Washington: Barack Obama is back as the US President. His triumph is remarkable considering the odds stacked against him and the challenge posed by his opponent, whose name we forget now because history suggests that nobody remembers the Presidential challenger for more than five hours after the election is formally over.
The American way of electing their President is verily a lesson for countries across the globe. The two main candidates go through many rounds of intense debates and discussions where each one airs his views on the most important subjects confronting the country, and the people, after listening to it all, finally vote for the person who looks good. This is the only logic that can come close to explaining how somebody like Ronald Reagan ended up as the President of the US.
Whatever the world may think of it as a nation, the fact of the matter is the office of American President is special, especially because it lends itself to what the world at large looks forward to: Gripping Hollywood thrillers. The office of the Indian President, on the other hand, would not make the cut for even a boring Bengali art movie.
With the American Presidential election being the flavour of the week, we have culled out from the pages of history some interesting and intriguing nuggets that you will not find anywhere else.
* The first American President George Washington was also the architect of America’s Constitution, which, reflecting the rise of democracy and people’s aspirations of fledgling nation, begins with the dramatic line: “We the People do hereby solemnly the authorize the first President of this country to name the capital of the country in his own name”.
* The 16th US President Abraham Lincoln was a pioneer in many ways. Even in those ultra-conservative times, he had the courage and conviction to come out of the closet and reveal to the world that it was not wrong for a head of State to sport a beard.
* In the early years of the 20th century, the American people, signifying the fact that their Republic had well and truly come of age, elected ‘Theodore Roosevelt’ as their President despite real fears his name dangerously anagrammed to: ‘He revolted & rose, too’. For the record, one of the succeeding Presidents ‘Franklin D Roosevelt’ had a name that sounded even more dangerous upon rearranging: ‘Lo, fanned revolt risk’. ‘It was the period of World War II. Imagine the tension that we endured with him as the President,’ wrote the then CIA chief in his memoirs later.
* Theodore Roosevelt was, of course, a war veteran, with a penchant for brilliant novelty. His ploy of making Americans spell defence as defense is deemed a military masterstroke even today.
* Richard Nixon is the only American President to have resigned from his post. He quit after secret dossiers revealed that ‘he had compromised his high post by having a Vice President whose name was also the country’s leading car manufacturer’.
* George Bush and George W Bush are the second father-son duo to be elected as Presidents. Though they helmed the country in different decades, they shared a common ethos and there was a seamless confluence in the important policy matter of providing enormous stuff for stand-up gigs and late-night comedy shows. Till Bush Sr came on the scene, American comics were overtly dependent on staid Russia and East European nations to make up their jokes. By the time Bush Jr left the scene the country had grown to the level of providing material even for foreign comic shows. In Bush Jr’s own memorable words, ‘the beauty of our exports is that all 100 per cent them go to foreign countries’.
* The result of the 2000 election is unique for the fact that its result is still not known to the world. George W Bush was, however, formally chosen ahead of Al Gore as the President based on the commonsense consideration ‘he would be more fun’.
* In a 2007 Gallup Poll, 23% rated Bill Clinton as the most charismatic President ever, 27% plumped for John F Kennedy, but the outright winner of that poll by garnering 32% of popular backing was, of course, Harrison Ford.
* It is well known that the official seat of the US President, the White House, has the address 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue. But not many know that 1601, Pennsylvania Avenue houses a ‘xerox and stationery shop’ run by an Indian expatriate, who chose the spot knowing full well that photocopying business near a government office never fails.
(Disclaimer: <Insert your Clinton-Monica Lewinsky joke here>)