EIGHINGER: Impressions of the presidents, from Kennedy to Obama, as people

Posted: Feb. 23, 2013 5:00 pm Updated: Mar. 23, 2013 6:15 pm

Unlike many of my colleagues, politics has never been any sort of obsession for me, even the presidential variety.

The hawk-and-dove, right-and-left, blue-and-red state things are important, those who follow and track such stuff should be applauded.

What is compelling are the people involved, particularly of the presidential variety. The personalities and what we will remember about our presidents as human beings interests me most.

The first commander-in-chief I have any keen recollection of following was John F. Kennedy. I have no memory of his stance, or those of his predecessors, on certain tax breaks or foreign policies, but here's a sampling of the impressions they made on me in other areas:

º John F. Kennedy: The mystique of "Camelot" and what it meant was intriguing. I was surprised in later years when the reports of JFK's alleged womanizing surfaced and have always wondered why an entire nation -- or so it has seemed -- remains so drawn to this one particular family.

º Lyndon Johnson: He came across as the gruff old man down the street. It was always difficult to get past his curmudgeonly exterior and listen to what he was actually saying. The picture of him with his hand on the Bible being sworn in as president after the death of JFK is memorable.

º Richard Nixon: He always seemed to be the butt of comedians' jokes, mostly for his physical mannerisms and speech patterns. And if his reputation had not taken enough of a beating, along came the Watergate fiasco. History will never be kind to Tricky Dick.

º Gerald Ford: He was a seemingly kindly man who played football at Michigan. Comedian Chevy Chase on "Saturday Night Live" had a field day with Ford over his occasional propensity to stumble or trip over some foreign object. If he had gone to Ohio State, he may have avoided such embarrassment.

º Jimmy Carter: The American hostages in Iran, who spent more than a year in captivity, will always be a black mark on his presidency. His work with Habitat for Humanity and other post-presidential involvements have been impressive, but his image will never recover from the Iranian debacle.

º Ronald Reagan: There never seemed to be any middle ground with Reagan in the court of public opinion. His supporters were extremely vocal, and so were his critics. He had the best hair of any modern president, and it was never out of place. It was difficult accepting him in the role of president having grown up watching him in the movies, including one of my favorite all-time black-and-white classics: "Knute Rockne All-American." Reagan played the legendary George Gipp. I still get chills watching that 1940 film.

º George H. Bush: When the elder Bush addressed the nation at the outbreak of the first Gulf War, I thought we may be on the cusp of Armageddon.

º Bill Clinton: It would be interesting to see how history books treat Bill a century from now. He always came across as an effective leader, but there were those gray areas about what he may have smoked in his youth and ... uhh ... the Monica Lewinsky thing. But give the guy credit, he played a mean saxophone.

º George W. Bush: Like his dad, he'll be remembered for a speech he gave. Hours after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, he made it perfectly clear someone was going to pay for those acts.

º Barack Obama: Never in my lifetime has there been a president who was as comfortable in front of a microphone. The way he has been able to protect his family, especially his two daughters, from the presidential spotlight is impressive.

It's important to look at our presidents as more than leaders of the free world. We always need to remember they are human beings.

That means accepting both the good and bad points -- and smiling a lot at what we find in the middle ground.



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