Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "RIP"
Asker fly-casually Asks:
So, James MacGregor Burns died. As a fellow presidential historian, do you have any thoughts on his work?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

He did?! Oh man, that’s a shame, I’m sorry to hear that. I think that Mr. Burns was probably in his 90s, so at least he had a long life, and us history-lovers are fortunate for that because of his prolific output of top-notch work, particularly on leadership and the Presidents/Presidency.

Here are three of my favorite books by James MacGregor Burns:

Leadership (BOOK | KINDLE)
Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America (BOOK | KINDLE)
Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World (BOOK | KINDLE)

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Still I Rise
Maya Angelou, 1978 (via doubledaybooks)
Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe his final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized…

Ultimate Warrior, on “Monday Night Raw”, April 7, 2014.

On April 8, the Ultimate Warrior suddenly died. I was never a big fan, but it’s surreal that this weekend, he repaired his long-acrimonious relationship with WWE, was inducted into the Hall of Fame, appeared at WrestleMania and Raw for the first time in nearly two decades, and is now dead.

Hopefully his busy final weekend of live ensured that he went out happy and satisfied with his place in professional wrestling history.

Held captive 4 your politics
They wanted 2 break your soul
They ordered the extermination
Of all minds they couldn’t control
4 u the fate was far worse
Than just a brutal homicide
They caged u like an animal
And watched u slowly die inside
As u Breathe your first air of freedom
On the day u become a free man
Raise your Regal brow in Pride
4 now you R in God’s Hands
The life of many were given
So that the day would one day come
That the devils in Power at Pretoria
Would pay for the evil crimes they’ve done

— Tupac Shakur, “Just a Breath of Freedom: 4 Nelson Mandela”, a poem from “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”

We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again — so it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love, to never discount the difference that one person can,make, to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.

President Barack Obama, statement on the death of Nelson Mandela, December 5, 2013

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Doug Ray,
For Rich Cronin

Doug Ray: Carry On (Rich Nice!)

For my friend, Rich Cronin.

George McGovern, the former South Dakota Senator, 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee, and longtime advocate for minorities, the poor, and the hungry, died this morning in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  The 90-year-old former Senator’s death was not unexpected as recent reports have detailed his failing health, but McGovern was actually quite active in politics and the issues he believed in until earlier this year.

McGovern was nominated by the Democrats to face incumbent President Richard Nixon in 1972 and routed in both the popular vote and Electoral College, winning only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.  But McGovern’s legacy extends far beyond his unsuccessful 1972 bid for the Presidency.  As liberal as Barry Goldwater was conservative, McGovern was a tireless advocate for the poor and the hungry, not just during his career as an elected official, but throughout his life and up until his death. 

After the turbulent 1960s, as the Democratic Party was reshuffling itself demographically into what it has been for the past 40 years, it was George McGovern who welcomed and embraced minorities, women, young voters, and gays.  Some people call this “progressive” in 2012; George McGovern thought that way in 1972.  He was way ahead of his time — even for many Democrats.  As he later joked about his landslide loss to Richard Nixon, “I opened the doors of the Democratic Party — and twenty million people walked out.”  Indeed, in the 1972 election, nearly 1/3rd of all Democrats voted for Nixon instead of McGovern.

The GOP successfully painted McGovern as a radical, peace-seeking pacifist in 1972, and tried to portray him as somewhat of a wimp.  McGovern was a dove on Vietnam, but he was no radical, no pacifist, and certainly no wimp.  Several days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, McGovern enlisted in the Air Force and flew 35 combat missions over Germany, Italy, and Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe during World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Yet, peace was certainly an aspect that drove McGovern throughout his career, and helping those who were less fortunate was his ambition for public service.  The war that McGovern constantly sought to fight was a war on hunger.  It was a concern that he was vocal about during his time in the House and later in the Senate, and President Kennedy appointed McGovern as the first director of the Food For Peace program.  Later in life, that fight to feed the hungry continued.  Nearly 20 years after leaving the Senate, President Clinton (who, along with Hillary, managed the McGovern campaign in Texas in 1972) named him as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN’s Agencies for Food and Agriculture.  For the last decade of his active life, McGovern was a United Nations’ Goodwill Ambassador on World Hunger for the UN’s World Food Programme.

Though the Democratic Party distanced itself from McGovern following the 1972 election because of the magnitude of his defeat and the Nixon campaign’s successful portrayal of him as a radical, McGovern’s impact on today’s Democratic Party cannot be denied.  The voters that helped elect Barack Obama in 2008 — African-Americans, women, Hispanics, gays, and young voters — were the people that George McGovern opened the doors of the Democratic Party to in 1972.  He was a monument to American Liberalism and his legacy cannot be denied.  Nearly all who worked with or against George McGovern — Democrats, Republicans, or Independents — respected his honesty, his ability, and his heart.  In a divisive time when many politicians have forgotten the definition of public service, they should look to people like George McGovern and Bob Dole who personify the true intent of public service.

In the bipartisan spirit that he worked while seeking solutions that would help the most people possible, we should honor and remember George McGovern — not as a forward-thinking father of modern American Liberalism, and not even as a war hero — but as an American who represented the best of what our country can be and dedicated his life to the most faithful definition and purpose of public service.

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Tupac Amaru Shakur: June 16, 1971-September 13, 1996

(From my AND Magazine article on the 15th anniversary of Tupac’s death in 2011)

"When I was a little baby, I remember that one moment of calm peace, and three minutes after that, it was on.” — Tupac Shakur

Wait a second…I’m the guy who usually writes about Presidents, or reviews really stuffy political books.  What am I doing writing about music?

Well, I’m sure that some of you know that today is the anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s death.  I’m sure many of you have heard ‘Pac’s music and appreciate a few of his songs.

For me, however, Tupac Shakur was a big part of my adolescence.  I’d guess that many of my readers are either too old or too young, but Tupac was what I listened to throughout high school.  My younger readers just don’t understand and older readers just don’t get it — the East/West thing was huge when I was a teenager, and it was real.  I didn’t own a Jay-Z album until 2002.  I didn’t even buy Biggie’s albums until after he was killed.  My friends and I believed in the beef — as silly as it might sound now — and for impressionable teens growing up on the West Coast in some of the rougher neighborhoods in California, my friends and I were 100% in 2Pac’s corner.

Now, of course, we know that the whole West Coast vs. East Coast thing was silly, even dangerous.  The two best rappers of that time ended up murdered.  Nothing good came out of the rivalry besides some great records.  What’s most upsetting about the beef is all of the things we missed out on — Tupac and Biggie maturing, evolving, and becoming better at everything that they already did so well.

Why did I identify with Tupac?  I don’t know exactly, but I did.  I still do.  I still listen to All Eyez On Me constantly.  I still am mesmerized by his words.  There was poetry in everything that Tupac did.  Even when he was frustratingly stubborn and acting like a crazy man, there was always a twinkle in his eye that said, I know what I’m doing.

I don’t think ‘Pac was a gangsta.  I think he was an artist who went to extreme lengths to evoke an emotion from everyone.  Somewhere, in those last months of his life, the line became blurred.  I think Tupac had lost his way, and he was just about to find it when he was shot in Las Vegas.  I wish ‘Pac was still around.  I miss his music.  I miss the words that he was able to weave together in such a unique way.  Maybe 2Pac wasn’t the best rapper of all-time, but he was the best poet of my generation.

It’s strange — my generation was short-handed in heroes.  When we found people we looked up to, they either fell back to earth quickly, or they died.  I won’t go so far to say that Tupac was a hero to me, but his words helped guide me through some pretty rough formative years.  He made me realize that, even if I couldn’t get out of the place I was in, I could at least do something to fix the place.

Tupac Shakur was gifted and frustrating, and I guess I relate to that because that’s probably how my friends and family would describe me.  I am now seven years older than 2Pac was when he died on September 13, 1996.  I remember where I was when I heard he had been shot after the Mike Tyson fight in 1996, and I remember that I immediately thought what many of ‘Pac’s fans thought:  “He got shot again?  It’s ‘Pac…he’ll be fine.”  I remember being at a high school football game in Northern California on Friday the 13th when I found out that he wasn’t going to be fine — that he was dead.

Tupac Shakur was 25 years old when he died, and I wish he had as many years as I have had.  I wish a 40-year-old Tupac was making music, writing poetry, filming movies (remember, he was an amazing actor), and playing with the kids he never had.  I wish I could explain in a better or more eloquent manner why it matters to me that a rapped died sixteen years ago.  I guess it’s just this:  he wasn’t a rapper.  This wasn’t Lil’ Wayne or Drake or even Kanye West.  Tupac Shakur was a philosopher and he made my life better.  I wish his life had been longer, and since it wasn’t, I’ll play his music (as I normally do) and cap the day off with Tupac’s personal favorite — Don McLean’s “Vincent”, which is filled with lyrics that could have described ‘Pac himself:

Now, I understand, what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know now
Perhaps they’ll listen now

And, if you’re out and about tonight and want a drink, here’s what you should order:  one part Alizé, one part Hennessy — Thug Passion.  But don’t pour it out for ‘Pac; he wouldn’t want you to waste it.

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I meant to post this yesterday, which was the second anniversary of my dear friend Rich Cronin’s passing, but wasn’t around during the day.  It’s just one of those personal things that I always want to commemorate in order to keep memories alive and never forget to pay tribute to someone who made such a positive impact on my life in the short time that I was lucky enough to know him — 6’4” of Boston, music, and laughter that still makes me smile when I hear its echoes or when I see the name that I can’t bring myself to delete from my phone’s contacts.

From September 8, 2010:

When I was 19, I heard this damn song so many times on the radio that I wanted the people responsible for it to be deported and never allowed near a recording studio again.  Whenever it came on and my friends were around, I made the frustrated face and dramatically changed the station.  The fact, though, is that we all knew the words.  It’s a catchy song.  It really is.  I can’t lie.  I knew the words in 1999, too.  And when my friends weren’t around, I probably didn’t change the station when it came on, and when I wasn’t around, they probably didn’t either.

A few years ago, I met Rich Cronin (aka Rich Nice) as he had become a regular guest on my friend’s radio show in Philadelphia.  Rich was the lead singer of LFO.  He was the tall guy with the highlights and the goofy rhymes.  The guy who we thought took his shirt off too often and got too many compliments from girls we liked (like Jennifer Love Hewitt).  In 1999, Rich Cronin was the lead singer of LFO and on MTV’s TRL constantly.  In 2005, Rich was recovering from a bout with leukemia and he became my friend.

Rich was funny — genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny — and he had the greatest stories I’ve ever heard anyone tell.  He was candid on the radio and off-the-air.  He would talk about anything, and he wasn’t afraid to mention things that were embarrassing or risky.  Rich wasn’t afraid of anything.  He faced leukemia and made it through his first bout, weakened but resolute.  Rich could be silly and sing about Summer Girls or The Girl on TV, or he could talk about the brutal treatment he went through merely to survive.

Rich Cronin was a survivor.  He had some corny lyrics in silly soundtracks to our teenage summers, but he survived bad business deals, the terrible music industry, and the fact that boy bands eventually grow up and Manbands aren’t nearly as successful, as Rich’s VH1 television reality show proved. 

Rich Cronin died today.  Despite all of his strength, he couldn’t overcome leukemia in the end.  What he did in the past few years, however, was establish the Rich Cronin Hope Foundation.  What Rich did was work to ensure that, even if he lost his battle, he would create the opportunity for someone else to eventually win theirs.  Rich will always be a survivor.  Hopefully, his fight will allow more people to ultimately prevail.

Rest in peace, Rich.  You were a great friend, a great man, and a survivor.  Your strength in the face of leukemia even inspired me to forgive you for the lyric “When you take a sip you buzz like a hornet/Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets”.

Help fight leukemia today.

Rest In Peace: Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Two days ago, I was watching the 1997 Ken Burns documentary on Thomas Jefferson and Gore Vidal was one of the talking heads who contributed to the film.  Seeing Vidal reminded me that I had wanted to write him a letter to tell him how much I appreciated his work and to see if he would answer some questions for Dead Presidents because he was a top-notch Presidential historian and never afraid to give his opinions.  Someone I know who had some connections had told me a few months ago that I might be able to land an interview because Mr. Vidal was usually excited to talk about Presidential history but suggested that I write my letter by hand and send it the old-fashioned way because Mr. Vidal would be more likely to pay attention to it that way.

Of course, I procrastinated because that is what I do.  When I saw Vidal on the Jefferson documentary, I decided right then to write my letter.  I had lost Mr. Vidal’s address, so I had to wait until my friend with the connections e-mailed it to me before I could put my letter in the mail.  He responded this afternoon and I was going to send my letter to Gore Vidal tomorrow.

It’s always sad when somebody dies, but we feel better when the person who died lived a long, active life.  Gore Vidal was a couple months shy of his 87th birthday, and his life was certainly active.  He was a brilliant man — a great writer and great thinker.  There were many who found his prolific work to be controversial, but I don’t see how some of it is seen as anything but courageous.  Vidal never pretended to be someone that he wasn’t, and that meant telling the world who he was.  He broke down barriers in the literary world as well as culturally.  Above all else, he was never, ever ashamed to be the person he was, to say the things he said, to love the people he loved, and to share his passion — whether it be his appreciation of history or his vehement opposition to the Bush Administration.

For me, Gore Vidal opened up a whole new world of literature.  I have rarely strayed from non-fiction and the idea of historical fiction always seemed silly to me.  I thought of it at one point much like I think of fan fiction.  I couldn’t understand why anyone would read historical fiction when they could just read the real story of whichever historical event might be the subject.  Vidal showed me how well and how interesting historical fiction could be with the books in his Narratives of Empire series.  Lincoln: A Novel (BOOKKINDLE) not only opened my eyes to historical fiction’s advantages, but it remains one of my all-time favorites — of ANY type of book.  Lincoln amazed me because I hadn’t realized that a historical fiction novel could augment the actual history and help illuminate the people and events that really existed.  I was never taken out of the story by something that Vidal wrote in Lincoln.  In fact, much of the story was so accurate historically that I often found myself thinking that every bit of dialogue was real.  I enjoyed Burr: A Novel (BOOKKINDLE) nearly as much as Lincoln.

In the letter that I didn’t get a chance to send, I told Gore Vidal that he helped me open my mind by showing me how historical fiction could be done right.  That’s a relatively minor achievement because Vidal helped a lot of people open their minds to a lot bigger and more important ideas or thoughts.  I didn’t always agree with Gore Vidal, but I always admired and respected him.  Despite his death, his body of work will speak for him and I think it speaks in a loud voice because you didn’t have to like him or agree with him but you damn well were going to know what he thought.  Unfortunately, I think America will be a little less honest without Gore Vidal around.

Sad to hear of the passing of the Sacramento Bee's editorial cartoonist, Rex Babin, who passed away today after battling cancer in Sacramento.  Babin was a fantastic political cartoonist, and I especially liked his work during Governor Schwarzenegger's time in office.