Sometimes it is preferable to be boring. After the roller coaster ride of current events that have unfolded both domestically and abroad over the previous decade, many of us might yearn for some boring times for a change. Massive ups and downs in the economic sphere have only been matched by equal turmoil in the political one: it seems the House and presidency are switching hands more than homes at the height of the real estate bubble.
This is true in our personal lives as well, as most of us value steadiness and seek to steer clear of massive peaks and valleys in our personal relationships and family lives. So if we place such a premium on the times marked by a lack of upheaval, why do we not look back fondly on those who presided over such times while in the Oval Office? Our presidents who reigned during times of war or massive government intervention are constantly glorified and placed on a pedestal, while the ones who presided during times of peace and economic expansion are rarely even brought up.
Praise is ceaselessly heaped on the Wilsons, FDRs, Trumans, Lincolns, and Johnsons of our past. Not to say these men did not do some good things during their terms, but is it unrealistic to expect the same sort of folk tales to be told about the presidents who avoided war, saving us from untold carnage by their diplomacy? What about the ones who stuck to laissez faire principles, the men who kept the budget balanced, currency strong, and the government off the backs of the American people? These names are only brought up as historical footnotes, chalked up as too “boring” for in depth discussion. Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge come to mind; but I would wager most Americans have been taught little about the presidencies of these two men. I know I was not.
We need to teach the next generation about the men who placed peaceful international relations and a trust in market mechanisms at the forefront of their agenda, not necessarily the ones who, in the words of John Quincy Adams, sought to go overseas seeking “monsters to destroy.” Considering this sort of leader has been more the exception than the rule, learning about their administrations is valuable for those who want to curtail the massive apparatus that has emerged over the preceding decades.
While a holistic reading of our history is vitally important, we should not overlook the presidents who maintained a restrained view of presidential powers. In fact, America could use a boring president once again; after all, running the world and managing the economy is not exactly part of their job description. Our presidents need to be defined by what they don’t do, not just what they do. The urge to constantly be responding to this problem or that, intervening in this crisis or the next, has left us saddled with massive commitments we have no way of following through on. As the Republican presidential primary season gets underway in earnest over the next few months, perhaps we can look past the glamor and navel gazing, opting instead for the most boring of the bunch. Now that would be change we could all believe in.