Irrelevant Presidents

by John Delach

A recent article in the “paper of record” noted that a research study recently published in the Journal of Science concluded that most United States Presidents have a relevant shelf-life of 40 years from the time they leave office. On paper, this means that President Lyndon Johnson’s relevance could expire before Robert Caro gets around to concluding his endless biography of LBJ (now up to three volumes and counting.) Can you imagine Caro reaching around Page 335 of Volume 4 writing about that fateful Sunday night in 1968 when Lyndon took to the airwaves to inform the country that he would not seek re-election. The light bulb will go off in Caro’s head, he will stop writing, shake his head, realize nobody cares and simply write, “Never mind.”

 

Benedict Carey, the author of this piece noted that the professors who conducted these tests from 1974 to 2014 saw that students remembered the men who served during times of crises. So Caro’s efforts may yet be saved as LBJ could remain relevant by being attached to JFK’s coattails and that damn Vietnam War. (Good bet; the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Act alone would not sustain him.) Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43 will be less than blips on a radar screen to future test-takers. Perhaps 43 will deserve an asterisk as being on the scene on September 11, 2001? President Obama, for the obvious reasons, should have a long shelf-life.

 

If you find this disturbing, try to name two or three of the presidents between Andy Jackson and old Abe? (1) Or between Abe and FDR save Teddy and Thomas W. Wilson better known as Woodrow? (2)

 

Sure, I admit feeling a deep sense of my own mortality when I realize that the majority of current college-age students don’t have a clue who Harry or Ike were.

 

And so it goes. I’ve developed my own test to see if we have enough memory left to recall political events that once were important if not vital to our beliefs.  I believe that the ages people are most passionate about politics are from 18 to 24 roughly college-age. They can be passionate as they want to be without having to worry about a job, paying off college, buying a house, supporting a family, a mortgage, car loans; etc…that thing we call life,

 

So I ask you to remember the election closest to your 21st birthday. Name the man who won, his running mate; the loser and his running mate? (3)

 

I was twenty in 1964. Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater. Johnson ran with Hubert Humphrey and Goldwater, with William E. Miller. I was a one of the Goldwater supporters who had to endure the rout our man suffered that election night. But the defeat seared the event into my memory giving me an advantage in this challenge. The main reason that I have this advantage is that Bill Miller’s fame came not from his run with Barry or his term in Congress as a representative from upstate New York. Nope, it was from the commercial he did for the American Express Card produced in 1975.

 

It began with Miller facing the camera and stating: “Do you know who I am? I ran for the office of vice president of the United States. That’s why I carry the American Express Card.” (The commercial then shifted to a scene of an AMEX Card, name blank where an unseen printer produces: “William E. Miller” and his year of membership.)

 

Cut back to Miller, “Don’t leave home without it.”

 

  1. Presidents between Jackson and Lincoln: Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan.

 

  1. Presidents between Lincoln and FDR: Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Simpson Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland (two interrupted times), Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, (Theodore Roosevelt), William Howard Taft, (Woodrow Wilson), Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

 

  1. 3. The Answers to the Quiz

 

.                        Winner          VP                       Loser                        Losing VP

 

1932                  F.D.R.      John Garner                Hoover                  Charles Curtis

1936                  F.D.R.          Garner                 Alf Landon                Frank Knox

1940                  F.D.R.     Henry Wallace         Wendell Wilkie          Charles Mc Nary

1944                  F.D.R.      Harry Truman         Tom Dewey               John Bricker

1948              Harry Truman    Barkley                Dewey                       Earl Warren

1952                   Ike          Dick Nixon             Adlai Stevenson            John Sparkman

1956                   Ike              Nixon                     Stevenson                   Estes Kefauver

1960                  J.F.K           LBJ                        Nixon                Henry Cabot Lodge

1964                  L.B.J       Humphrey             Barry Goldwater                Bill Miller

1968                Nixon     Spiro Agnew                 Humphrey               Edmund Muskie

1972                Nixon           Agnew               George Mc Govern        Sergent Shriver*

1976             Jimmy Carter    Mondale             Jerry Ford                      Bob Dole

1980             Ronald Reagan   Bush                      Carter                    Walter Mondale

1984                Reagan             Bush                 Mondale                    Geraldine Ferraro

1988          George H. W. Bush   Quayle           Michael Dukakis           Lloyd Bentsen

1990               Bill Clinton     Al Gore                 Bush (41)                        Dan Quayle

1996                 Clinton             Gore                  Bob Dole                           Jack Kemp

2000            George W. Bush   Chaney             Al Gore                          Joe Lieberman

2004                 Bush (43)        Chaney             John Kerry                       John Edwards

2008            Barack Obama     Biden              John Mc Cain                    Sarah Palin

2012                 Obama            Biden                Mitt Romney                      Paul Ryan

* Thomas Eagleton would also be a correct answer