By Thomas Armbruster:
We live in such a car culture. We can almost always judge the man, or woman, by the car. They say the first President to ride in a car while in office was Teddy Roosevelt, and the car was a Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton. Wow, an electric car back in the day! But Teddy was more of a horse President. Teddy Roosevelt’s statue should certainly be him on horseback charging up San Juan Hill in Cuba. When you get to FDR you can picture him in the back of an open roofed Cadillac, cigarette jauntily extending from his smiling face. FDR was definitely a Caddy. Classy, American made, a car we could be proud of, even if it was just out of reach of us average Americans.
So which vehicles typify the more recent Presidents? Eisenhower was certainly an Army issue Jeep. Indestructible, reliable, not too fast, but practical and sure- footed.
President Kennedy was an MG. Handled beautifully, stylish, fast, sexy, and effortless. An MG is not the right car to take on huge mountains, say civil rights for example, or full scale war in Vietnam, but it was the right car for quick turns and outsmarting the Soviets in their Ladas and Zhigulis. And given Camelot, he’s allowed a British import.
Lyndon Johnson was a Chevy pickup truck, built for the ranch. Tons of mileage, but could take on rugged terrain, on road or off road and could haul all kinds of freight. If you needed a stump pulled out, the Johnson truck could do it. The engine finally gave out, but he was an all-American model.
Nixon was a Chevy Nova. Looked practical, but not a lot of power, in the shop a lot and ultimately just not the right car. Gerald Ford hopped in when Nixon got out, gave it a wax and a new shine but was still a Nova with ultimately no more power than the original.
Then Jimmy Carter. The first truly electric car. Built in his basement, the Carter was a vehicle well ahead of its time. Nobody understood it, but it was a novelty that still generates ideas and good vibes for those who appreciated it. For those who didn’t, well… the next car was something more familiar.
Ronald Reagan was a bulletproof stretch limo. Hollywood all the way. A nice bar in the back, a TV, and a chauffeur always at the ready for the star. With a little imagination we could see ourselves cruising along in it… then it was back to reality.
George H.W. Bush was a Buick. Comfortable, roomy, a little out of most of our price ranges, but not ostentatious and solid enough. Plenty of power. But then along came something a little sexier.
Bill Clinton. Clinton was a Camaro. A red Camaro. It was a chick magnet, took us on an exhilarating ride and actually was a lot more economical than it looked. In fact, when it was time for a trade, we actually made money! He was the first President of the modern era to pay the car off on time, but it wouldn’t last.
George W. Bush was another pick up truck, but the King Cab version with every conceivable option. Pricey, gas guzzly, we bought it on credit, and we are still paying it off. But the ride was nice and we felt safe in the big cab way up high above most of the traffic.
Barack Obama is a station wagon. Kind of a throwback really. You could put on the wood trim for this family car. Very comfortable, the FM radio always tuned to NPR. No mechanical issues. Lots of great memories of family trips and Dad jokes on the way. Never went too fast, always cautious, but a favorite to be sure.
Hillary Clinton would have been a Camry. Again, reliable, a little boring, but we would have gotten our money’s worth, even if we never set any land speed records.
That leaves Donald J. Trump. Some are expecting a clown car, with a new scandal popping out every minute. But I would argue the “Trump-mobile” is a Formula One race car. It will require a lot of maintenance, extremely hard to drive, but when the pit crew is not working on it, it will fly around the track. The truth is most of us don’t know anything about race cars. They are too expensive to buy so we can’t really relate to them, but we know they are fast, dangerous and great to watch. They play by different rules than we do and either end up in the winner’s circle surrounded by beautiful people and champagne, or slammed against a wall reduced to aluminum and steel wreckage. In either case, we can’t take our eyes off and we can’t help but appreciate the drama.
It probably will not really take us from point A to point B, since it is designed to go around a closed track, but maybe that doesn’t matter. We paid for a race car and all that goes with it. We may go back to our family car after Trump, or maybe we’ll finally get our jetpack and get above the traffic, but for the next few years, we’re putting the hammer down and we’re going flat out. Well, at least as armchair drivers. Buckle up everybody.
Airbags are not included.
Thomas Armbruster is an OpsLens Contributor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In his long career as an American diplomat, Thomas Armbruster served as the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok, Russia, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan, Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Political Affairs Officer and Nuclear Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia; and Vice Consul at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he was a reporter for the CBS affiliate KGMB-TV in Hawaii. Mr. Armbruster holds a B.A. from McDaniel College, an M.A. from St. Mary’s University, and an M.S. from the Naval War College.