself, could not have quoted his own Gettysburg Address, let alone soldiers in his army.
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Kevin Costner played in Roger Donaldson’s Thirteen Days.  He was a special assistant to the president. The portrayal  of this character was too confident, too relaxed, to glib in the president’s presence.  He was the hero, not JFK.  In fact, a presidential assistant is in constant danger of the machinations of other staffers.  If he was anything other than servile and deferential to the president he would be gone fast.
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 Movie producers almost always underestimate the power of the president’s celebrity.  No one but the president can be the center of attention.  He dominates the room.  Every room.  And almost every conversation.
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Depictions of the sycophants around the president are almost always poorly done.  They are subtle and accomplished beyond anything one sees in the office or the corporate world.
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The most accurate theatrical moments, to me, have been in the House of Cards because they have captured the art of politics at work.  I have literally put the show on pause and told my children stories from real life that mimic exactly what is going on. The only thing that is different from real life, is that all of the players, not just Frank and Claire Underwood, can likewise be manipulative. (And, of course, presidents don’t personally commit murder.)  Picture the White House with 100 Frank and Claire Underwoods on staff and you get a little idea of what life is like there.
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And in the House of Cards, the media is often seen as the victim when they are just as likely the predator as the politician.
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Presidents of the nation, like presidents of corporations, never have to say what they want or spell it out.  Although, comically, sometimes it happens like the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, who was wiretapped speculating on the sale of appointing a new Senator.  The staff is competing to please them and anticipating what they want.  The president can grunt or groan or role his eyes or sometimes just remain silent and wait and his staff will figure out what he wants.  And sometimes they will do it without his knowledge to protect him.  And they will all use lofty language, the good of the people, the nation comes first, etc.
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Power corrupts.
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Finally.  The best, recent, presidential movie, the most accurate from history, IMHO, is probably Hyde Park on the Hudson, starring Bill Murray.  It was a small but complicated piece of neglected history that I had been researching and it was done exceptionally well.  Historians, spoon fed from the FDR propaganda machine have usually portrayed him as sexually impotent. We now know better.
PostScript:  This blog was written before the third season of House of Cards in which the accuracy of life in the White House, especially the role of the Chief of Staff, was very much diminished.  It’s too bad.  That was a good part of its charm.  The theatrical appeal of the series is still somewhat compelling but the producers clearly decided to save some money by cutting much needed input from real live participants who have “been there and done that.”  The author of the original British series, who took great pains to get it right, was probably horrified.
Doug Wead presidential historian

Doug Wead

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Inside the Jeb Bush – Mitt Romney Summit

January 23, 2015

An insiders transcript leaked from the Jeb Bush – Mitt Romney summit.   (A parody)

Thursday, January 22, 2015, Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

Bush: Governor.

Romney: Governor.

Romney: Jan, would you get the Governor some coffee?

Bush: Oh no thanks, bottled water is fine.

Romney: Well Governor that will do you some good in Nevada. (Chuckles)

Bush: Governor, the last time we talked you told me if you ever said you were running for president again to shoot you. (Laughter)

Romney: And you’re here to do the job?

(More laughter.)

Romney: And the last time we talked you said a Bush could never be elected president again.  And I think I agree with you.  (Laughter.)

It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep will do.

Bush: Have you seen this? (Passes over some polling data.)

Romney: Oh yeah, Rand Paul.

Bush: It’s a very real possibility.

Romney: Yes it is.

Bush: There is only one way to stop Rand Paul and that is a ton of money.  And if we are divided we split the advantage we have. Let’s face it; we carry on our backs the established order of doing business in this country. If I can raise money like my brother did I can win Iowa, will win New Hampshire with Boston TV buys.  Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham is getting into the race for one purpose, to stop Rand Paul in South Carolina.  If I am ahead by then he will pull out and I can finish him in Florida.

Romney: Well I did win in Iowa and New Hampshire.  You have to win the general my friend. (Romney did not actually win the GOP caucuses in Iowa.)  And you left out one thing… Nevada. No matter how small you think Nevada may be it comes before South Carolina and it would be a powerful sequential win for Rand Paul. Three in a row.  The race might not even get to your Lindsey Graham.  And I am the only one who can effectively stop Rand Paul in Nevada because the LDS like Rand Paul.  If I am not in the race, he will sweep their vote.

Bush: Yeah, I’ve seen the polling.  What do Mormons like about Paul?

Romney: They see the Constitution as “hanging by a thread” and the Paul’s are all Constitution.

Bush: If we fight each other it will be brutal.  We both will have a lot of money.

Romney: Well, I’ve already talked to my supporters and they are not going to go away.

Bush: Both of us will be destroyed.

Romney: If we turn our PACS lose there will never be another Bush in the White House. You need to think about that. Your son has a future.

Bush: Governor, let me ask you, why now?  You’ve already run twice, three times really.

Romney: Because I will never be closer.  The polls show I would win the same race with Obama if we did it again.  You are younger you have time.

Bush: I am the only candidate who is right now carrying any of the battleground states against Hillary.

Romney: Really? Texas and Florida?  But you can never win any of the others. Why are you in such a rush?

Bush: This is the only chance I’ve got.  I would be running against Hillary Clinton.  It neutralizes the political dynasty issue.  The media can’t attack a Bush as an insider without attacking a Clinton for the same thing.

Romney: Governor, in all fairness, you have had a father and a brother who have already served as president.  And you have a son who has a great future, I understand George P. is going to be Texas Land Commissioner, congratulations, but it is just a bit disingenuous for you to come here talking about your “only chance” when two out of the last four presidents have been Bushes. I would think that you would be deferring to your son, he has a chance, when the legacy of your brother has had a little more distance.  You understand, that even if I drop out of the race, the super PACs of your opponents are going to link – for all time – the Bush family name to the disaster in the Middle East and disaster in the economy?

Bush: Which is another reason to run now, to show another Bush, a more acceptable Bush, to give young Georgie a chance.

Romney: Not to mention what Hillary Clinton would do in a general election if you win the nomination.

Bush: You have seen the list of major donors who are coming on board?

Romney: I’ve also seen the list of donors who haven’t.  And remember, my biggest donor is sitting across the table from you right now.

Bush: Look. We are on the same side. The American economy is depending on us to get this settled.  I don’t have to tell you that at least one of the major television executives is having second thoughts about the FED.  We have to solve this soon.  We need some sort of accommodation.  There must be something that I can do that is legal and proper, something to help the Church, something for you and your family.

Romney: We are agreed that it is in both of our interests to solve this. And you can be sure that Anne will argue in your behalf when you are gone. (Laughs).

Jan: Gentlemen, the lunch is ready.

(Romney and Bush stand.  This ended a private time together. They now join a luncheon with staff.)

Romney: (Greeting the group.) Okay, what’s to eat?  The governor from Florida is hungry!  (Laughter.)

 


Doug Wead on Neil Cavuto tonight.

January 6, 2015

Doug Wead will be on the Neil Cavuto Show at 8PM EST, January 6, 2015 on the Fox Business Network.

And here is his op ed in today’s New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/01/05/are-political-dynasties-dangerous/political-dynasties-are-an-affront-to-american-tradition


George H.W. Bush: The Nicest President in American History

January 2, 2015

Having worked for the man I can tell you that George H.W. Bush is no pushover.  When Manuel Noriega rattled his swords and waged his drug war against the USA, Bush descended on Panama like a thunderstorm, without warning, bringing the villain back in chains.  When Saddam Hussein invaded his neighbor, Bush organized the entire world against him.  It was an unprecedented moment. “This shall not stand,” Bush said.  And it didn’t.  Bush, not Reagan, was the man who stood watch over the collapse of the Soviet Union.  And many forget that the Berlin Wall came down when he was in the White House. Even so, what endures from those who know him personally and from those who have studied the presidency, is that George H.W. Bush may be the nicest man to ever sit in the Oval Office.

Presidents, like all leaders, are often known for their ruthlessness.  “A great Prime Minister,” Gladstone once mused, “must be a good butcher.” Bush, not Theodore Roosevelt, was the president who walked softly and carried a big stick.

Presidential power within a family sometimes reaches tragic proportions. Accustomed to fawning subordinates at work, the presidents often expect the family to likewise cater to their egos at home.  John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, told his namesake and son, John Adams II, that he would not attend his Harvard graduation unless the boy worked his way into the top five graduating students.  When the son prevailed the father moved the goal posts.  If the boy was not number one, he said, he still wouldn’t come.  The son, John Adams II, got drunk and was expelled from Harvard.

Abraham Lincoln had a mean, stubborn streak that left him estranged from both his father and his first born son.  He refused to attend his father’s funeral.  Lincoln oversaw the massive slaughter of a generation of young men.  More Americans died in the Civil War than in all other modern wars combined.

Theodore Roosevelt invaded Columbia and invented Panama.  It was an illegal, arguably immoral war, but it got us the Panama Canal.  Roosevelt once said, “Every generation of young manhood should experience a war.”  It Hitler were to say such a thing we would rightly rebuke it.  Theodore Roosevelt only makes us chuckle.

Franklin D. Roosevelt interned thousands of Japanese families living in the USA during World War Two.  And he too could be quite tough on his own family.  When son, Jimmy Roosevelt, complained to his mother that he could never talk to his father she suggested he get an appointment. “That’s what I do,” she said.

Lyndon Johnson could be cruel to staffers and rivals alike, even physically intimidating them. Richard Nixon had his blacklist.  New audiotapes show John Kennedy viciously excoriating subordinates.

Sexual abuse seems to be a rite of passage for men of power.  Again, FDR comes to mind. Missy LeHand faithfully served him for years, living with him alone when he was forgotten, even crawling in the mud on the beaches of Florida with him as he tried to affect a quack homeopathic cure for his polio. Some of the president’s sons remember her, wearing a nightgown, sitting on his lap, in the private quarters of the White House.  But when she, herself, had a stroke and developed a paralysis, he threw her out and took a new “friend.”  John Kennedy’s sexual abuse of staff and friends has become legendary.

Sadly, there is no better understanding of the leadership skill of George H.W. Bush than a comparison of the two Gulf Wars.  George H.W. Bush defeated Saddam Hussein but left him in place.  His son, Bush the younger, conquered Iraq and stayed until both Saddam Hussein and his two sons were killed.

In the first Gulf War many people often asked, “Why didn’t the president finish it off?  Why didn’t he take Baghdad?”  It is not very often that we can see what would have happened if things had been done differently.  But now we can.  If Bush, Sr. had taken complete control of Iraq and deposed or killed Saddam Hussein, the whole Sunni-Shia balance of power in the Middle East would have collapsed.  The region would have erupted into bloodshed. Terrorism would have proliferated.  Radical Islam would have toppled established governments.  Christian communities, who trace their lineage back to the time of the Apostles would have been butchered, their centuries old churches burnt to the ground.   We know it would have happened because it is exactly what happened when his son, President George W. Bush, decided to give it a try.

Now, we know the genius and the patient calculation of George H. W. Bush and the gifts he brought to the presidency.  He is nice.  But it has a purpose.


Malia and Sasha Obama have it right, let’s ax the turkey event.

November 30, 2014

Watch Doug Wead talk about this tomorrow on CBS Morning News at 7:30 AM.

Here he responds to the recent criticism of Malia and Sasha at the White House Thanksgiving Turkey Pardoning Ceremony.

 

Whatever criticism one might have for the President and First Lady no one can really lay a finger on them as parents.  They have been the best we have seen in modern times, balancing love and discipline better than any of the more recent dysfunctional presidential families.  Many presidents and first ladies neglect their children for years and notoriously indulge them during their time in the White House.  This First Couple, the Obama’s, offer their children structure, limit their time online, for example, and keep their heads in their school books.  They don’t ignore the special opportunities for them to learn, including them on some foreign trips when they can but they don’t over do it.  I also like the way the President keeps his promises to his children.

Saying that the Obama girls are being disrespectful for rolling their eyes at a corny, Turkey pardoning ceremony at the White House is rather petty.  We forgave the Bush twins for underage drinking and sticking their tongue out at the media.  We forgave the Reagan daughter for posing for Playboy.  I think we can all give the Obama girls a pass for their honest reaction to an anachronistic White House ceremony that deserved the ax long ago.


A Third Bush president?  What history says?

November 30, 2014

“History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page.” – Byron

Can Jeb Bush win the White House? What would be the historical ramifications of a third president from the same family?  Have we ever come close to such a moment before?

In fact, we very well might have had three presidents from the family of John Adams, our second president.  His son, John Quincy Adams was the first son born to an American president and he, himself, became the sixth American president.  His father was 89 years old and too feeble to make the trip to Washington, D.C. to see his son’s inauguration.

President John Quincy’s third son, Charles Francis Adams, was born on August 18, 1807 and was both the son and grandson of presidents.  As in the case of Jeb Bush, many contemporaries of the younger Adams suggested that he was the best presidential material in the family.

Charles Francis Adams graduated from Harvard at age 17, apprenticed in law under Daniel Webster and became fluent in several languages.  In 1858 he was elected to the House of Representatives.  But his greatest service to the country came as Ambassador to the Court of St. James in London.  Young Adams would be the third member of the Adam’s family to hold this position and he would hold it at a critical time.  The Civil War raged in America and the Confederate government was close to receiving official recognition from the United Kingdom, the super power of its day.  British clothing manufacturers were pressuring the government to make a deal and thus assure the steady supply of Southern cotton for their factories.  Such a decision might have guaranteed independence for the South.  Historian John S. Cooper states that Charles Francis Adam’s work was “arguable the greatest contribution to the Union victory made by any individual in the war.”  It was a boast that included both Abraham Lincoln and Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant.

At a time when presidential candidates had to act coy and feign disinterest, Charles Adams was nominated for president in 1872 and again in 1876.

There are some uncanny historical similarities between the third Adams and the third Bush.

#1.) Both men are often referred to as better presidential material than the two presidents in the family who preceded them.

#2.) Both men are considered establishment figures with money and power behind their candidacy.

#3.) Both men are seen as ahead of their political parties in crafting new positions on the issues.  Adams was anti-slavery early in his career, when it was a controversial position to take.  And after the great Civil War finally put that issue to rest, he was an early advocate of civil service reform, the new controversy.  Meanwhile, Jeb Bush is seen as taking positions on immigration that are too much, too soon, to allow him to win the GOP nomination.

But there are some big differences between the third would be Adams president and the third would be Bush president.  Adams was more mercurial and politically risky than Bush, whose temperament is more cautious and circumspect.

Bush is eyeing the White House at a time when the national media and rival political parties have accepted family dynasties without criticism.  The Clinton’s, the Cuomo’s, the Kennedy’s, the Paul’s and the Carter’s are just some of the political families who have fielded multiple candidates.

Adams opponents railed against the dynastic power of one family rule.  And the national media was vigorously opposed.  When Robert Todd Lincoln, a contemporary of Charles Adams, was promoted for president the national media publicly attacked the idea.  Lincoln was the son of the beloved, slain President Abraham Lincoln, and like Charles had served as Ambassador to Great Britain.

The New York World warned that “rotten Republicanism has learned to revere things that savor of monarchy and aristocracy.  It would transmit the Presidency as their fathers’ successors to crowns.”  (All the Presidents Children, Simon and Schuster.) Joseph Pulitzer was aghast at the possibility declaring that no one should be elected president because of their father.

Jeb Bush represents one distinct difference from Charles Adams.  He would be running for president within 30 years of his father and brother.  The three Adams presidential candidates spread their political careers across 80 years and three generations.  Some argue that it is too much, too soon for Jeb Bush.  But then, his likely Democrat opponent in 2016 would be Hillary Clinton, whose president husband was impeached only sixteen years ago.

Knowing the Bush family, they will be prepared and then sit back and watch the polls.  The tide comes in and the tide goes out.  If they see an opportunity, they will take it.  But the Bushes, like the Adams, will feel no need to hurry.  Jeb Bush has a son, George P. Bush, who was just elected Texas Land Commissioner.  He will be ready soon and might be the family’s “next man in.”

For more on political family dynasties read The Raising of a President.


Bombshell: Charlie Marsh’s forgotten daughter

November 10, 2014

Today I received a bombshell.  Charlie Marsh, the networking – MLM  legend who is credited by some as the grandfather of system building, the upline to Dexter Yager, may have had a daughter out of wedlock.  And she is seeking reconciliation with the family she never knew.

Here is the post:  How the Amway Tool Business Began.

And here below is the comment she made on this blog post.

“Charlie Marsh had a daughter prior to his marriage with Elsie I am that daughter and was kept a secret due to he never married my Mother but he did acknowledge me as his daughter. My maiden name is Marsh Sad story but true. Also sad that I tried to contact him through Amway many times with no return calls or contact. Amyway strives to be a Christian based company but yet I was never provided for growing up by my Father Charlie Marsh. I have tried to get into contact with him Elsie refused that and now I have not been able to reach any of the children they had together which would be my half siblings. I apologize for using this blog for this purpose but I have had no success in reaching any Marsh Family. I would love for someone to contact me that knew Charlie Marsh I would love to obtain pictures and information. Thanks Dena Marsh”   dlcochran53@aol.com

If true, it is a story that has been told many times about titans of business, entertainment and power. When I began researching the family history of President Warren G. Harding I was soon contacted by members of the family who were lobbying my work.  They were especially concerned about what I might write concerning the story of Nan Britton who had an ongoing affair with the president and gave birth to Elizabeth Ann Blaesing.  I chose to write about the story and actually spoke with the daughter, Elizabeth Ann before she died.  I tried to get her to come forward and tell her story again but she had suffered too deeply at the hands of the presidents’ agents and defenders.

When word got out that I was writing a book for Simon and Schuster on children of presidents I was soon lobbied by the family of President Warren G. Harding.   They wanted to make sure I did not include the story of Nan Briton and her daughter, Elizabeth Ann Blaesing, the alleged illegitimate daughter of the president.  I promised to be careful and accurate but the story was too compelling to deny.

There is a moment in my book, All the Presidents’ Children, when Nan is visiting with the president in the private, upstairs quarters of the White House.  She calls him over to the window to look out on Lafayette Park.  There he would see their daughter, sitting quietly on a park bench where her mother, Nan Britton, had told her to wait.  The president refused.  “You don’t even want to see your own daughter?” she asked.

While Harding paid money for the child’s upbringing while he was a alive he made no provision afterward and the Harding family reacted viciously toward the former lover and unwed mother of the president.

Let us hope that this child of networking legend, Charlie Marsh, has a better reception.

Read also: “Jim Dornan, Amway legend passes.”

Doug Wead on Fox News last week.  Talks about “Angry Presidents.”

 

 


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