The Faces

by Dave Schuler on January 12, 2013

Writing at Jill Lawrence asks, sardonically, “What does a president have to do these days to get his face carved into a mountainside?” Equally sardonically, I would respond that being president when the carving got done would help.

The individuals who are immortalized on Mount Rushmore:

  • Fought a successful revolution, freeing the colonies that formed the basis for our republic, and set the foundations of that republic by leaving office when his term had expired.< ?li>
  • Wrote the Declaration of Independence and, when president, doubled the size of the territory of the United States.
  • Freed 1/7th of the population of the United States from slavery, saved the Republic, and added the last large chunk of territory to the United States.

You may lionize or demonize the incumbent. I don’t honestly see how anyone in his or her right mind could think that ensuring that 3% more people had healthcare insurance really fits into the same class of accomplishment as those above.

If aspirations are enough to fit the bill, shouldn’t Jimmy Carter’s face be carved into half the mountainsides in the country? Or LBJ’s?


I have been reminded that work on Mount Rushmore didn’t begin until 1927 and T. Roosevelt was selected to balance the presidents depicted between Republicans and Democrats. My point remains: major accomplishment is really the criterion required for that sort of memorialization.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

michael reynolds January 12, 2013 at 1:25 pm

I like Obama. But did he save the get the country through the Great Depression at a time when ‘depression’ that meant Americans actually starving? And did he then save the world from fascism? No? Then I think FDR is the obvious choice if we’re going to start carving. Get Franklin up there and we can start talking about who’s next.

steve January 12, 2013 at 2:21 pm

There is always some weirdo who thinks the current president is wonderful. Gives the rest of us someone to make fun of.


Doug Mataconis January 12, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Interesting that you leave TR off this list. I’ve never quite understood why he belonged on Mt. Rushmore. Personally, I would have thought that James Madison, the Father Of The Constitution, should have taken his place.

Dave Schuler January 12, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Interesting that you leave TR off this list. I’ve never quite understood why he belonged on Mt. Rushmore.

He was the first one I mentioned—the sitting president when the carving was done.

Andy January 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm

How about we just leave Mt. Rushmore alone?

Dave Schuler January 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Get Franklin up there and we can start talking about who’s next.

And, importantly, completely reorganized the way that Americans think of the federal government. Couldn’t agree more.

Doug Mataconis January 12, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Ah yes. I just caught that……

Still, not exactly a ringing endorsement. And, who knows but for an accident of history, the fourth face could have been William McKinley or even William Jennings Bryan.

PD Shaw January 12, 2013 at 4:41 pm

The carving was done from 1927 to 1941. According to Wikipedia: “The last President Borglum chose was Theodore Roosevelt, suggested by President Calvin Coolidge (who insisted that at least there be two Republicans and at least one Democrat represented) because of Theodore Roosevelt’s introduction of the National Park Service.”

michael reynolds January 12, 2013 at 8:05 pm

FDR and I agree, Madison, would be good. So would Ike. I know he won the war in Europe as a general not a president. On the other hand, he won the war in Europe. Kind of a big thing.

If you want controversial how about Polk? He changed the country, that’s for sure. Changed the hell out of Mexico while he was at it.

PD Shaw January 13, 2013 at 4:55 pm

I’ve always assumed that Teddy was on there because he is held in high esteem by the “national parks” interest. Just as schools might prefer certain historical figures to commemeorate their buildings, and the Navy for its ships, it would be natural for the parks to emphasize Teddy.

But doing a little more research than Wikipedia, it appears the National Park Service likes to identify the four as symbolizing some form of American nationalism. Teddy is there ostensibly to represent the Spanish-American war, the Panama Canal, the Roosevelt corrolary, the Great White Fleet, etc.

The most accurate reason though would appear to be that the sculptor who made the decision, Gutzon Borglum, strongly identified with Teddy (rugged, athletic, self-confident, Western). They also had a personal relationship and Teddy was once a client.

Drew January 14, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I think Michael Reynolds should be up there.

michael reynolds January 14, 2013 at 11:18 pm


Let’s not frighten the children.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: