Please allow me to reminisce about the past. I’m no longer a young politician, but I’m very much an alert senior citizen who can clearly recall the experiences in my life that have left an indelible imprint on my heart and soul.
I refer specifically to my recollections about the presidents of my past. I vividly recall my early childhood, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. My parents came of age during the Depression, and they worshipped Roosevelt for his soothing messages to America during World War II. I was a child, but I could see how his fireside chats helped my parents survive the stresses of the war.
I still can feel the tremors that reverberated across the country the day Roosevelt died. The neighborhood churches in Brooklyn rang their bells incessantly to tell the world that one of its greatest leaders was gone. My mother and father kept asking, how would their America survive?
Along came a former haberdasher named Harry S. Truman, who assured America that all would be well. In the ensuing years, he helped end the war, and assured our country that he was in charge, and that “The buck stops here.” He assured us that our national agony was over. He did his job but never lost sight of his local roots. Truman was a great cheerleader for America.
He was followed by former Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had helped defeat the enemy armies in the war. He became a grandfatherly symbol to Americans, and made us feel that we no longer had to worry about foreign wars.
Fast-forward to the days of President John F. Kennedy. Young and vibrant, he made the nation feel that our future would be bright and promising. He energized the White House, and made millions of young people eager to embark on careers in public service. When he died, almost everyone in our nation felt the pain.
After the failures of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan emerged as the strong father figure that was needed to soothe our new global fears. His experience in Hollywood helped him eloquently express his concerns for America, and he won over many of his skeptics.
The next trauma came during the tenure of Bill Clinton. On April 19, 1995, two American-born terrorists blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring nearly 700 others, many of them children. Our nation went into shock after the tragedy, and President Clinton became the healer-in-chief with his soothing words, assuring us that we were better than those two criminals.
I recall President George W. Bush standing amid the rubble of the still-smoldering World Trade Center on Sept. 14, 2001, assuring America that we would catch the perpetrators of the attacks three days earlier. It was a shining moment not just for him, but for all of America.
Fast-forward to 2015, when a gunman opened fire at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine people. Afterward, President Barack Obama offered words of compassion that captured the feelings of all Americans — and even led the singing of “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of one of the victims.
Now it is 2020. We are a nation living in fear of the unknown. Caught in the clutches of a pandemic, we must seek solace from our governors and our local leaders. We cling to the words of medical experts and our clergy, because we lack a powerful voice in the White House that could tell us that we are stronger than any virus.
We survived World War II and Oklahoma City and Sept. 11 because, when challenged, we united and rose to the occasion. Facing a disease that keeps us awake at night and could wreck our economy, we’re in need of a voice from on high that would give us the strength to carry on, but sadly, there is no such voice in the Oval Office. All we hear is the echo chamber telling our president how great he is, not how great he could be.
I pray that in your lifetimes we will again have a national leader who will remind us what Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Obama sounded like in times of national need.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.