America’s parks system unites us all

Aug 29, 2016

It is another presidential Roosevelt, the aggressively outdoorsy Theodore, who is most commonly associated with the establishment and promotion of America’s National Park System. It was Theodore’s 1903 camping trip with legendary conservationist John Muir, after all, that led to the long-term protection of the Yosemite Valley. And it was Theodore who created five national parks during his presidency.

The younger Roosevelt, however, also had a deep understanding of what the parks meant to the American psyche. Franklin Roosevelt’s administration used the Civilian Conservation Corps to better the national park system even as the country was mired in the Great Depression. As president, FDR made frequent public trips to the national parks. So did Americans. Even as the country grappled with economic crisis, park attendance skyrocketed.

The elder Roosevelt was a Republican, his younger cousin a Democrat. Both, however, understood how important creating and preserving the park system was to the American experience.

Read more at the Gloucester Times

Why Did We Stop Teaching Political History?

By FREDRIK LOGEVALL and KENNETH OSGOODAUG. 29, 2016

American political history, it would seem, is everywhere. Hardly a day passes without some columnist comparing Donald J. Trump to Huey Long, Father Coughlin or George Wallace. “All the Way,” a play about Lyndon B. Johnson, won a slew of awards and was turned into an HBO film.

But the public’s love for political stories belies a crisis in the profession. American political history as a field of study has cratered. Fewer scholars build careers on studying the political process, in part because few universities make space for them. Fewer courses are available, and fewer students are exposed to it. What was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s continuing democratic discussion, is disappearing.

This wasn’t always the case….

Read more at the New York Times

FDR’s Secretary’s Secret Hand in the New Deal

If Hillary Clinton becomes president in 2016, she will not be the first working woman to exercise power at high levels in the White House day-to-day over the course of a presidential term. Nor was it Madeleine Albright, or Valerie Jarrett, or any of the high-powered, highly-decorated women we so often associate with broken glass ceilings in the highest levels of government.

A strong case could be made that the first woman to wield such power was Marguerite LeHand (better known as “Missy”) who began her day at about 9:25 each morning when, after having coffee and orange juice in her suite on the third floor of the White House and scanning several newspapers, she walked into President Franklin Roosevelt’s bedroom. There, with the president still in bed, wearing an old blue sweater or a navy cape to keep his shoulders warm as he finished his breakfast and read the Congressional Record, she and the president’s other secretaries went over the day’s schedule and other pressing matters before dispersing to their individual offices.

Missy worked as Roosevelt’s private secretary for more than 20 years. They met when she was the campaign secretary for his unsuccessful bid for vice president in 1920, and she became his private secretary at his Wall Street law firm the following year. When he re-entered politics after his long retreat following his paralysis from polio in 1921, her duties kept her going almost 24/7 as Roosevelt rose from governor of New York in 1928 to the presidency in 1932.

Read the full story at Politico.com

Why We Ask to See Candidates Tax Returns

Lost in the debate over Donald J. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns is the story of where the custom of disclosure comes from — and why it can be so valuable as a measure of character. It’s a tale of presidential tax shenanigans, political scandal and one of the most famous quotations in American history: Richard M. Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” The story begins in July 1969, when Congress eliminated a provision of the tax code that had allowed a sitting or former president to donate his papers to a public or nonprofit archive …

Read more HERE

The Powerful We Don’t Elect

As the nation careens wildly to the choice of the next president, don’t forget that with a president comes a retinue of the unelected. Some will have lots of influence, some will be gone within months.

Cabinet nominees, heads of regulatory agencies and judges — those names will be debated, dragged through the mud, insulted in the Senate. But presidents bring many more people they alone can choose. For instance, their personal secretaries.

For most Americans, the name Marguerite “Missy” LeHand may have been occluded by time. But the personal secretary to Franklin Roosevelt had tangible impact on history. Many people confuse her with Lucy Mercer. Mercer is the woman who’d had an affair with FDR in 1916 — long before polio rendered him a paraplegic, his political comeback as New York governor, and his historic presidency.

LeHand was an intimate of FDR from 1921 to 1941, a period that included the polio, recovery, comeback and pre-war presidential period. A stroke ended her career in 1941.

LeHand had a far more personal and intimate relation with FDR than Eleanor Roosevelt did. The famous and powerful knew that to have any chance of getting something before FDR, they had to go through LeHand. LeHand could read FDR’s mind, privately offered policy and personnel advice, made sure appointments ended when they should or when the president wanted, and had a hand in many of his important speeches.

Read More at Federal News Radio

Why the U.S. President Needs a Council of Historians

It is sometimes said that most Americans live in “the United States of Amnesia.” Less widely recognized is how many American policy makers live there too.

Speaking about his book Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship From Truman to Obama, the American diplomat Dennis Ross recently noted that “almost no administration’s leading figures know the history of what we have done in the Middle East.” Neither do they know the history of the region itself. In 2003, to take one example, when President George W. Bush chose to topple Saddam Hussein, he did not appear to fully appreciate either the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims or the significance of the fact that Saddam’s regime was led by a Sunni minority that had suppressed the Shiite majority. He failed to heed warnings that the predictable consequence of his actions would be a Shiite-dominated Baghdad beholden to the Shiite champion in the Middle East—Iran.

The problem is by no means limited to the Middle East or to Bush. President Obama’s inattention to the deep historical relationship between Russia and Ukraine led him to underestimate the risks of closer ties between Ukraine and Europe. “I don’t really even need George Kennan right now,” President Obama told The New Yorker for a January 2014 article, referring to the great Cold War–era diplomat and historian. By March, Russia had annexed Crimea.

Read more at The Atlantic