Presidential (The Podcast) Reflections

Have you heard of the podcast Presidential that was produced by Lillian Cunningham at the Washington Post?

I was a bit late to the game learning about it too but started it about a month ago when I began this new job. The podcast devotes a 45 minute episode to each American President, starting with Washington and ending with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. On this Buzzfeed listacle it was described as “good for those of us who slept through history class.”

I sort of slept through history but have the average American jargon all down about presidents, at least the memorable ones that are hard-pressed into the collective mind, which in actuality is minimal. However, this isn’t about my previous knowledge: it’s about how knowledge was gained through the podcast.

Presidential is a really, really great way to dive a bit deeper into understanding what qualities constitute successful leadership. Lillian asks about how every president delegates tasks, their margin of loyalty to various entities (even their own agendas), and asks each episode what a president would be like on a blind date, which is humorous but provides a ton of background for presidents that have a public veneer that is difficult to penetrate.

My favorite section of the podcast was on the founding fathers, right up through Andrew Jackson I was absolutely rapt and fascinated. I suppose with the last election, and the past few years that caused it, I haven’t felt any connection or faith towards American ideals because they’ve become entrenched in outright corruption and a sense of stagnation in the ability for any meaningful legislation to get passed on key issues (think: gun control).

Not the point. Anywho, I loooooved the section on the founding fathers and their vision for America and the pressures that have always been present in American society. George Washington was dealing with implications of slavery when he was president. Jackson said he wished he hung one of his opponents during his presidency because his wife died from the stress of his campaign. There has always been a push and shove to try to vye for the rural voters and highly intelligent, New England intellectuals would pull some bullshit out of their ass to try to convince rural voters that they too were born in a log cabin and they too were from humble beginnings (even when they were not).

My favorite president was John Quincy Adams. History lesson: the election of JQA was in a time where there was only one political party, the Democratic Republican party, and candidates arose from said party, but different factions of it. There were four candidates, including Andrew Jackson, and they all tore each other apart. Jackson came out with the popular vote but not the majority so the decision of who would become president went to the House of Representatives, and they chose JQA. Jackson, who already had predispositions for violence (sound familiar?) was enraged, so were his constituents, and Congress thought there must have been a coup for the presidency. So from here, Congress blocked JQA from enacting his agenda, such as building public roads, and JQA had his own issues on compromising to get ANYTHING done.

Fast forward, Jackson wins when JQA runs for his second term in office by a landslide. JQA doesn’t know what to do with his life, tries to write books and be happy out of public service. He can’t be. Finally, he does something no other president has ever done since: he becomes a Congressman. He was so incredibly devoted to public service it didn’t matter if he had held the most powerful role in government anymore–he just needed to be in it.


I called Lillian and left a voicemail after I finished the podcast today noting on what I believe to be the most impactful things I’ve learned about presidential leadership. Frankly, to me I think about character and legacy to a heightened degree–I want to see people in power that want to remain impactful even when they lose their power. Look at Jimmy Carter, who started the Carter Center and does all of this amazing work in medical research and promoting fair elections and negotiating peace deals between nations. All of this amazing stuff!

I have some small critiques about the podcast in terms of pace and cultural context and continuity, but honestly it just made me appreciate the fact that we have had some of the leaders that lay the groundwork for the future. It made me appreciate Obama even more than I already do, even if he faced quite a bit of the same issues as JQA in terms of passing his agenda.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, click here. Also, I’m now stuck at work with no idea what to listen to to keep my mind occupied. Any recommendations for podcasts that have a historical bent, anyone?


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