From reading Cicero to watching I Love Lucy, a history of American presidents’ interactions with popular culture.
Can a president show that he has the gravitas to govern the nation and still reveal that he knows who Snooki is? The question animates this fresh view of presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama and their efforts to find the right distance for the leader of a republic to keep between himself and the people. Against the rise of American popular culture over the past 200 years, Hudson Institute senior fellow Troy (Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, or Technicians?, 2002) shows how presidents’ cultural pursuits have shaped them and the nation. The pursuits are many: Jefferson read the classics and philosophical works (“From candlelight to early bedtime I read”), as did John Adams, in an era when Common Sense sold as briskly as Peyton Place; Andrew Jackson thrilled audiences on his visits to the theater; Franklin Roosevelt mastered the radio; and Reagan made expert use of TV, which he also enjoyed viewing for consolation. While Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln worked hard to balance book smarts and popular appeal, presidents had other cultural distractions to deal with in ensuing years, which brought the Montgomery Ward catalog, the phonograph, radio, TV (Clinton was a “savvy manipulator,” George W. Bush rarely watched), and the Internet. Troy shows how these leaders used and projected their own images through emerging media, from Nixon sizing up the competition on TV to Obama’s preference for dark and edgy TV shows like The Wire. He wonders how the U.S. will continue to produce good leaders in a culture of the outrageous and the vulgar.
Light, entertaining and informative.