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Mar 13, 2018

The Preacher and the Presidents


Edited: Mar 23, 2018


The Preacher and the Presidents, Billy Graham in the White House by Nancy Gibbs ’78 and Michael Duffy

From Truman to George W. Bush, one man has had access to the presidents. Billy Graham, a North Carolinian from inauspicious beginnings, became a major influence on our presidents. This book traces his role as friend, father confessor, shoulder to lean on, spiritual advisor, golf partner, and sometimes political ally to one president after the next and to their families as well. He spent nights in the White House, often got on his knees and prayed with the most powerful man in the free world, led prayer breakfasts, gave invocations at inaugurations all the while proclaiming -- and sometimes living – political neutrality. His faith was simple; he decided early on to stick with the Bible and not to go afield in the complexities of theology. What set him apart was a magnetism and humble confidence that seems to me a unique example of one of Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Strange to say, I thought of Forrest Gump as I read this book, an innocent wandering into all the major events of a very long lifetime. The awesome research that went into this book provides insight into the role of religion in American political life as well as glimpses into the anxieties and insecurities that are hidden behind the public faces of our presidents.


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    Sep 2

    The Rough Riders by Theodore Roosevelt. Wikipedia tells me he went to Friends Seminary, so he must have attended in the 19thcentury. Elsewhere I read that he was homeschooled. When I lived in NYC, I often took guests to his home on 20thStreet. It certainly would have been convenient for his family to escape the rigors of homeschooling to send him to Friends. If anyone knows the details, let me know. In any case, the Quaker pacifist message did not seem to take with him (“to say the least,” said my brother, Joe Gonzalez), and this book reveals a soul longing to distinguish itself with valor on the battlefield. Teddy had the idea of forming a group of volunteers to help wrest Cuba from Spain. To that end he gathered an eclectic bunch of young men: Ivy League alums, rugged cowboys, and a few Indians. The cause sounded noble at the outset, but it turned out simply to replace one oppression with another, i.e. our own. The group trained in Texas and then took a train to Tampa to board the ship. Their voyage is complicated by having to deal with the needs of their horses and eventually, only Teddy’s horse made it to Cuba. Most of what I have read about combat makes it seem squalid and beyond dreadful. This is true in this conflict in Cuba, but Teddy Roosevelt manages to convey the honor and glory as well. “Gallant” is the adjective he most frequently uses to describe his troops and fellow officers. However muddy the terrain or inclement the conditions or painful the injuries, the men do not grumble. I was surprised by the occasional passages of lyricism. Here is one which I want to cite in its entirety. Teddy Roosevelt was a complex individual. (My husband, Don Routh, points out that though an imperialist, he did give us our national parks). I think this evocative description of sunrise during a storm shows that whatever else he might have been, he was gifted with words; “Generally the thunder-storms came in the afternoon, but once I saw one at sunrise, driving down the high mountain valleys toward us. It was a very beautiful and almost terrible sight; for the sun rose behind the storm, and shone through the gusty rifts, lighting the mountain-crests here and there, while the plain below lay shrouded in the lingering night. The angry, level rays edged the dark clouds with crimson, and turned the downpour into sheets of golden rain; in the valleys the glimmering mists were tinted every wild hue; and the remotest heavens were lit with flaming glory. “ (97)
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