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All the mem’s Presidents

Posted on Thursday, January 22, 2009 in Uncategorized

Since there probably aren’t enough blog posts inspired by this week’s inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the US, one is surely needed from me.

I was thinking about the number 43. 43 individuals have taken the oath of office. (The office has been assumed 44 times, but Grover Cleveland did it two non-consecutive times, so Obama is considered the 44th office-holder.) I voted in the elections of 8 of them. Ten of them have been part of my conscious life, by which I mean that I knew about them, had conversations about them, experienced them directly in some way. My earliest memories of there being a President involve the Nixon/Kennedy race.

This means that I, personally, have experienced nearly one fourth of the US Presidents while they were in office. (If I live to see one more, it’ll be exactly one fourth.) I find this somewhat – I dunno, stunning? disturbing? humbling? the opposite? It says something about how young this country is, or how old I am, or both.

I extend that by thinking about the family connections that I have, along the lines of: if your father, who you knew and who was was active in your life, experienced an event (was in a war, say) that happened before your own awareness of the world or existence in it, you nevertheless feel connected to that event. You were touched by an ancestor who touched that event. One could probably feel this through a non-relative that one knows, as well, but the immediate ancestral link is my idiom here. In the same way that I have experienced Presidents since 1961, my father provides another 28 years in this other way. This assumes that he became aware of Presidents at the same age as I did. He’s only 3 up on me, though, since FDR was in office for a great deal of that time. Still, I’m adding those 3 to Presidents that I feel somehow connected to. That’s 13.

(This introduces another tangent that I’ll go off on here. Since 1961, there have been 10 Presidents. By the end of Obama’s first elected term, the average duration per President will have been 5.2 years, despite the fact that five of the ten presidents were re-elected when they ran as incumbents. You could imagine a perfect world and look at this a couple of different ways. 5 dual terms plus 5 single terms could take 60 years and with an average of 6.0 years per President, or 5 dual terms within our 52-year period would leave 3 single terms, giving an average duration of 6.5 years. Either way, the 5.2 year average is awfully short considering the number of re-elections. We all know why that’s so, but I still find it – well, if not fascinating, at least something to write about. In contrast, in the 28 years before this – before 1961- the average duration per President was over 9.3 years.)

There were other ancestors involved in my life. The one born the earliest was my grandfather, who adds another 6 Presidents. I now feel that my personal reach, as given to me in the way I’ve described, extends to 19 Presidents. That’s pretty darned close to half of them.

Even more striking: compared to me, that same grandfather missed only Bush the younger and Obama; at his death he could have claimed this relationship to 17 of the 41 Presidents. His father, in turn, would have given him that reach to another 7 – to 24 of 41. He only had one grandparent that he could have known well as a young adult, and I assume he did. She adds another 4 Presidents – bringing it to 28 of 41. My grandfather, then, who died not long ago, in 1995, could claim that he was raised among ancestors who experienced Abraham Lincoln and NH’s Franklin Pierce, and that there were only 13 US Presidents outside of this kind of his reach.

So where does this leave me? At the end of a blog post, thinking about time, how short and how long it is, what distance we’ve come and how much of that distance we can feel. Connected to the past, connected to the present, and maybe providing somebody’s connection in the future.

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