It wouldn’t be Presidents Day without “Equal Time.” But before I get to that, a piece of melancholy: We have a paperback on our shelf — actually we have books on more than one shelf, and I mean to say this book is on a shelf — called “Love Trouble.” The author is Veronica Geng, and she’s pictured on the cover. In pajamas, girlish, smiling in a way that looks like she’s ready to share some mischief. The book, which came out in 1999, was published posthumously; Ms. Geng, an editor and writer for The New Yorker, had died of a brain tumor a couple years earlier. No more mischievous fun except in the writing she left behind.
When Ronald Reagan was still president, and we all know how long ago that was, The New Yorker ran a very, very short piece — no more than six column inches I’d guess — called “Equal Time.” It was Ms. Geng’s work, but I didn’t make anything of that. What Kate and I loved about it was the off-the-wall take on — well, you’ll see. The piece was clipped and stuck on a series of refrigerators. It was copied and sent to friends. Kate just came across the little blow up she made of it nearly 20 years ago.
“You know recently one of our most distinguished Americans, Clare Boothe Luce, had this to say about the coming vote [on aid to the Contras]. “… My mind goes back to a similar moment in our history–back to the first years after Cuba had falledn to Fidel. One day during those years, I had lunch at the White House with a man I had known since he was a boy–John F. Kennedy. ‘Mr. President,’ I said, ‘no matter how exalted or great a man may be, history will have time to give him no more than one sentence. George Washington–he founded our country. Abraham Lincoln–he freed the slaves and preserved the union.’ “–Ronald Reagan, address to the nation March 16, 1986.
William Henry Harrison: He was the first occupant of the White House to eat with a knife and fork.
Millard Fillmore: He had his own likeness secretly engraved in the folds of Miss Liberty’s dress on the 1851 Silver Dollar.
Franklin Pierce: He earned the sobriquets Old Tongue-in-Groove and The Gabardine Gangplank.
Ulysses S. Grant: He translated the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” into thirteen different languages, including mirror writing.
Benjamin Harrison: He predicted the birth of the Dionne Quintuplets over forty years before it happened.
William McKinley: He was his own grandfather.
Warren G. Harding: He campaigned on a bicycle carved from a single giant bar of soap.
Calvin Coolidge: He coined the catchphrase of the era–“Do you simply want a cigarette, or do you want a Murad?”
Herbert Hoover: He reorganized the National Christmas Card Cemetery.
Gerald Ford: He had the idea for “Shampoo” long before the movie came out.
Ronald Reagan: He popularized the political theories of Clare Boothe Luce.
[Copyright 1999, The Estate of Veronica Geng]