On a day when President Elect Barack Obama had a chance to have lunch with all the living former presidents and the current president Bush, I wondered if Obama had the chance, which former presidents would he like to talk to, and learn from, so here is my list of an alternate 4 that he could have lunch with.
4). Ronald Reagan - Obama caught all kinds of criticism from the left for suggesting that Ronald Reagan was a transformative figure. Here is the direct quote, “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”
They might be different ends of the political spectrum, but Reagan and Obama both have an ability to deliver clarity and optimism. Obama can learn from Reagan how to communicate the power of his personality and leadership through the presidency. Obama like Reagan is trying to change the trajectory of the government, and no president besides FDR changed Washington more than Ronald Reagan.
3). John F. Kennedy - Kennedy was the first modern media president. As Kennedy had to answer questions about his religion, Obama has had to deal with race. What Obama could learn from a sit down with Kennedy is how to handle the presidency when you are treated as a larger than life figure. Kennedy was also great with the media, and able to use his youth as an asset.
Due to his assassination, Kennedy’s legislative accomplishments are thin, but he would probably have a great deal of advice for Obama about handling the spotlight. If Obama wanted to know how to hammer legislation through, he should talk to LBJ, but if he wants advice on how to handle a rock star presidency, Kennedy is the model to examine.
2). Abe Lincoln - This is a bit of a no brainer as we know that Obama likes and has read about Lincoln. No president since has ever been confronted with the crisis that Lincoln faced when assuming office. Things are certainly bad for Obama, but at least the country was not on the verge of a civil war.
Obama has taken the team of rivals cabinet model to heart, as his administration features both Democratic rivals and Republicans. Lincoln’s practical and deliberative decision making style is something that Obama has shown more than a hint of over the past two years. I don’t think there has been a single president since that would not have loved the chance the sit down and talk to Lincoln, who was perhaps the wisest person ever to be president.
1). FDR - FDR is the role model for the situation that Obama is facing when he assumes office. It can be argued infinitely which man had the tougher task when taking office. FDR had the Great Depression, but Obama has two wars and the worst economy since the Depression. I think FDR had it worse, because Obama at least has the New Deal era social safety net in place.
Roosevelt loved to have conflicting views in his cabinet, and it seems Obama will too. Obama could learn from FDR how to restore the confidence of the nation. While Obama seems pragmatic and cautious, he could afford to learn the benefits of risk taking and innovation. Even more than Ronald Reagan, FDR transformed America.
Obama isn’t content with just fixing what is broken. He has stated that he wants to change the government and the country. If this is his goal, then there would be no better president to have lunch with than FDR. Expectations are over the moon for Obama, but it could borrow a little bit from each of these former presidents, he would be someday sought out for the same type of advice by future presidents.