Media scrutiny too much for Founders
The recent Republican National Convention was the most entertaining event television has offered of late, if only as a study of marketing genius.
Every calculated detail focused upon presenting George W. Bush in the most positive light, emphasizing the strength of his charismatic personality as well as terror, his strongest issue.
When he delivered the keynote address, he stood on a specially constructed round stage that placed him in the center of the people.
The RNC's marketing savvy provided an especially interesting contrast. I'm in the midst of reading "Booknotes," a collection of interviews from the C-Span program of the same name focusing on biographies.
Many of our presidents probably never would have held the high office if they had had to withstand the media scrutiny of today's candidates.
For instance, George Washington's false teeth are legend. But his successor, John Adams, had no teeth and rarely spoke in public as a result, because he slurred his words so badly. Can you imagine how that would play on Fox or CNN?
His son, John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, despised politics and would have preferred to be a man of literature or science. Historians have long said that "there's been no more unpleasant, no more unlikeable person in American public life who was so successful as John Quincy Adams." According to biographer Paul Nagel, JQA was often clinically depressed, which probably contributed to his reputation of unpleasantness.
Andrew Jackson was incredibly emotion and given to fits of anger and likely wouldn't have lived up to much media scrutiny.
Thomas Jefferson, of course, has been much maligned for his relationship with a slave, Sally Hemings. But he also was known as a poor dresser, and generally wore his clothes over and over until they were worn out.
One thing both Jefferson and John Adams did almost as if they were playing to today's media was die well.
Both were near death on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or at least the celebrated date anniversary of the signing, July 4, 1826. They were two of the three surviving signers and the most prominent. Jefferson fell into a coma on July 3rd. His last words were, "Is it the Fourth?" He lingered on until the afternoon of the next day.
Adams arose on July 4th ready to celebrate "the great jubilee of independence," as he called it, but fell ill that morning.
At about the time that Jefferson died, Adams fell into unconsciousness. He awoke briefly in the afternoon, and his last words were, "Thomas Jefferson survives." He was unaware that Jefferson had died earlier in the day.
The gurus of political marketing couldn't have written a better script. But then sometimes, life is better unrehearsed.