By placing my own political views aside, I have found the two men who I believe were the best presidents in U.S. history.
Interestingly, the two men were different in so many ways. One was born in New York, came from a wealthy family, went to an Ivy League school and became a lawyer. The other man was from Illinois, born into a poor family, and went to a small local college. They were also on opposite sides of the political spectrum; specifically, on domestic issues and the role of government.
Yet their differences pale in comparison to their similarities.
Both presidents had Bible-quoting mothers who assured them that everything in life was part of God’s plan and gave their sons a firm a grounding in their own place in this world.
Both young men learned early to hide their true feelings behind a smiling face. When they served as presidents, they had countless acquaintances with very few true friends.
In time, both men would be shot at by would-be assassins. Their graceful responses exposing the steel behind their smiling exteriors were almost identical.
Their similarities do not end there. Each man had served as governor of the nation’s largest state. Each entered the White House in a period of great economic crisis. Each followed a president with weak leadership abilities. Each brilliantly used the media to enlist public support for his agenda. Both raised the mood of the nation through the force of his personality and unquenchable optimism followed them through their presidencies.
Both had a genius for exploiting their opponents, whether aggressive foreign powers or domestic opponents. Their communication skills, unwillingness to bend in the face of open threats from other countries, and ability to poke fun at themselves propelled their success.
One put the first woman in the Cabinet. The other named the first woman to the Supreme Court.
By now, if not earlier, you know I am speaking about Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and Ronald Reagan.
These men were the greatest, not because of their political philosophy, but because they were warriors.
I disagree with almost every aspect of FDR’s domestic policy while I agree with most of Reagan’s. But their domestic positions are not what make them the two greatest presidents in history; it was their leadership, courage, and optimism that brought our country through times of danger and depression.
FDR, who was stricken with polio at the prime of his political career, would pull his broken body up to give hope to millions of Americans during the Great Depression. He would also begin fighting a European and Japanese threat years before the U.S. entered World War II by lending munitions, planes, and other machines of war to the British. FDR would lead the Allies in defeating the greatest threat the world had ever seen. He would fight on through the war as he was suffering from poor health and eventually died just before the war was won.
Reagan would finish a conservative revolution started by Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964. In 1981, Reagan inherited the greatest threat our world had ever known since World War II; the looming threat of thermonuclear war. Reagan, like FDR, did not back down from powerful enemies abroad. Reagan did not offer appeasement in the face of Soviet aggression and massive construction of nuclear arsenals. Reagan, with years of help from most prior presidents, finally defeated this communist threat when the Soviet Union imploded in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
Whatever else may have divided them, Roosevelt and Reagan alike embodied national optimism and the rejection of limits, much as Winston Churchill became the British lion at a critical juncture in the history of Great Britain.
It was not the differences that made these men the best of all presidents; it was their similarities.