My boys Mike & Mike were recently debating who would theoretically be on the “Mount Rushmore of Basketball”. The discussion stemmed from a rather arrogant assertion by superstar LeBron James that if such a monument existed he would indeed deserve a spot. I had to get ready and go to work so I missed the latter portion of the show, but Greeny & Golic were in the process of taking the discussion in a bunch of directions like “Who would be on the Mount Rushmore of…baseball (pitchers, hitters), football (quarterbacks, running backs), hockey players, etc. This is not necessarily a new topic of conversation. As a matter of fact, it is a reliable old chestnut that ESPN trots out occasionally when sports news is slow, which is of course the case right now since we’re kind of in that blah period that always follows the end of the football season. It’s a fun & harmless little argument to have since A) none of these “Mount Rushmores” actually exist and B) there are things that do exist called Halls of Fame where everyone deserving (and even some who don’t really deserve it) eventually get their just reward.
However, there is one Mount Rushmore that does exist.
I saw a really interesting documentary on The History Channel several years ago about Mount Rushmore. For those who may be unfamiliar, the mountain was already named Mount Rushmore long before anyone carved any heads on it. It was named after a New York lawyer who liked to hunt in the Black Hills of South Dakota. A few decades later a local historian got the idea to have U.S. Presidents carved into the mountains to promote tourism (because it’s always about the money). Danish sculptor Gutzon Borglum was awarded the job in 1925, and from 1927-41 over 400 men worked at completing the task. Borglum chose George Washington to represent the birth of the United States, Thomas Jefferson to represent its growth, Abraham Lincoln to represent its preservation, & Theodore Roosevelt to represent its development. We must remember that when the project was conceived there were only 30 U.S. Presidents to choose from and I think most would agree that Borglum did a nice job of selecting his subjects. Originally he also wanted to carve representations of The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, & the Louisiana Purchase, but unfortunately the money ran out (which also explains why the sculptures are just heads…they were intended to be full upper bodies).
So the discussion on Mike & Mike got me to pondering…who should be on the Mount Rushmore…of Presidents?? It’s been almost a century since the original monument was conceived and sculpted. A lot of history has been made since then, and we’ve had much more time to reflect on the history that occurred previously. In addition, technology is far more advanced, so instead of hundreds of men risking their lives and taking over a decade to complete the job I figure that we could whittle out a nice expansion in a few months.
Of course the questions are “who??” and “how many??” If it were me I’d go with seven. Many people think of it as a lucky number, and in The Bible seven is a number signifying completion. Plus I am a minimalist and there’s no use getting too garish with the idea. That means we have three spots to fill and 39 candidates. However, I really don’t think it’s even that complicated. Out of those 39 men I am assuming only 10 at most would get any votes at all in a poll of the masses. But that still leaves 10 guys battling for three spots. Who should be the three to join Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, & Teddy Roosevelt??
Let’s give one spot right off the bat to John F. Kennedy. Regardless of what one might think of his…private life…the fact is that Kennedy continues to be one of our most beloved Presidents a half century after his death. Martyrs tend to get that kind of love, and let’s face it…that is exactly how the public perceives JFK…as a martyr. His whole presidency has been romanticized. How would he have been thought of if he’d completed his second term and lived a long life?? Obviously no one can accurately answer that question, so we are left with what we are left with, which is essentially the first “rock star” President who was cut down in his prime by an assassin’s bullet and the media frenzy created by such a tragedy, which was a completely new shared experience for the masses. The Kennedy Presidency and The Kennedy Assassination are watershed moments in American history. Sounds like Mount Rushmore material to me.
That was easy. But now things get tricky and one’s opinion will almost certainly depend on worldview & political philosophy. I am going to try to avoid those pitfalls, which means I may surprise some folks with my selections.
I’d give the second spot to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I have my issues with FDR’s New Deal, which laid the groundwork for the out-of-control entitlement mentality that is eating away at our nation like Rosie O’Donnell at a Vegas buffet, but the fact is that he is our longest serving President and led the country…one way or another…thru The Great Depression and World War II. The enormity of his Presidency…good & bad…and the pivotal era during which he served cement FDR’s spot on the revised Mount Rushmore.
Okay…so who gets the final spot?? Obama?? Many would champion that idea simply because he is our first black President, and even those that fervently disagree with his policies would likely concede the historical & cultural significance of that fact. However, not only is it too soon to debate the relative merits of the Obama Presidency, but I simply cannot…will not…award a spot on such a noteworthy shrine to a person based solely on a biological trait instead of tangible accomplishments. Reagan?? Many of my conservative friends would undoubtedly support the notion, and I understand why, but again I feel like it is too soon, and in comparison to Abraham Lincoln or even JFK I am not so sure admiration of Ronald Reagan is nearly as bipartisan. Clinton?? Please. What are we going to do…depict his head with sunglasses on while blowing a sax to commemorate his appearance on Arsenio?? Grant?? Undoubtedly a better General than President. Truman?? Eisenhower?? Solid choices. Did some great things. But were also flawed in ways too substantial to allow them to make the cut here, although some really smart Presidential historian might be able to convince me otherwise. Nixon?? Well…I think Nixon gets a bad rap sometimes and was a lot better President than many would give him credit for, but the only U.S. President to resign from office just cannot be given a spot on Mount Rushmore.
My final spot…the 7th President to grace Mount Rushmore…would be John Adams. I’ve read a lot about Adams, and I feel like sometimes he gets overlooked when talking about America’s Founding Fathers. Adams was a lawyer, writer, devout Christian, statesman, philosopher, & historian. It should also be noted that, unlike Washington, Jefferson, or Benjamin Franklin, Adams never owned slaves. Though Jefferson receives credit for writing The Declaration of Independence the truth is that John Adams played a significant role in creating it. As the nation’s first Vice President he cast more tiebreaking votes than any other VP. Adams was the quintessential “man behind the man”. I am not sure if either George Washington or Thomas Jefferson would have achieved as much if not for the support or…oftentimes in the case of Jefferson…the challenge of Adams. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that he may have been more comfortable being that person behind the scenes rather than the guy in the spotlight. Brilliant people are frequently like that. Biographer David McCullough opines that the reason Adams didn’t receive a second term as President was that “he was unlikable, short, ugly, and bald”. Sadly too many people are still that shallow. I think when folks are asked about our greatest Presidents many of us are shortsighted and think only of the people who held the office in our lifetime or maybe those who we know about thru old news footage, but we should never forget that America had a long and fascinating history of about 150 years before television was invented.
Agree?? Disagree?? Who would you add to Mount Rushmore?? Should additions even be seriously considered?? I welcome the thoughts & opinions of The Manoverse.