On this President's Day I was thinking about what makes someone a good President of the United States? Is it the age he (or hopefully someday she) was born into? Would Abraham Lincoln have been a less effective chief executive had he governed at the turn of century rather than during the Civil War? Or is it something inherently presidential in the person? Is it just predestined for this one to be a sequoia while another one is kindling wood?
Sometimes I think it is perception. Someone like Harry Truman could say "The Buck Stops Here" and make it sound absolutely presidential; someone like George H. Bush could say "Read my lips" and slip into infamy faster than Charlie Sheen on a bender. I guess it could be the times and world events that shape a presidency, or it may just be that one guy is just better than the other.
I look at presidents and think of accomplishments; I also think family influences us a great deal in thinking about them as well. For example, my uncle always kept a beautiful picture of a young John F. Kennedy on his office wall. I was greatly moved every time I saw that picture, and my uncle's feelings about the man were also told in stories. While I don't remember JFK as being president, I know of his legacy from history but also have strong positive feelings about him from family.
I have also heard very negative things from family members about presidents. So growing up and hearing negative things about Herbert Hoover and positive stories about Franklin Delano Roosevelt would probably slant my feelings in a certain way. Also, as a student of history, I was certainly taught very positive things about FDR while the thing that stands clear in my mind about Hoover is the Hoovervilles: the many homeless shantytowns that sprung up all over the nation due to the Great Depression under his watch.
I am very conscious now of how I speak about presidents to my children. Since I remember Watergate vividly, it is hard for me to say anything positive about Richard Nixon, yet I still manage to say something like "he opened the door to China" and even of Jimmy Carter "he brought Israel and Egypt together in the peace process." While I may personally think of both men as kindling more than presidential timber, I am not going to let those thoughts warp my kids' perceptions of these men: they'll get enough of that in school someday.