Monday, February 18, 2013
One of the positive developments in the 20th and now 21st Centuries is the stripping away of myth from Presidents. The 19th Century turned them into caricatures. One fable after another was larded onto their biographies, and it took time and lengthy investigation to find real individuals beneath. Washington depend on Martha to keep his plantations running. Lincoln wasn't above using hard-ball politics to get his way. Jefferson was a spendthrift and hypocrite. Adams was a hard worker but difficult in temperament. We begin today to see these people closer to the way they were and that makes their accomplishments all the greater. Myth-making is a human tendency, and one to be resisted. Public relations fails in this aspect constantly. Practitioners want to portray leaders as men above men, women exalted. It is as if facts would destroy them and their aura. It needn't. Steve Jobs, for example, was a famously difficult character who understood how to create technologies. One can accept his brilliance and detest his arrogance. So too, our Presidents. We can accept their failings and honor their accomplishments. There is no need to turn them into haloed saints.