Here's How To Build A President

On President's Day, a look at how America's selection of presidents is more predictable than we may believe.
02/20/2017 08:58 am ET Updated Feb 20, 2017
Brooks Kraft via Getty Images

”Maybe You Could Be President Someday...”

This phrase has probably been uttered to hundreds of millions of American children throughout our country’s 240 year history.

Yet during that time only 44 people have actually held that job.

It is no wonder that when we tell the stories of our presidents we marvel at the individual efforts and the hard work that must have been required to ascend to our highest office. Yet consider how many other factors, like these, had to fall in place when you hear their extraordinary individual tales:

Money helps. Every President but one (Truman) since 1929 has been a millionaire at the time of achieving office.

Education is critical. Over 40% went to Ivy League schools and since 1893 all but one graduated college.

Health matters. Most enjoyed healthy lives – especially for their times. Even those who had to overcome well-known health issues, such as John F. Kennedy and both Roosevelts, had the benefit of being able to afford literally the best care in the world for their conditions. 

Connections count. Forty out of 45 came from politics ― many hand picked by party bosses to be their nominee. Ten were directly related to another President (two sets of father/sons, two sets of cousins and one grandfather/grandson).  In fact, genealogists have determined that FDR was related to 11 different presidents himself (five by blood and six by marriage). 

A little luck goes a long way. Twenty percent didn’t even get elected to the office ― rising only after the previous occupant died or resigned.  Of course, there are also five who did not win the popular vote but won via the electoral college. 

Lifted by many helping hands. Behind every President is a whole host of advisors, friends, relatives, aides and funders who supported them along the way.  However, 18 Presidents actually owned slaves, in many cases hundreds, which presumably allowed them to amass their fortunes that made running for public office possible

These are just a handful of the factors that help explain how these 44 people rose above the hundreds of millions of children who were also told that “maybe one day they could become President too.”

None of this is to diminish any of their hard work or the amount of individual effort required to rise to the oval office. But hard work and help aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, to become President of anything they are mutually dependent.

Consider this:  Even Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our most “self-made” President, would never have risen to that office were it not for the simple fate of his birth. Leave 99.9 percent of his genes exactly the same, but assume he were born either a woman or a black man. Could he have become our 16th President in 1860?

So on President’s Day, let’s honor those who have held this office by honoring the totality of what made their journey possible. 

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