Our Best Presidents Weren't 'Family Guys'

So we should stop insisting on it: Michael Kazin
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2012 1:16 PM CDT
Our Best Presidents Weren't 'Family Guys'
In this Aug. 23, 1984 file photo, President Ronald Reagan gives the thumbs up gesture during his acceptance speech at the final session of the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas.   (AP Photo/Peter Southwick, File)

These days, each and every political candidate can agree on one thing: How much they love their families. Voters practically insist that presidential candidates, in particular, exhibit close familial relationships—but, as Michael Kazin points out in the New Republic, hardly any of our best presidents actually fit that bill. Kazin offers numerous examples, from George Washington, whose wife once likened herself to "a state prisoner," to Franklin Roosevelt, who stopped sharing a bed with his wife before becoming the president, to even Ronald Reagan, who, though he doted on Nancy, was a distant father.

So why do we continue to insist on some "mawkish ideal"? Partly because we have this idea that "only morally resolute individuals can lead us to build a moral society," Kazin writes, and partly because the feminist movement in the 1960s transformed formerly personal areas like education and workplace issues into political matters. The rise of feminism also spurred the Christian right to put a renewed sense of importance on family values. But the bottom line is that "the men who saw the nation through the Civil War, both world wars, and the Great Depression didn’t fit this model," Kazin writes, so "perhaps we shouldn’t make it a central part of the job description today either." Click for Kazin's full column. (More family values stories.)

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