History
2:24 pm
Wed October 17, 2012

Which President Would Make The Best Babysitter?

Originally published on Wed October 17, 2012 4:09 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's too early to tell if President Obama's performance last night will stop his slide in the polls, but we're going to focus now on one poll and one question in which the president, in his worst stretch of this campaign, actually gained ground. The question was, who would you rather have babysit your children?

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

That's right. When the ABC News/Washington Post poll put that question to registered voters last week, 49 percent chose President Obama, 36 percent Governor Romney. Two weeks before, they were tied.

SIEGEL: What can we infer from this little tidbit? Well, first, if this White House gig doesn't work out, both men could consider back-up careers as mannies.

BLOCK: A manny is a male nanny. Second, the president would probably get more job offers.

SIEGEL: But all of this got us wondering, among past commanders-in-chief, who'd be the best choice to watch the kids? So we asked five historians.

JOHN MEACHAM: Dwight Eisenhower.

BLOCK: That's John Meacham, author of "Thomas Jefferson, the Art of Power" and father of three school-age kids. But he didn't choose our third president. Why does he like Ike?

MEACHAM: He liberated Europe, so surely he can take care of three kids.

BARBARA PERRY: George Washington.

SIEGEL: That's Barbara Perry, a political scientist at University of Virginia. A former babysitter herself, Perry says our first president was well-qualified for the job - responsible, reliable, disciplined, and he liked kids. Not only that...

PERRY: I had the criterion, no womanizing because they might invite their girlfriends over while they're babysitting and we know that's a no-no. So I'd put George Washington right at the top of the list.

NANCY KASSOP: Actually, my choice for a babysitter among the past presidents would probably be Bill Clinton.

BLOCK: Now, there's an October surprise. Nancy Kassop is a professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz. She's also the mother of two daughters. And while others may disagree, she stands by her choice of President Clinton.

KASSOP: He's known for focusing his total attention on the person who is directly in front of him. He would be completely attentive to the child in his charge. Secondly, I think he's a joyful, cheerful character.

TED WIDMER: I got to give it to Abe Lincoln.

SIEGEL: That's Ted Widmer of Brown University. He has a son and his babysitting vote goes to Lincoln.

WIDMER: He had young children. He doted over them. He had trouble sleeping, so he was available late at night.

SIEGEL: Ah-ha, an important qualification and one that we didn't think of.

DORIS KERNS GOODWIN: I think when Lincoln was a younger man he would not have been a great babysitter.

BLOCK: A Lincoln naysayer, Doris Kerns Goodwin, author of a number of presidential biographies and mother of three boys.

SIEGEL: She did a background check on the young Abe Lincoln and she found a man too involved in his own thoughts, too apt to get wrapped up in deep conversations while walking on the street.

GOODWIN: When he would be carrying a kid or rolling them along in a stroller, he would forget about the child and simply walk on, leaving the kid on the pathway.

BLOCK: This is very concerning, yes. But Doris Kerns Goodwin says experience and age make all the difference. A much older Lincoln tops her list of presidential babysitters.

GOODWIN: The kids in the White House were allowed to run around the corridors of the hallways, to put on plays in the attic. They would setoff the servants' bells at the same time. They were lively and fun. He would read to them and he allowed them to be children.

SIEGEL: So there you have it, with two votes out of five, Abe Lincoln wins. He is the top babysitter pick among past presidents in our informal and completely silly poll.

BLOCK: But who's on backup for date night if Honest Abe isn't available?

MEACHAM: Teddy Roosevelt seemed to be a lot of fun.

GOODWIN: He was just a stunningly active father.

KASSOP: Teddy Roosevelt had this thirst for adventure.

SIEGEL: Bully, Teddy Roosevelt. And Doris Kerns Goodwin says from the kids' point of view, he'd be great.

GOODWIN: He would have been willing to play cowboys and Indians with them, get on the floor, spar with them, wrestle with them. Now, for a parent, it might not have been as great, for they might have come home with a cut face or even a broken limb.

BLOCK: In other words, too much Rough Rider, not enough Teddy Bear.

SIEGEL: I wonder what Millard Fillmore is doing this weekend. And there's always "Home Alone." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.