Food For Thought

Selecting Our 44th President

by Dr. John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John Bonfadini

February is the month of presidents.

In the 229 years since George Washington was elected as the first president of the United States with a unanimous vote, 42 other individuals have served in this office.

In one of my lectures at George Mason University , I would ask school teachers who were seeking a master’s degree the following question: If you could cover only three of our nation’s presidents, which three would you suggest your students get to know? I got all types of combinations.

It was my contention that the three should be Washington, Lincoln, and the current president. I followed this initial question by asking who served as the 11th president of the United States . Seldom did anyone have the correct answer. I also asked how many individuals held the office. Again the answers were reasonable, but few of the students felt embarrassed if they didn’t know the exact number. With some questions, “close” is acceptable. Not knowing the 11th president is also acceptable. Failure to know the current president is unacceptable. 

I was educated in the Pennsylvania public schools, so I know that the only president from that state was James Buchanan. Folks in many states believe a president’s birthplace is more important than his accomplishments. James Buchanan was the 15th president, serving right before Abe Lincoln. The reason we know some of these men and not others is because of the situations during their terms of office and their ability to lead the country during times of strife. In general, we should know more about the office than the persons who occupied the position.

This fall voters will have an opportunity to participate in the process of electing the 44th president of the United States . The candidate pool is more diverse than at any other time in history. Voters will use a combination of reasons for choosing one candidate over another, ranging from party to personality. I believe the number-one item on most voters’ minds is how the next president’s platform is going to affect their pocketbooks. Social issues are important, but I think they’re a distant second to economics. One haunting question in my own mind is how much higher a standard of living can I realistically expect.

In a recent conversation, one of my fishing buddies complained about the state of the Chesapeake Bay and the declining quality of fishing. Bill is about my age and is a retired college professor. He said, “John, I think the best times in this country are behind us.” I wanted to say, “No, Bill, the United States has and always will provide a better life for our kids and grandchildren.” I didn’t respond because in the back of my mind I thought he may be right.

The United States is at the top of the list of countries in providing its citizens the opportunity to have a high standard of living. Politically and socially our system of government is one of the best, although in my opinion, it does need some fine-tuning.  Many countries view U.S. citizens as greedy for wanting more when their citizens have so little. The next president must respond to the concerns and needs of a more global society, as well as addressing the concerns of the United States citizenry. As the only remaining “superpower,” what global role or responsibility do we have? Is it more important for the president to provide for bigger and better cars in our driveways, or to help feed the world’s poor? To what degree should we be the world’s policeman? A safe and secure environment is a prerequisite to a free society. If we as a nation are going to promote world democracy, what responsibility do we have for providing a safe world? These questions are far more complex than some that appear in the presidential debates. Life will continue to become more complicated for future generations. 

In education, the nearer a student’s score is to 100 percent, the greater the probability that the student could regress on another test. For example, a student with an average of 95 out of 100 has a 5-point range to reach perfection. A student who has an average of 60 has a 40-point range to obtain perfection, which makes it much easier to attain a 5-point gain. I look at the U.S. as being a 90-point country, where many other countries that have lower standards of living will find it easier to make significant gains. Whoever is elected will have a more difficult time than past presidents in attaining a small gain or even maintaining our present standard of living. 

In 1963, I was standing in front of a classroom teaching about electronics when the principal came on the P.A. system and announced that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I was a fearful young man wondering who would now lead the country. As I’ve attained senior citizen status, Kennedy’s words, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” have increasingly alleviated that fear. 

Presidents are important, and some will go down in history as more important than others. What is far more important than who is president is the individual citizen and what contribution he or she is willing to make toward a better nation and world.

The first step is participation in the election process by voting — a rather simple task, but one that many find difficult.

Finally, James K. Polk was the 11th president of the U.S. , a fact that may come in handy if you’re ever on the game show, Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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