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.


The Ten Most Dramatic July 4th’s in American History

July 2, 2013

The Top Ten Most Dramatic July 4ths in American History.

There are many dramatic days in the history of our Fourth of July.  Two American presidents were born on that day, Ulysses S. Grant and Calvin Coolidge.  George Steinbrenner, Geraldo Rivera and Malia Obama are just a few of the many public figures who celebrate their birthdays on July 4th.  It was on this day in 1939 that Lou Gerhig appeared at Yankee Stadium and gave his retirement speech, calling himself “the luckiest man on earth.”  And on this day in 2004, the cornerstone was laid for the Freedom Tower in New York City, a building that would rise from the ashes of the World Trade Center.

Here, in chronological order, are ten of the most dramatic July 4ths in American history.

1.) 1776:  The Second Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence.

2.) 1802: U.S. Military Academy opens at West Point.

3.) 1826: Thomas Jefferson, the third American president, and John Adams, the second president, both die. American songwriter Stephen Foster is born.

4.) 1831: President James Monroe dies.  Samuel Francis Smith writes “My Country Tis of Thee” for July 4th festivities.

5.) 1863: The Union armies win the battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and the Battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi.  Both victories are crucial.  It is the turning point of the Civil War.

6.) 1876: News of the Battle of the Little Big Horn reaches New York City.  It is learned that George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry were massacred by Sitting Bull and the Sioux Indians on June 25.  The nation goes into shock as the news from the remote battlefield finally reaches civilization.  It is the 9-11 of its generation.

7.) 1881: President James Garfield hovers between life and death after being shot twice on July 2.  He would die in September.  His vice president Chester Arthur would become president.

8.) 1886: The Statue of Liberty is given to the United States by the nation of France.

9.) 1946: The U.S. grants independence to the Philippines.  America reaffirms to the world that it is not an empire but respects the independence of nations.

10.) 1997: US Pathfinder space probe lands on the planet Mars.


Family Feud: The Obama girls versus the Romney boys

August 21, 2012

Family Feud: The Obama girls versus the Romney boys

I once asked George W. Bush which is worse, to run for president or to have your father run for president?  He didn’t hesitate.  “It’s a lot harder having your dad run for president.”  It makes sense.  When people say things about your mother or father it can hurt.  Which brings us to this election cycle and the latest political family feud, the Obama girls versus the Romney boys.  Who is likely to win that contest?  And how do wives and siblings factor into the equation?

First keep in mind that the odds are 8-5 in favor of the president with the youngest children.  It is a wholly useless statistic because there are too many other variables.  But nevertheless, don’t count out the Obama girls just because they are younger.  Being cute and sassy at the right time can remind voters that the president and first lady are a dad and mom “just like us.”  It is sometimes a plea for sympathy.  And sometimes designed to help foster a personality cult.  “If you don’t like my policies, here, maybe you will like me as a person and my wife and kids.”

First Lady Jackie Kennedy steadfastly refused to let her children be used for political purposes and vetoed publicity photos.  But once, while away on a trip to Europe, her husband, the president, called for the children.  He was working late in the Oval Office and so they were brought in wearing pajamas and bathrobes.  “Get the photographer in here,” the president laughed.  And so we have these wonderful pictures of the Kennedy kids romping around the president’s desk.  Jackie Kennedy was a great mom.  JFK was a great politician.

Meanwhile, the Romney boys, because of their ages, will be more than “cute.”  They will be what Malia and Sasha Obama cannot be, super surrogates and fund raising machines.  I’ve seen this process up close, traveling with George W. Bush, the candidate’s son during the 1988 election.  The closer we got to November, the more famous George W. became and the larger the crowds.

If you are donating $1,000 to the campaign would you rather have your picture taken the local governor or Chelsea Clinton?  You get the idea.   Imagine on any given day of the campaign, a Romney son can be in five different swing states, raising money and giving interviews to local radio and television.

This is not new. Presidential candidates have long used their children as surrogates. Both the Kerry and Bush children were active in the 2004 campaigns.  Lyndon Johnson showcased his daughter’s weddings on national television before audiences of 50 million people.  Julie and Tricia Nixon became ornaments on their parents’ arms as they campaigned for the presidency in 1968.  And the Kennedy clan became famous, brothers, sisters, in-laws and children.

If elected, Mitt Romney will be the first president to have a family of five sons.  Lincoln and Van Buren each had four and modern presidents FDR and George H. W. Bush had four sons but both also had one daughter.  Thomas Jefferson had five daughters.

Sometimes a member of the family can be a liability.  Ask Bill Clinton, whose brother Roger went to jail.  Or Billy Carter, whose brother Billy took money as a lobbyist for Muammar Gaddafi and the Libyans or Lyndon Johnson, whose brother, Sam Houston Johnson, was an alcoholic and a philanderer.

And not all presidents sons and daughters have been so helpful.  One snuck prostitutes into his White House office.  One of the Ford children smoked pot in the family quarters of the White House.  If it had become public, well, Jimmy Carter would have won by an even bigger margin.  FDR had five children who had 19 marriages between them and the scandals behind each one were breathtaking.  Ronald Reagan, a Republican who ran on a traditional values platform, had a daughter who posed for playboy and a son, Ron, Jr., who later endorsed a candidate for the opposite political party.

Even that was not new.

A famous Democrat president, had a son who publicly endorsed a Republican candidate.  The uproar was tremendous.  Democrat leaders said you are besmirching the legacy of your father.  The Democrat president?  FDR.  The Republican candidate?

Ronald Reagan.

Oh, how life and history comes full cycle.

So when the Obama babies and the Romney sons square off for battle this fall, keep in mind that what we say about their daddies hurts them far more and far longer than it will ever hurt the candidates themselves.

It ain’t easy running for president.  But it is even harder when your dad or your husband or your brother does.

Obama and his girls

September 15, 2010

The planned release of President Obama’s new book, Of Thee I Sing, a Letter to my Daughters, represents a seismic change in the conventional presidential parenting philosophy.    Recent White House families, including political dynasties such as the Bushes, the Clinton’s and the Kennedy’s have all held to the idea that the less the First Children are in the limelight, the better off they will be in life.  And while history offers some dramatic exceptions to this rule, (Webb Hayes comes to mind,) events and the personal biographies of the children, themselves, seem to back this up.

The Obama’s entered the White House embracing this same view, declaring their daughters off limits    with the media.  Now, the announcement of the book tops off more than a month of speculation on the subject.  Only weeks ago the president and first lady started talking publicly about their daughters in speeches and events.  Some journalists wondered aloud if this meant the daughters were now fair game for the media.  Were the Obama’s parting with the tradition of keeping the First Kids under wraps?   Others suggested that the comments were only coincidental, that they were just slip ups from a mother and father who were naturally proud of their girls.  But a book involving the daughters, scheduled with the publishers in December, 2008, and now being announced less than two months before the congressional election, is no coincidence.


Long ago, even while they were still lecturing the media on protecting the privacy of their family, the President and First Lady had made a calculated decision to eventually bring their daughters into the limelight.  The timing is surely no accident either.  Although the book will not be released until after voters go to the polls, the promotion for the book, including excerpts will take place in the weeks before.

What does it all mean?

Politicians often use their children and their pets to remind the public that they are only human, just like everybody else.  It is sometimes a plea for sympathy.  “Hey, lighten up a bit.  I am a dad, just like you.”  It is sometimes designed to help foster a personality cult.  “If you don’t like my policies, maybe you will like me, my wife and my kids, as people.”

Presidential candidates invariably use their children as surrogates.  When Ulysses S. Grant did a whistle stop tour on his way to Washington, he sent his young children out to give speeches to warm up the crowd.  Both the Kerry and Bush children were active in the 2004 campaigns.  After the nation’s infatuation with the Kennedy clan, Lyndon Johnson showcased his daughter’s weddings on national television before audiences of 50 million people.  Julie and Tricia Nixon became ornaments on their parents’ arms as they campaigned for the presidency in 1968.

And presidential kids can be powerful surrogates indeed.  If your donation to the Democrat party meant a picture in a receiving line with the governor of a state or one of the Obama girls, which would you choose?

Most First Families have been strident in protecting their personal privacy.  And the philosophy is as old as the presidency itself.  Zachary Taylor once said, “I don’t want my son near the White House when I am president.”   His son, Richard Taylor, was a famous Confederate general in the Civil War and is one of the few presidential children mentioned in history books without being identified as a member of a First Family.

After winning the presidency, Jacqueline Kennedy fiercely protected her children from the public.  There were not only the Kennedy compounds In Hyannis Port, Massachusetts and Palm Beach, Florida and the presidential retreat at Camp David, but Jackie insisted that an additional home be built in suburban Virginia so even when the family was forced to stay in Washington, she and the children could get out of the White House.  Those famous pictures of the Kennedy kids romping in the Oval Office?  They were taken while the First Lady was out of the country.

So are the Obama’s cynically using their daughters to promote their political brand, a brand that is slipping after two years of a deepening recession?

Not likely.  At least that is not likely the only reason or even the first reason.

Barack Obama’s father walked out on the family when the President was only a child.  It is very likely that his “Letter to My Daughters” represents something much deeper, a message for father’s as well as daughters.  And maybe even an indirect but special message to some African American father’s .

The President and First Lady have offered a refreshing example of parenthood in the White House for all of us.  They used their initial popularity, their political equity, to send their daughters to private schools, even though they are both big public school advocates.  They brought into the White House a beloved mother in law to keep some continuity.  They kept their promises to the children, even at political risk.  “We are going to Chicago.”  They have included them in foreign trips and sometimes conspicuously briefed them and made them a part of things.  Remember Sasha’s trench coat in the Kremlin?

This new book, Of Thee I Sing, a Letter to my Daughters will probably be as revealing as Obama’s old book, Dreams of My Father.  But not revealing of the father or the daughters, rather revealing of Barack Obama, himself, revealing of a man who conquered his demons to become president.  And revealing of a family that is forced to show its love for each other onstage before the world.  And that is probably a good thing for us all to see.

The Obama’s: A functional family on the move

July 22, 2009

Some journalists are making a big deal out of how the Obamas are traveling to foreign ports together as a family unit. After the dysfunctional Clintons, Reagans and Roosevelts and even the Bushes, with their arcane rules of one at a time in the limelight, which meant a former president could not even be told his son was invading Iraq, it is a bit of a shock to see a working family, happy together, with dad doing his thing. In that sense, the journalists are right. This is something new.

On the other hand it is very irritating to read stories claiming that children of presidents have never traveled abroad during their father’s presidencies Anna Roosevelt was a major planner of Yalta and was there on board the Quincy, as were children of Winston Churchill. Notably, First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt was not allowed to come. Eighteen children of presidents actually served on their father’s staff at the White House and had full time jobs, some as the personal secretaries to the president.

As to children of the president traveling abroad? It is very common, one of the perks of power, and the further away from the White House the more they thrive. A trip to Europe has been almost a rite of passage for children of presidents in modern times and in earlier years, when it required a rather lengthy sea journey, it was the place where many lived both before and after the White House.

The Bush twins visited Europe during their father’s presidency, as did children of the Carters and Fords and Nixons and Eisenhowers. I actually traveled with Neil Bush to Europe during his father’s presidency. And he was all over Asia. The Kennedy kids visited Europe with their mother during JFK’s presidency.

FDR had sons in Europe during his presidency, of course in the war, but even before as tourists and businessmen. Joe Kennedy dragged Jimmy Roosevelt around with him when he sought contracts with liquor companies, anticipating the end of prohibition. And Johnny Roosevelt was in the headlines for accidentally insulting the mayor of Cannes, France.

With great fanfare, Theodore Roosevelt sent his daughter, Alice, on a foreign cruise to China and the Philippines. It captured headlines and diverted attention from his secret efforts to end the Russo-Japanese War. So this was a formal, secret use of his daughter in American foreign policy. Having Malia and Sasha along on these trips is not new.

Likewise, President Ulysses S. Grant sent his daughter on a European cruise to get her out of town. He was determined to keep the attractive Nellie from marrying someone on his staff. Like Alice Roosevelt, Nellie Grant had an on board romance and ended up marrying the man she met on the high seas.

When the Grant presidency ended the whole family took a trip around the world. The youngest, Jesse, was so impressed by the experience that he made world travel a fulltime career. Heads of state were told that the visiting young Jesse Grant was a likely future American president himself and so he milked it for all it was worth, wine, women and song.

Webb Hayes, son of Rutherford B. Hayes, was a multimillionaire, founder of what became the Union Carbide Corporation and a soldier of fortune in wars in China (the Boxer Rebellion), South Africa and the Crimea. When his father was president he was his personal secretary and bodyguard.

The Lincolns had planned a trip to Europe but America was in the middle of a terrible Civil War. Their dream trip never happened. The president was assassinated. But the First Lady made the trip years later and took their young son, Tad Lincoln, with her.

Some presidential children were raised in Europe, like Liza Monroe, who ran the White House for her father and a couple of John Adams’ sons and one of Jefferson’s daughters. George Washington Adams was born in Europe. His father and grandfather were both presidents.

When George W. Bush ran for president journalists wrote stories claiming that his foreign travel was limited to a quick visit to Israel with two other governors and a one week jaunt to China when his father was the American representative to the People’s Republic. In fact he had traveled many times to South America and Europe. His sister, Doro Bush, daughter of George H. W. Bush, was baptized in Communist China.

So Europe and foreign travel is no stranger to children of presidents. Just to the know-it-all journalists who don’t pay attention. Malia and Sasha are actually following a very predictable path. Perhaps the reason people are seeing this as new is because the Obamas are new. There were no headlines when Jenna Bush shopped the Champs Elysee but Malia and Sasha would attract a crowd of thousands.

What should we expect next? A guest appearance on a popular sitcom. Another common rite of passage for the children of presidents. And again, journalists will assure us that this too is new. “Unprecedented,” they will say, Malia and Sasha on a television show. Don’t you believe it.

What is new is that we have a functional family in the White House, a marriage that works and children who are not abused or neglected. Regardless of one’s politics, that is a bit of a new thing for Americans and that makes them fun to watch.

Malia Obama, born on the third of July

July 4, 2009

Malia Obama had a birthday yesterday.

White House kids seem to have it all. Every toy and gadget comes over the transom. The most famous people of their day are on hand. But the one thing that is often missing are the parents.

When Tad Lincoln celebrated his 12th birthday on April 4, 1865, his father Abraham Lincoln was visiting Richmond, Virginia, the conquered capital of the Confederacy. Fascinated newsmen covered Lincoln as he sat down at the very desk of his former nemesis, Jefferson Davis, in the so called Southern White House. It was a moment filled with such human interest and irony that the birthday of Tad mattered little to the nation. Ten days later, on April 14, Abraham Lincoln was dead at the hands of an assassin. Tad didn’t have his dad for long.

John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Mrs. Kennedy remained in the White House for weeks after but the West Wing was immediately taken by Lyndon Johnson, the new president. On November 27, only five days after the death of her father, young Caroline Kennedy celebrated her birthday. The nation hardly cared. The new president Lyndon Johnson gave an address to a joint session of congress. And Mrs. Kennedy was in the news for visiting with the new president in the Oval Office. Big events overshadowed a little girl’s sixth birthday. But Caroline surely remembers it.

Doug Dwight “Ikky” Eisenhower was born on September 24, 1917 but died three years later in his father’s arms. Rather than wallow in grief, the Eisenhower’s determined to forever celebrate the birth of this child and the time they had shared together. They ever after celebrated his birthday, sending little cards and gifts to each other. But in 1955 President Eisenhower suffered his first heart attack on that date. The newspapers never even mentioned the coincidence. And Mamie would have her first serious stroke years later on the eve of this September 24 anniversary. No one even remembered the birthday of Ikky. But the Eisenhowers obviously did.

History towers above these little children of the White House and the lives of their parents often bury them in insignificance. If the children seem for awhile to be spoiled by the drippings from the table of power they are all too often overlooked and deprived of the ordinary parental love that many of the rest of us take for granted.

And so, there is something touching about seeing Michelle Obama, a first lady who is showing herself to be something much more, a real life mother, often putting her children first. On the trip to Europe, when daughter Sasha turned eight, she didn’t just pack her and her sister off to the movie set for the latest Harry Potter installment. They would have been okay, surrounded by handlers and feted by actors and actresses. The First Lady could have met with other movers and shakers in London, or burnished her image and cause by meeting with volunteers, doing her own Princess Diana photo op. The world would have loved it. But instead, she went with Sasha and Malia to meet Mr. Harry Potter together. They were inseparable throughout the trip, mother and daughters.

We have seen a number of dysfunctional families and marriages in the White House. The Roosevelts, the Kennedys, the Reagans, the Clintons. And if the Bushes were not dysfunctional, they were certainly old school, children were to be seen and not heard and when it wasn’t your turn, you weren’t even to be seen. So there is something kind of nice about watching a mother and father who openly love their daughters and dote on them.

Power does strange things to families, especially the children. Catherine de Medici plotted against her own sons. Two Russian monarchs, Ivan the terrible and Peter the Great, executed their own sons. It’s Biblical, David and Absalom. Power is an intoxicating poison and it ruins families and turns brother against brother.

However divided we may now be about the changing role of government and this administration’s decisions on the economy and foreign policy, we can all celebrate the fact that little Malia Obama will be eleven years old tomorrow. And we can all celebrate the fact that her parents see that as important.

A list of preteen girls who lived in the White House

November 11, 2008

Little girl’s in the White House

So what will it be like for Malia and Sasha? On inauguration day, Malia Obama would be 10 years old, Sasha Obama would be 7. There have been a lot of famous teenagers like Alice Roosevelt and Susan Ford and a long list of famous little boys, like Willie and Tad Lincoln. Have there been any other White House girls their ages? And what can they expect out of life? Here is a look at that short list of all the others and what happened to them.

Those Washington kids

When “Jacky” Custis, the president’s stepson and the birth son of the first lady, Martha Custis, died at age 27, he left his widow with four small children. The Washington’s took in two of them and so became replacement parents to a couple of their own grandchildren. Eleanor “Nelly” Custis was almost 10 years old, and brother George “Wash” Custis 9, when their grandfather began serving as president but they would never live in the White House. The first American capital was New York and then later Philadelphia. Ironically, it would be the next president, John Adams, who would be the first to live in Washington, D. C. and the first to live in the White House.

Martha Custis arranged for Nelly to attend Mrs. Graham’s school for young ladies and take piano lessons. But as in the case of many young and impressionable, preteen daughters to follow, Nelly spent her life in devotion to the president. She tenderly cared for him into his old age. She married one of the president’s nephews whom he had invited to Mt. Vernon.

Devoted to Daddy

The Rutherford B. Hayes family had 8 children and the two youngest almost match the ages of Malia and Sasha Obama. One was a girl.

Like, Malia, Fanny Hayes was a 10 year old, and the country fell in love with her. She was devoted to her father. When her mother died, after the family left the White House, Fanny assumed duties as his official hostess and refused to marry until here presidential father had died. Still beloved by the nation long after leaving the White House, her wedding was a huge event attended by the sitting president and cabinet who traveled from Washington to Ohio on the presidential train. When her husband died, ever the daddy’s girl, Fanny Smith changed her name back to Hayes. Like many children of the White House, her identity was merged with her father’s.

Ellen Arthur, daughter of president Chester Arthur, had two older brothers, but she was only 9 years old when her father became president. Her father shielded her successfully announcing that “my private life is nobody’s damn business.” The press agreed. She married and later died of surgical complications at age 43.

The famous White House Gang

The kid’s side of the White House of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft was dominated by little boys and their famous White House gang that among other things, lofted snow balls from the mansions roof on unsuspecting pedestrians below. But there was a little girl too.

Ethel Roosevelt, daughter of TR, was 9 and she became a public favorite. She married a medical doctor, Richard Derby, they had four children. The nation briefly saw her again in 1960 when she offered a seconding speech for the presidential nomination of Richard Nixon. She died in 1977 at age 86.

“Baby Ruth,” the most popular White House kid.

Ruth Cleveland “Baby Ruth” was a famous and beloved White House child in her day. She was 1 year old when the Cleveland’s moved back into the executive mansion, having been elected president for the second time. Ruth received so much attention that the president and first lady became alarmed and tried to shield her from the media. The clamor continued when she left the White House and when she died of diphtheria at age 12 the nation was shocked and went into mourning. The Curtis Candy Company allegedly renamed one of their favorite candy bars the “Baby Ruth” in her honor.

Esther Cleveland was the first child of a president to be born in the White House. She was four when they retired into private life. Although over shadowed by “Baby Ruth” Esther’s later wedding to Captain William Sydney Bosanquet was held at Westminster Abbey and became an international social event.

Marion Cleveland was born during the second year of the second Cleveland presidency. She was twice married (her first husband died) and extensively involved in the Girl Scouts of America. Her second husband was a U.S. attorney and “racket buster.” He served on the legal staff for the Nuremburg Trials.

Recent Kids

Caroline Kennedy was 3 years old, her little brother 2 months when they moved into the White House. The first lady kept them out of the limelight. The famous pictures of them scampering in the Oval Office was very atypical and only happened because the first lady was out of the country.

Caroline is now a Columbia Law School graduate, bestselling author and an attorney. She married Edwin Schlossberg in 1988. She is 50 years old. John F. Kennedy, Jr. was an attorney and publisher, married to Carolyn Bessette. In 1999, they died in an airplane that he was piloting. He was 38 years old.

Amy Carter was 9 when she moved into the White House. She won the hearts of the American people from the first day, when she walked with her father in the inaugural parade. She will forever be famous because of her father’s reference to her in a presidential debate. “I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was [and she said it was nuclear proliferation.”] The president was trying to show that even his young daughter could see the importance of the issue but it was an awkward moment that didn’t quite work. Amy went onto graduate from Tulane with a master’s degree in fine arts and history and is today a 41 year old wife and mother.

Chelsea Clinton was 12 when she moved into the White House and turned 13 within days. At age 20, while her mother, the First Lady, ran for the U. S. Senate, Chelsea took on some of the duties as White House hostess. A graduate of Stanford and Oxford, she worked for three years at McKinsey and Company, a consulting firm in New York City. These past two years she helped in her mother’s presidential campaign and is now back into post graduate university studies. She is 28 years old and single. Friends describe her as “scary bright.”

(Some information and some quotes taken from All the Presidents’ Children, Atria Books.)

You Tubes: Malia and Sasha in the white house

Malia and Sasha’s first day at school