Since the end of World War II, our country has had three great presidents: Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
Their politics varied, but these giants stand in sharp contrast to our last three presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama. The first two presided over gravely flawed presidencies; the third is on his way to outright failure.
What makes these two presidential trios so different? A recent visit to the Truman Museum and Library in Independence, Mo., made me ask what made those great presidents great.Truman: A fighter, not an Ivy Leaguer.
The answer is character. The three greats were men of great character; the three recents, men of great ambition -- driven, in their different ways, by a fateful sense of entitlement.
And you don't build character by punching your ticket at today's Ivy-League universities, then dashing straight into politics.
The people I admire most in life aren't the golden boys (or girls), but those who've come up the hard way. Frankly, failure builds character -- in those who have the gumption to get back up on their feet and fight to succeed.
Until the Reagan years, it was still possible to become president without elite credentials. Harry Truman had only a high-school diploma. Reagan graduated from the sort of college today's Washington insiders mock. Eisenhower was a Military Academy grad -- back when West Point was still an engineering school.
Most important, each man tasted bitter disappointments along the way. Young Harry Truman had to return from Kansas City to work 16-hour days on his family's troubled farm. After combat service in the First World War, he co-owned a men's store -- only to face bankruptcy in the postwar recession. Barely averting that bankruptcy, he paid each debt he owed over the years.