Paul E. Anna: High Points
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
In honor of Presidents Day, and as a way to amuse myself this past Monday, I queried my seatmates on the lifts, asking them who was their favorite president. Now Presidents Day may seem like a long time ago and, in fairness, it was on the far side of the fog that was induced, no doubt, by Fat Tuesday and the Mardi Gras celebrations, but there were some interesting answers to the question and I didn’t want them to go unnoticed.
To begin with, most people answered with presidents who served this nation long, long ago. There were a lot of Lincolns as one might expect. He was by far the most popular president amongst my seatmates on Snowmass this particular afternoon. And why not? The narrative on Lincoln was that he freed the slaves and what’s not to like about that? And his tragic demise also resonates, I think, with people.
That may have something to do with the number of skiers who mentioned JFK as their favorite president. True, he was handsome and, like Lincoln, he played a significant role in granting civil rights. But John Kennedy served just three years and laid the groundwork for a costly war. There are lots of reasons to look at his presidency with mixed emotions. But the manner and timing of his death certainly left a mark on a generation who will always be left asking the question “What if…?”
There were those who chose the birthday boy, George Washington (yes, Monday, Feb. 22, 1732, was his birthday) and it is fitting that the first president should be revered to this day. Jefferson got a few nods and so did Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But that was about it for the names I heard. There was no Adams or Harrison or Teddy Roosevelt. Nary a mention of Rutherford B. Hayes or Harry Truman or Woody Wilson. No one liked Ike and neither Tippecanoe or Tyler too, was referenced. I thought I might get a single Dick Nixon or a Ronald Reagan, perhaps from a Californian, maybe an LBJ or Bush Sr. or younger from a Texan, but alas no one admitted that they were enamored by those guys.
Finally, on the last chair of the day a woman from Washington, paused on the question before answering “Clinton”? It was the first name from the last half a century to come up. When I told her that, her husband chimed in, “That’s because no one wants to give an answer that will piss someone off. People are afraid to tell you because they don’t want an argument. They don’t know where you stand.”
I was dumbfounded. He was 100 percent right. People are afraid to answer even an innocent question on a chairlift about their favorite president on Presidents Day because we are so polarized we don’t want to state our beliefs. Not only did the thought take away my amusement, it shut me straight up.
Fortunately the next day was Mardi Gras and no, I did not ask anyone on the chair what they were giving up for Lent.