A Rainy Fourth and the Legacy of Presidents

The Fourth turned out to be rainy, but after the blistering heat of the previous few days, I didn’t mind a bit. Our barbecue beans and hot dogs are good inside or out, and the little house in the big woods can easily accommodate 7 people.

As we gathered around the dining room table, I surveyed the bounty—Jill’s potato salad, Alice’s pasta and greens salad, Shannon’s wheat berry salad—and I mentioned how lucky we are to have family and friends who can cook. I quickly added that we would love them even if they couldn’t, but it’s a real bonus that they are all such fine cooks. Because of this, our feasts are truly feasts.

We ended with homemade ice cream pie drizzled with blueberry sauce and raspberry sauce. Alice said, “If I wasn’t in polite company, I’d lick the plate.” Words to warm a cook’s heart, that’s for sure.

As is our wont, after the meal we stayed at the table for quite a while—two or three hours—and made an attempt to solve the world’s problems. Appropriately for the Fourth, we discussed presidents. Jill is making her way through Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ, and as there are 4 volumes published, with a 5th on the way, this is quite an endeavor.  Our son-in-law, Mike, is reading The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Teddy Roosevelt.

So we jumped back and forth among the presidents, from Obama to LBJ to Teddy Roosevelt. All presidents want to hold onto power. That we know. But are they ever sincere in their desire to leave a legacy that goes beyond power? In other words, do they want to do something good for the country just because it is the right thing to do?

At the table, we argued about this for some time. LBJ, it seems, was a ruthless politician who used unscrupulous means to gain power. Yet, his Great Society programs and his support of the Civil Rights Act belies the notion that he was in power only for himself and for his cronies. Indeed, the Civil Rights Act cost the Democratic Party dearly, with Southern Democrats leaving en masse to join the Republican Party after the bill was passed. It took grit for LBJ to stand up for two groups of people—the poor and African Americans—who didn’t have much political clout. Certainly LBJ was mindful of his legacy, yet the direction his legacy took must have had something to do with his beliefs and ideals.

The same could be said of Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Obama did something that presidents, starting with Teddy Roosevelt, have wanted to do but have been unable to accomplish—have some kind of national health care system that would guarantee coverage for all people. It has been said that Obama spent most of his political capital on the Affordable Care Act. But who, really, benefits from the Affordable Care Act? Is it rich people who don’t have to worry about how their medical bills will be paid? Of course it isn’t. The ACA benefits people who are struggling to find decent health care coverage, and while these same people might have voted for Obama (or maybe not), they are unlikely to have donated large sums of money to his campaign. Could it be that Obama genuinely thought that affordable health care would be good for the country? I think it’s quite likely.

Good discussions on the Fourth, as the rain came down and night settled over the little house in the big woods.

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