Blessing-Murray survey-Indiana Gazette-p.2-23 July 1992
The Indiana Gazette Tuesday, November 9, 1993 — Page 2 How will history judge presidents? By ROBERT E.THOMPSON Hearst Newspapers WASHINGTON - If Bill Clinton is re-elected in 1996 and lives out his term, he will be the last president of the 20th century, weaving the final skeins into a colorful tapestry that was begun in 1900 with the re-election re-election of William McKinley. Since that time, 17 men have occupied the Oval Office, which was created in the newly constructed East Wing of the White House by McKinley's immediate successor, the innovative Theodore Roosevelt. Since that time, Americans have fought four major wars and numerous numerous smaller skirmishes, experienced the degradation of the Great Depression, Depression, suffered riots in their cities, witnessed the crumbling of walls that once barred women, macks and others from full citizenship and watched new social standards replace replace many traditional values. They have seen their country become the world's single superpower. superpower. They have thrilled to the eradication eradication of ancient diseases, the landing of astronauts on the moon and the creation of governmental programs to provide security for senior citizens citizens and educate the men and women who fought the wars. When the century ends, historians, politicians and journalists will assess assess it and the impact on it of the men who have guided it from the White House. How will the various presidents fare? A survey conducted by Tim Blessing and Robert Murray of Pennsylvania State University among 481 historians a couple of years ago should provide a clue. It is certain that Franklin D. Roosevelt, who shepherded the republic republic through the Great Depression and World War II, will be seen as the towering president of the 20th century. century. Of the four presidents designated as "great" in the Blessing-Murray poll, only Roosevelt occupied the White House in the 20th century. Of the other three, George Washington was president in the 18th century and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln in the 19th century. Among the near greats, three — Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson Wilson and Harry Truman — were 20th century presidents. The fourth near- great president, Andrew Jackson, served from 1829 to 1837. The historians cited as above average Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, James K. Polk, James Madison and James Monroe. Among those six, none was more colorful or controversial than LB J, a man whose massive physical size was matched by his massive ego, ambition and talent. It was 30 years ago this month that Johnson succeeded Kennedy as president and launched one of the most spectacular periods of reform and legislative achievement in the history of the republic. From his five years in the White House flowed landmark legislation to create Medicare, open public accommodations and polling booths to blacks, provide federal aid to all levels of education, nurture young minds through Head Start, provide work for the unemployed through the Job Corps, improve the environment, environment, protect consumers and try to stamp out poverty. Some of his legislative achievements achievements worked brilliantly; some failed dismally. But LBJ never gave up the fight to improve the lot of his fellow Americans, especially those who had lost hope. Yet, if Johnson is remembered a quarter century after leaving the White House for retirement at his ranch on the Pedernales River in Texas, it is for taking America — military increment by military increment increment — into the quagmire of the Vietnam war. Johnson is blamed for the tragedy of Vietnam much as Herbert Hoover was blamed for the Great Depression. It is true that Eisenhower and Kennedy began U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia with the dispatch of military advisers. They, like John- son, saw that area of the world through the prism of the domino theory: If Vietnam fell to the communists, communists, so would other free countries countries in Asia. Those of us who covered Johnson's presidency and spent time with him in the White House and at the ranch witnessed his ordeal as Vietnam divided Americans into hostile camps and unleashed violence on campuses and in city streets. We watched as he soared to unprecedented unprecedented heights, winning nearly two thirds of the popular vote against Barry Goldwater in 1964, and fell to the depths, declining in 1968 to seek re-election because he could not unify the nation. Johnson could be devious and deceitful. He also could be compassionate compassionate and caring. He worshipped Franklin Roosevelt Roosevelt and wanted to emulate him. His Great Society programs would provide provide new hope and new help for the poor, the disenfranchised and the victims of discrimination and neglect. neglect. His military stance in Vietnam Vietnam would halt the spread of communism. Some of his aspirations were fulfilled; fulfilled; some were not. But LBJ never stopped having aspirations. His presidency was one of remarkable remarkable achievement and equally remarkable remarkable tragedy. That, in a sense, is the story of the 20th century itself.