Presidents today are seen, not as statesmen, but as celebrities. All too often we elect leaders based on style, personality, and even looks, but not on qualities that really matter. And with that, our presidents act accordingly, not like the chief executive of a republic but more in the role of a monarch.
This was evident from the beginning. George Washington, the Father of the Country, could have, had he desired it, become king of the new nation. He had that kind of popularity. Fortunately for America, he also had a wealth of integrity and would not assume any such position for himself.
But Washington did place himself high above the people when we served as the nation’s first president.
He dressed extravagantly for his inauguration and arrived at the ceremony in an elaborate carriage pulled by a team of six white horses, the fancy limousine of its day. As president, he even refused to shake hands with people, preferring instead to bow.
John Adams loved the idea of being president and, along with Alexander Hamilton, desired the office to be like that of a king. He arrived at his inaugural in a fancy, horse-drawn carriage and wearing a lavish ceremonial sword and cockade, along with a powdered wig.
Adams even wanted to give the president an elaborate title, “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties.” But Congress wisely rejected it.
When Thomas Jefferson became the third president in the election of 1800, he set out to change it all. He feared the presidency was already becoming like a monarchy.
On inauguration day, he would not be driven to his ceremony in a carriage, but instead chose to walk from his boarding room to the Capitol. He wore a simple suit and what he termed “republican” shoes, which did not have a buckle, considered aristocratic in his day, but laced instead.
As president, Jefferson refused to deliver the State of the Union message to Congress, preferring to send a written copy instead, because he felt the practice of a public speech resembled the King of England’s address to Parliament to open its sessions.
Jefferson had no servants to speak of in the White House, preferring to answer the front door himself, no matter what he was wearing at the time. He dressed in plain suits and served food and wine to his guests rather than having a servant do it. He also took out the rectangular dining table in favor of a circular one, so all who dined would seemingly be equal. Jefferson always wanted to be seen as a man of the people.
After the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant, the great hero throughout the North, won the presidency in 1868. He loved the pomp and pageantry of the presidency, bringing back much of its grandeur. He owned an extravagant carriage, palled around with the rich and famous, and vacationed in fancy resorts. He loved it so much that he earnestly desired a third term but could not get it, mainly because his two-term administration was thoroughly corrupt. Had he been allowed to continue in office, it is quite likely he would have remained until the day he died, just as FDR did.
Chester A. Arthur, who served as president from 1881 to 1885, was even worse than Grant. Arthur was a dandy who loved the finer things in life and was not shy about it either. He loved nothing more than shopping for new clothes. He wore the latest fashions, perfumed his aristocratic whiskers, and sported expensive jewelry, a top hat and cane. After winning the vice presidency, he went on an elaborate spending spree at Brooks Brothers, purchasing over $700 on new suits, a massive amount of money in the 1880s.
When he arrived in the Executive Mansion, Arthur was disgusted with what he found and almost refused to live there. To bring the White House up to his standards, he spent lavishly on new furniture and decorations for the home. He added valets, butlers, a French chef, and other servants befitting his notion of a head of state.
Mrs. James G. Blaine dined one evening with President Arthur, writing later that the “dinner was extremely elegant,” with “hardly a trace of the old White House taint being perceptible anywhere.” The “flowers, the silver, the attendants, all showing the latest style…in expense and taste.”
Grover Cleveland, a Jeffersonian Democrat, sought to bring back a degree of simplicity to the White House when he assumed the presidency from Arthur in 1885.
Cleveland did not like what he called the “purely ornamental part of the office.” He personally did not like luxuries, but especially while serving the people. He particularly detested lavish parties and gatherings. He got rid of all the servants Arthur had hired, as well as the chef.
Once, when invited to the ballpark to attend a baseball game, he politely turned down the offer, telling the team’s manager, “What do you think the American people would think of me if I wasted my time going to a ball game?”
Oh how we need such a man in the Oval Office today.
But instead we have President Barack Obama, who has taken the concept of the “celebrity president” to new heights.
The entirety of his 2008 campaign, as well as his short stint in the White House thus far, is a testament to this irrefutable fact.
To gain the presidency, Obama spent lavishly and raised a record $745 million. According to a report out last week, Obama is laying plans for a $1 billion re-election campaign in 2012. This is more than obscene. It’s downright repulsive. Anyone who would spend that kind of money has no business occupying the nation’s highest and noblest office.
While president, Obama has also spent extravagantly on fancy parties and gatherings. His inauguration alone cost $170 million.
Within three weeks of entering the White House, Obama threw an expensive cocktail party in which Wagyu steak was served, a Japanese variety costing $125 per pound. It’s one of the most expensive steaks in the world.
Entertainers such as Jennifer Lopez, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Martina McBride, Alison Kraus, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Seal, Sheryl Crow, Smokey Robinson, and John Legend, just to name a few, have preformed for the First Couple. The White House also put on a Fiesta Latina night.
He has also thrown two lavish Super Bowl parties, serving food the First Lady has preached that we should not eat – bratwurst, cheeseburgers, deep dish pizza, buffalo wings, twice baked potatoes, ice cream, and beer, all at his latest bash.
Obama also broke the record for first-year president in foreign travel, visiting 20 nations. By the end of his second year, he had spent a total of 58 days in 33 foreign countries, another record.
While the nation has been in an economic crisis, and is now dealing with a crisis in the Middle East, Obama recently took his 60th golf outing this past weekend, already more than the entire eight years of George W. Bush, who took a beating in the media for any trips to the links.
It was also announced recently that the Obamas fly in a personal trainer from Chicago every week to keep the family in top shape.
All of this while the unemployment rate climbed above 10 percent.
According to Nile Gardiner, of the London Telegraph, the Obama administration “resembles a modern Ancien Regime,” the corrupt, party-driven reign of Louis XVI that led to the French Revolution.
What we need is the return of a little Jeffersonian simplicity in the White House and elect a president unconcerned about his image or entertaining himself. The 45th President of the United States should be more concerned about the great problems facing the nation. We need a man of the people, not a king.