Books for the News, History, Politics and Current Events

Top Five or Ten: Presidents’ Day edition

In the spirit of Presidents’ Day (in other birthday news: the cribbing of W. H. Auden lines —”One rational voice is dumb/Over his grave the household of Impulse mourns one dearly loved”), we’re celebrating the caricatured, the cartoonish, the garishly sketch, the “Generalíssimo Francisco Franco is still dead!” reverie of Fathers, Founding and Our American Presidents. With that in mind, here’s a list of commands our backlist has in reserve for our Commander(s)-in-Chief:

Top Five of Ten: We command you, Commander!
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Richard Nixon, with this volume Philip Guston’s Poor Richard by Debra Bricker Balken, we command you:
“Openly betray your sense of aesthetic abstraction in favor of imagery representative of the American 1970s: fill it with personal and political meaning that helps to bring about the renewal of the figure in painting and a witty, sardonic take on a political regime gone awry. Be good.”

Gerald Ford, with this volume Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future by Newton N. Minow and Craig L. Lamay, we command you:

“Consider a neck and shoulder massage. Relax. Watch and rewatch Fletch. During the October 1976 presidential debate, consider building a time machine and traveling to 1989, when the statement ‘Poland is no longer under communist domination’ will actually ring true.”
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John Adams, with this volume Abigail and John Adams: The Americanization of Sensibility by G. J. Barker-Benfield, we command you:

“Heed Abigail’s advice: ‘I love to amuse myself with my pen, and pour out some of the tender sentiments of a Heart over flowing with affection, not for the Eye of a cruel Enemy who no doubt would ridicule every Humane and Social Sentiment long ago grown Callous to the finer sensibilities—but for the sympathetick Heart that Beats in unison with.’ Careful also, sir, with those Boston Patriot letters to the editor.”

Abraham Lincoln, with this volume Abraham Lincoln in the Post-Heroic Era: History and Memory in Late Twentieth-Century America by Barry Schwartz, we command you:

“Transcend controversies for secular sainthood. Withstand indifference, questioning, and cynicism: embrace your flaws, do justice, protect Mary Todd from those bad séance vibes.”
George Herbert Walker Bush, with this volume Tippecanoe and Tyler Too: Famous Slogans and Catchphrases in American History by Jan R. Van Meter, we command you:
“Consider what is old and passing; throw the I Ching. Watch the low Neap tide under a Kennebunkport moon. Usher in your acceptance of the GOP presidential nomination with the promise of a lesson learned: No new tricycles, tragedies, tautologies; No new Tao. . . . No new teleology, temp agency, television mini-series. . . . No new Terms of Endearment, tipping point, toxoplasmosis. . . . No new. . . . Nothing new. . . . Nothing new under the sun, George. Read your Beckett.”