Where Would We Be Now if George Washington Had a Tape Recorder?

August 2nd, 2013

News this week that a 15-year-old tape of Monica Lewinsky beckoning Bill Clinton to join her for another tryst by promising to “take my clothes off” certainly must give presidential historians everywhere some pause.

It had been thought that the tape was destroyed years ago by “cleaners” for the Clintons working to remove all evidence of the Lewinsky affair.  Unfortunately, this little gem remains and may one day find itself as part of those audio exhibits at the Smithsonian.

Can’t you just picture it?  Schoolchildren lining up to listen.

I’m certainly not naïve enough to believe that all our presidents were saints or that each stood as sterling examples for us all, but it would be nice to think that at least a few of them came close to that mark.

Sadly, recent history really makes you wonder.  Thanks to Thomas Edison and a few other technological pioneers, we have a lot more firsthand information about our country’s more recent leaders than those who came before them.

My first direct experience with this fact came in college when I fulfilled a class assignment for a Political Science course I was taking by going to the National Archives and listening to the Nixon tapes.

All the threats and plotting clearly coming out of Nixon’s mouth was disconcerting enough for a college student considering a career in public service, but the foul language made it even worse.

Who knew Nixon worked blue?

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one.

I’d heard that Lyndon Johnson had a few “issues” with language and basic manners.  That was all confirmed when I listened to a few of his White House tapes.

In one, he calls the Haggar Company to order pants.  At one point, he tells Mr. Haggar that “the crotch, down where your nuts hang, is always a little too tight.” Later on, he belches mid-sentence.

And now we have the Clinton “sex tape”—oh good.

This all makes me wonder where we would be as a country now if we’d actually been able to listen in on the private conversations and activities of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.  I’ve always read that Abraham Lincoln was a little rough around the edges and liked to tell off color jokes.  I’ve even read a few of them.  Fortunately, they lose a lot of their shock value over the years.

I’m sure Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln weren’t perfect, but it’s kind of inspiring to think they were.

I may be wrong, but I just have this feeling that if we really could hear Washington swear or burp as loud as he could, we may not have been nearly as inspired to move forward as we ultimately proved to be as a nation.

Obviously, it is probably too much to hope that future presidents might try to present themselves as role models and examples.

But it’s still worth a try.