Five at 8 – 2/12/10: The best presidential moments

Monday Morning Rouser for a President’s Day from the Carolina Chocolate Drops. You’ll hear more from them later today.

The five items today are my five favorite presidential moments, limited to the period that I witnessed (I go back to Eisenhower but I’ll be darned if I can think of a huge Eisenhower moment that makes the top 5). They are listed in their order of impact.Yours may differ, in fact I hope they do. Add yours in the comments section below.

1) President Reagan’s Challenger speech

The president’s speech is just as relevant today as it was on the night of the worst space disaster in the nation’s history, especially considering how frightened the country seems to be about exploring, and the future. He talked to people who just wanted to stay put where we were. That, he said, is not who we are. “The future does not belong to the fainthearted,” he said. “It belongs to the brave.” That was then.

2) Richard Nixon’s resignation

People who didn’t live through the Nixon administration will have a hard time understanding a country coming apart at the seams. We should have known something was up in 1968 when he said he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. All we had to do was elect him. What kind of person would keep a plan to end the war secret? The kind that would go on to obstruct justice, and sweep protesters off the street and hold them in a football stadium like a banana republic. Oh, and then get a pardon.

The day after he left office, the front page of most of the nation’s newspapers showed a picture of Gerald Ford making an English muffin. It was a breath of fresh air; a president willing to make himself a little breakfast. That’s how bad things were.

3) President Obama’s speech on race

He wasn’t president then, of course. He was a candidate under siege for having a pastor who said “god damn America.” His speech showed it’s possible — sort of — to talk about the role of race in our country in a calm and intellectual way. It also is a reminder of how much better Obama’s speeches were before he became president.

4) Clinton denies Lewinsky affair

The speech with the oratorical highlight of Bill Clinton’s second term was actually about education. We can argue still, I suppose, about whether the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the Clinton administration was a big deal or not. But the lesson Bill Clinton provided us that day was this one: People and politicians can look unbelievably truthful when they lie.

5) President Bush at the World Trade Center site

Based on one of my posts from last week, it’s easy — and accurate — to conclude that it’s still impossible to have a civil conversation about President George Bush, but you have to remember the context of the time. The country was — with a few exceptions — unified in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. For that reason alone, it’s worth remembering this moment. One wonders what it will take to unify the country again?

Honorable mention: President Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech. He never used the word in the speech but that’s how it’s known. Carter tried to say essentially the same thing Reagan said in the speech above, thus proving the historical value of a good speechwriter.


The official federal holiday being observed today is Washington’s Birthday. Minnesota law calls it Washington and Lincoln’s birthday, but many people – as well as stores and businesses — just call it President’s Day. Who’s your favorite U.S. president?


I’m off today so posting will be light. That’s right, I got up early today just to write this post. And to figure out what to do with the new snow on the driveway.

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Charges of being soft on terrorism dog the Obama administration, even as the president expands the war in Afghanistan and the fight against the Taliban in Pakistan continues as well. Author and historian Julian Zelizer explains the charge against a Democratic president is not new in the annals of history.

Second hour: The venerable acapella group Sweet Honey in the Rock draws on musical influences from folk to classical to gospel and fuses a smooth sound. The sweet melodies wrap around lyrics on the struggle for human rights.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Ronald Reagan biographer Lou Cannon and his son, award-winning White House reporter Carl Cannon

Second hour: MPR political editor Mike Mulcahy and political reporter Tom Scheck answer questions about the governor’s budget.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Is there a way to make Congress work?

Second hour: Willie Mays.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – MPR’s Tom Scheck will have the whole story behind Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget, which he releases (or released) this morning.

NPR’s Kirk Siegler details the woes in the ski industry.

Take three young musicians. Send them to a gathering of black banjo players.

Add kazoo, jug and bones… and you’ve got a group called the Carolina Chocolate

Drops. They’re profiled on today’s show.