Tag Archives: Guest Bloggers

The Bruises That Don’t Show by Jennie Helderman

We have a special guest today! Jennie Helderman, author of As the Sycamore Grows (Summers Bridgewater Press), is here to talk about what most people keep a secret – abuse. Visit Jennie on the web at www.jenniehelderman.com.

Divider 5

Jennie HeldermanThe Bruises That Don’t Show
by Jennie Miller Helderman

The TV producer wanted bruises, something that would show. Ginger had none, not that day. She’d had nothing purple to show the preacher who told her to go back home. No red marks to show the policeman who, without visible evidence, couldn’t make an arrest.

Abuse, to some people, means black eyes, broken teeth, bald patches. But abuse takes many forms. Abuse is about control and some means of control are subtle. Who goes through the mail? Who makes money decisions? Who keeps the money? Intimidation, isolation, verbal abuse—these leave no telltale signs but their pain can be just as damaging as physical abuse and take longer to heal.

As the Sycamore GrowsAsk Ginger McNeil, whose story is told in As the Sycamore Grows. Her husband slapped and shoved but isolation and economic abuse were his mainstays. She lived with him in a two-room cabin hidden behind a padlocked gate without power, a telephone, or even a mailbox. She made her own soap, canned chickens and cooked catfish soup on a wood stove to feed her children. Then he bought a Jet Ski—with his disability check. Even poverty can be a means of abuse when it allows one person to control another.

“Verbal abuse is insidious,” says Patricia Evans in The Verbally Abusive Relationship. Name calling, sarcasm, criticizing, teasing, withholding—all disregard or devalue a partner. They can diminish self-esteem and confidence to the point of brain-washing.

Again Ginger provides an example. She was religious. Her husband was not—until he discovered the power of the Lord as a means of control. By that time, he was able to convince her to pray to God through him.

Now Ginger knows the warning signs. She knows that abuse always escalates. Verbal abuse always precedes physical abuse.

Wounds to the heart and soul may not leave outward marks, but purple will come.

# # #

Jennie Helderman broke the glass ceiling at age ten by becoming the first girl page in the Alabama State Legislature. That surge of girl power wouldn’t be the last time she saw a need to put women’s issues at the forefront. Years later, after she helped set up a crisis-call center in an old house, a cry for help at the other end of the phone line resounded in her head. That call was the catalyst; eventually, the empty bedrooms upstairs served as the community’s first shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

From there, Helderman began work with women’s issues and leadership, community development, public relations and communications, beginning in Gadsden, Alabama, and reaching to national levels. She has championed women’s and children’s issues and worked with child abuse victims. From 2000 until her term expired in 2006, she presided over the six-member board of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, which serves 520,000 clients each month and oversees all family abuse issues in the state.

A 2007 Pushcart Prize nominee, Helderman coauthored two nonfiction books, Christmas Trivia and Hanukkah Trivia and writes profiles for magazines. Previously she chaired the editorial board of the 120,000 circulation alumnae magazine of Kappa Kappa Gamma, The Key.

Her latest book is As the Sycamore Grows.

Helderman is married to a retired newspaper publisher; is the mother of two and grandmother of three; and has recently moved from Alabama to Atlanta. Her website address is www.jenniehelderman.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest Bloggers

Family Projects, Family Love

Today’s guest is Karina Fabian, co-author of the hugely popular book, Why God Matters.

Many times one sees Roman Catholicism explained using either closely reasoned theology or an appeal to ancient writers of the Church. While both are legitimate approaches, the average reader looking to explore the faith is often left cold. In their collaboration, Why God Matters, Deacon Steven Lumbert and his daughter, Karina Lumbert Fabian, delineate the Catholic Faith as experienced by a pair of average, everyday people like the great majority who make up the 24% of Americans who share this religion.

If you want to find out more about Why God Matters, visit the author’s website at www.whygodmatters.com.


Family Projects, Family Love

By Karina L. Fabian

Every family has its way of bonding: camping trips or Saturday night card games, movie nights or regular, enforced, discussions at table. For my family, it’s always been projects projects.

One of my earliest memories was of preparing our  yard for our new mobile home. While Dad worked on the foundation, my sister, Gina, and I cleared the yard and joined my mom in asking the neighbors for jugs of water. I don’t remember much about that trailer, except that years later, when it got too small for us, my dad’s solution was to buy another smaller trailer, set it alongside and begin the long process of tearing out doors, walls, and windows to make them into one large home. This, too, was a family affair, and my sister and I worked at our parents’ sides and learned how to do everything from painting  to laying linoleum to rewiring the walls. Our house was our project, and we were very proud of what we created.

As Gina and I got involved in school activities and clubs, the projects were smaller and perhaps less important than building a home, but my parents threw themselves into them with the same dedication. Mom sewed dresses for our girls’ club (for friends as well as us), Dad made costumes for the building blocks in The Velveteen Rabbit. They helped organize fundraisers and always pitched in to help. We used to get annoyed at Mom washing the cars a second time to make sure the job was perfect, but we never doubted how important we were to them, or how much they wanted to be a part of our lives.

We went to college, married, and soon had houses and projects of our own. Inevitably, there were Mom and Dad ready and eager to drive over–sometimes across the nation–to help. When my family and I moved to Virginia and bought a house with an unfinished basement, my parents stayed for a month doing the framework, plumbing, and vent system. Rob and I had the ideas, and my father, the expertise. Again, it was a family project; only this time, it included my children–even Liam, who was not quite two, but loved to wield a paintbrush. Being a military family, we’ve lived in many houses, but that one will always be special because it was a project that involved three generations.

It’s been several years since the Summer of the Basement. We’d all gotten busy in our lives–me with my writing and my family and my parents with Dad’s deacon work. Our phone calls and IMs had degenerated into a kind of laundry list of our days–not unusual in our family, but lately, had left me wanting something more. We were never much for just sitting and talking; most of our conversations came as we were working on something together. We needed a project.

Then Tribute Books asked me if I’d be interested in writing a series of Catholic faith stories and life lessons for a small book called Why God Matters. I hesitated, intimidated at the thought of doing it alone, and unsure I would reach their audience with my personal stories. Then it struck me–this was a project! My father, a deacon in the Catholic Church had fantastic stories, and I had the writing expertise. I called him and he eagerly agreed. Maybe he was missing a project, too.

As we wrote the stories, we shared our pasts in ways we hadn’t before. I learned a lot about my dad’s bad-boy childhood. I got the full story of the time he was almost shot by an escaped convict. He shared his former ’60s attitudes toward religion and self-reliance–not quite what I expected from my conservative father. Our relationship took a new dimension as I was put in the editor’s role while we worked his stories. It was a project, indeed, and probably one of the most important in our lives, for we not only created something of lasting value, we got to know each other in ways we never would have otherwise.

Will there be other projects like this for us? I don’t know; we’re both so busy. I do know this: no matter what project the future brings, I can depend on Dad, and my whole family, to pitch in their talents and their love.


Filed under Guest Bloggers

5 Things You Should Know about Invasion of the Baby Daddy

EVERY UNWED MOTHER’S NIGHTMARE COMES TO LIFE IN THE PAGES OF INVASION OF THE BABY DADDY, a compelling and moving debut novel that echoes the emotional and cerebral frustrations of unwed mothers throughout the ages. Its unforgettable characters and authentic story line are interwoven with current and real facts about the volume of unwed mothers in our society today. In the story, Dr. Sands believes he has found his perfect mate only to discover that she is pregnant from a previous relationship. Not fully aware of the ramifications of this colossal news, Dr. Sands and Rachel date via long distance during her pregnancy and ultimately decide to get married. In order to make a life together, Rachel must move to Tennessee to start a new life with her husband. But the Baby Daddy has other plans for them. Determined to make this marriage work, Dr. Sands goes to extraordinary lengths to try and negotiate with the Baby Daddy. Brimming with honesty from the author s own experiences, Invasion of the Baby Daddy comes alive with unique freshness, candor and rich detail.
We welcome today’s guest Dr. John E. Bell, author of Invasion of the Baby Daddy.

Five Things You Should Know about Invasion of the Baby Daddy

by John E. Bell

The first topic most do not know of Invasion of the Baby Daddy is the comparison to everyday average Americans to the story in the book

I feel the American family structure is currently changing and has been changing over the last 20 years. For example 6.4 million children are born out of wed lock today. Over 50% of marriages end in Divorce and most families today never have evening dinner together any more. We are now in the hurry up and going no where society. The facts alone are alarming but also very true of our society. Another example of the decay of the the American family specifically when African-American families have a 72% single parent house hold. Latino families have a 40% single parent house hold. Caucasion European families have a 36% single parent house hold in America according to the 2007 Census report. It shows how the American family is ever changing and also what American family challenges that will be comfronted in American society in the future.

The second topic most do not know about Invasion of the Baby Daddy is the direct link to many suburban/ urban problem

It seems to me the root of many of the problems of unwed mothers have been the acceptance of the decay in the American family. A lack of education and the instant generation has become the issue of where our society and family life has now evolved into. It seems that most of the women and men who have unplanned children early in life, most of them have a low education and no goals that prevent the detour of the mistakes of unplanned pregnancies. Furthermore, a great mislead issue is when most of the American families repeat the mistakes of the previous generations before them because the societal conditions that existed for the previous generation has not improved for their children. Unfortunately, this now becomes a generational issue of the next parents of the children of today.

The third topic in the book that most do not know is the reality of blended families and what many go through in their lives

The problem that can interfere with a blended family having a great life would be the Baby Mother or Baby Daddy that is attached to the child itself that attempts to separate a family when the biological Mom or Dad wants to move on. The Baby Mother to the child can not leave a state with the child to live out of state, even if she has married someone else. This is a court order called Joint legal status that gives a Baby Daddy as much custody to parent as the Baby Mother even without a marriage as one can see this can leave a blended family with severe hardships and ultimately even end in a devasting divorce. Moreover, Joint legal status court orders however is a state by state issue an not the law in every state. You must check your state to make sure that this law does not affect your relationship if you are planning on moving on from a Baby Daddy or Baby Mother.

The fourth topic most would not know about in the book Invasion of the Baby Daddy would be how a single man can adapt to a blended family

The new man in a situation where he has met a ready made family with a woman that is ready to move on as well is a great thing. There are some good men who would love to step up and welcome a women and her child or children. In the book, “Invasion of the Baby Daddy” A doctor by ther name of Dr. Mark Sand is a good man that happens to fall in love with Rachel and her child. However, it is interacting with the biological Baby Daddy or Baby Mother of the child that will always present issues with such a great guy in these blended family situations.

The fifth topic is how the American family can be impacted by Baby Daddys in our society today

The Baby Daddy will always be a sinister character. Usually, a selfish irresponsible Baby Daddy will not want to spend money on the child. Infact, statistically most unwed Baby Daddys never intended to be fathers and most were not father material to begin with. They were boys trying to have sex and live a life of illusion from consequences that came from practices of unsafe sex. Most actually are lost souls that had no father themselves or only act out what they have learned from the same father type that they now have become. This is what is seen in the pages of “Invasion of the Baby Daddy.”

Dr. Bell is a Surgical Podiatrist and a College Professor at Strayer University at the Shelby Oaks campus in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Bell has a Master’s degree in Health Services Administration from Strayer University in Memphis, Tennessee and a Doctorate Of Podiatric Medicine degree from the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Bell is a graduate from Morris college in Sumter, South Carolina. Dr. Bell is a Gulf War veteran with 10 years in the US Navy with an honorable discharge. Dr. Bell is a member of Phi-Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc.

Dr. Bell has his own radio show called the Dr. John Bell Show that can be heard on Saturday from 4-5pm central time and 5-6pm Eastern time on KWAM990.com. Dr. Bell is married and has one daughter and a step son and has experienced the subject of the baby daddy syndrome and the drama that can be experienced from relationships that include a blended family structure. Dr. Bell has chosen to write about some of the challenges from a man’s perspective involved in a blended family where the man does not have any children and the woman has a child from a previous relationship.

This story has been a compilation of many American family’s dilemma with people who want to move on from their past mistakes in life of children and relationships and how much it can cost the people we love most when our life choices become complicated with an invasive baby daddy as in the book or even an invasive baby momma into a family situation. This book demonstrates how the American family structure is changing and how the law is often used to separate families and ultimately even end a marriage. In this American story of many with this subject, one family had to find a way to make the ultimate sacrifice to avoid destruction from the invasion of a baby daddy.

You can visit his website at www.drjohnbell.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest Bloggers

Special Guest Feature: Doing Non Doing by George Earl Parker

Doing Non Doing
by George Earl Parker

George Earl Parker, singer, songwriter & author of VAMPYRE BLOOD - EIGHT PINTS OF TROUBLE

George Earl Parker is an author, singer/songwriter, and artist. As designer and director of the short film “Yellow Submarine Sandwich,” included in Eric Idle’s pseudo-documentary of a band called the Rutles, Parker received accolades, awards, and a showing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His art has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the country, and three of his songs have shown up on the European Country Music Association charts. Vampyre Blood-Eight Pints of Trouble is his first novel. He currently lives in California where he is working on his music and his second book.  You can visit his website at www.georgeearlparker.com.

I am not a normal writer that would be a contradiction in terms. By definition writers are hardly normal. They dream up stories that never existed before, and populate them with people and scenario’s that are imaginary.

There is nothing wrong with this noble occupation, people have been following it since the invention of the chisel, and their efforts have prevented an unimaginable number of pratfalls from taking place. Without the writer to chart the uneven terrain of love, the dastardly realm of politics, or even the contradictory subatomic shenanigans of quantum physics, existence would be pure chaos.

For the writer of course, existence is pure chaos, and its measurement is in what one has to sacrifice. The life of a writer is solitary; it is solitary because one has to think. It isn’t really necessary to come to conclusions, in fact conclusions are to be avoided at all costs, because they paint one into a corner and corners are best left vacated until the final throes of ones final edit.

Keeping the story moving, adding twists and turns, and not being long winded are all excellent nuggets of advice for the writer trying to mine rich veins of adventure, comedy, or angst. The fact that they are all diametrically opposed to one another brings the errant writer to an almost Zen-like crossroads that he has to learn to transcend with the wily non-doing of a Taoist adept bent on immortality.

But wait a minute; this non-doing of which you speak is what writer’s have been waging war against since the dawn of time. It’s the blank page one stares at, the canvas un-painted, the word un-spelled, the story un-formed. It is the bane of every writer’s existence; it is the very thing that drives us up the wall. It is the most contemptible facet of an occupation that is otherwise the most pleasing of all artistic careers . . .isn’t it?

No! All of those things are doing, and they are indeed the friction that brings creativity to a halt. Non-doing does not only apply to writing, it applies to life itself. It is the cornerstone of a spiritual existence, it is the flexibility that water exhibits, it is not thinking oneself into a corner, and it is not taking oneself too seriously.

Why are you immune from all the pitfalls of being a writer? I hear you wonder, along with a string of curses and vicious invective that is better left unsaid. But the truth is I’m not. I continue to fall into all the traps that bedevil you, and many, many more of my own invention. This is probably the reason I refuse to think of myself as a normal writer anymore, because as a normal writer I was at war with the blank page, and the best thing I ever learned to do, was to make peace with it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest Bloggers

Guest Blogger Phyllis Zimbler Miller Talks Internet Block

What You Should KnowInstead of Writer’s Block I Had Internet Block

by Internet Marketing Expert Phyllis Zimbler Miller

My ebook What You Should Know About the Launch of an Online Information Product resulted from the month-long article series I did for my National Internet Business Examiner site at http://www.InternetBizBlogger.com .

This series described the pre-launch steps I took along with my company partner Yael Miller to set up a membership site on our WordPress website http://www.MillerMosaicLLC.com for the July 1st launch of our information product – the Miller Mosaic Internet Marketing Program.

Thus the actual writing of the ebook wasn’t the problem. The problem? The new software and other functions we had to learn in order to achieve our goal.

An example of our experienced Internet block: Machines are not people, and I said in my Day 19 article:

When you are setting up an information product launch that requires different software programs to work together, it’s important to remember that you are dealing with what I call “machine think.”

Thus we would set up software applications and test them out. And sometimes what was correct software functioning was not correct for people functioning.

Or we would call our shopping cart support staff only to find out that something someone had told us to do could interfere with the working of something else.

A constant tug-of-war between opposing functions and end goals. And meanwhile I wanted to write easy-to-understand explanations in my Examiner.com articles.

Sometimes the problem was simply language – thus in the article for Day 25 I wrote:

Terms in the Internet business world are somewhat fluid. I wanted to talk about landing pages in this post, and I found three different definitions all purportedly about landing pages.

In this case of landing pages I described what I was talking about regardless of what the concept is called.

The bottom line of this month-long experience? I’m very pleased that Yael and I were able to overcome Internet block. And the resulting ebook provides valuable information for people:

• planning to launch their own online information product and/or
• who want to better understand internet marketing in order to promote their brand, book or business

Throughout the entire series/ebook I relied on one of my strengths: Making things clear to people for whom material is new. I reviewed everything I wrote with this question in mind: If someone had never heard of this subject before, would he/she be able to follow my explanation?

Here’s a personal story of how confusing things can be for newcomers:

The first time I heard someone say JV in a teleseminar I thought the reference was to a school’s junior varsity team. And the first time I heard someone say VA I thought the reference was to the Veterans Administration. (Now I know JV means joint venture as in joint venture partner and VA mean virtual assistant.)

Both the ebook What You Should Know About the Launch of an Online Information Product and the Miller Mosaic Internet Marketing Program launched July 1st (see http://budurl.com/marketingonweb ) are designed to help newcomers deal with Internet block.

What You Should Know About the Launch of an Online Information Product is available at http://budurl.com/productlaunchebook.

PhyllisPhyllis Zimbler Miller is a National Internet Business Examiner at www.InternetBizBlogger.com and heads www.MillerMosaicLLC.com, an internet marketing company that helps people promote their brand, book or business. On July 1st the company launched its Miller Mosaic Internet Marketing Program. Follow her at www.twitter.com/ZimblerMiller and www.facebook.com/PhyllisZimblerMiller

Leave a comment

Filed under Guest Bloggers

Interview with Christian Fiction Author Jimmy Root, Jr.

Jimmy RootJimmy Root Jr., author of Distant Thunder: Book One of the Lightning Chronicles is a life-long student of Bible prophecy and has connected ancient prophecies with world events in a fast-paced fiction thriller. Jimmy has been an ordained Pastor since 1982 and has served churches in Nebraska and Missouri. He and his family also served for five years in Colombia, South America as a church planter and educator. He is an alumnus of Central Bible College of Springfield, Missouri, and Southeastern University of Lakeland, Florida majoring in Theology and Cultural Studies. Raised in the Mid-West, Jimmy is an outdoorsman and sports enthusiast. He is an aficionado of the military thriller genre and is an avid blogger as well as an author. More can be discovered about Distant Thunder and the Lightning Chronicles series by visiting his website at: http://www.lightningchronicles.com.  He also hosts a blog dealing with current world events and their relationship to Bible prophecy at: www.prophecyaler.blogspot.com, as well as a writer’s blog at: www.lightningchronicles.blogspot.com.

Distant ThunderQ: Thank you for this interview, Jimmy. Can you tell us what your latest book, Distant Thunder, is all about?

A:   You are Welcome. Distant Thunder is the first book of a Prophetic Fiction trilogy called The Lightning Chronicles. The story poses a question that I believe needs to be asked: What would happen if radical terrorists somehow got their hands on tactical nuclear weapons, and then used them against both America and Israel? It is a frightening scenario that is becoming more and more plausible in light of current world events. But in the midst of unimaginable terror and tragedy, two unsung heroes rise to extraordinary heights as they begin to understand that everything has been prophesied.

Two main characters form the storylines of Distant Thunder. Moshe Eldan is an Israeli F-16 “Lightning” fighter pilot who is doing his best to defend his country against the latest cycle of attacks. Unbeknownst to him, the greatest horror imaginable is waiting in the form of a nuclear tipped missile. Moshe finds himself in an unlooked for journey toward faith as he attempts to save his people.

The other character is a man named Ty Dempsey. His story is a bit closer to home. He is a suburban Kansas City pastor who, in working through the grief of losing his younger brother to the war in Iraq, has begun to discover the ancient prophecies of Ezekiel. So enthralled is he by the information that he preaches the prophecies to his congregation. Some of his people listen and are interested. Others, however, do not want the status quo of their comfortable lives challenged by something they consider allegorical in nature. A good old fashioned church conflict ensues. Ty decides to stay the course in face of tremendous opposition and is ultimately vindicated when nearby Kansas City is the target of a terrorist attack. Moshe and Ty become connected throughout the story in strange, spiritual ways that will only increase as the series progresses.

Q: Is this your first novel?  If not, how has writing this novel different from writing your first?

A:  Yes, Distant Thunder is my first novel, and what a blast it was to write it and see it published.

Q: How difficult was it writing your book?  Did you ever experience writer’s block and, if so, what did you do?

A:  It was not difficult at all, at least not until the editor got hold of it. Then the writing got serious. It was truly an exhilarating experience. I never experienced writer’s block during the process. I think that is because a large part of writing involves research. I might get hung up in the story simply because I need to delve a little deeper into what is between the lines of the story, but it all flows as the details fall into place.

Q: How have your fans embraced your latest novel?  Do you have any funny or unusual experiences to share?

A:  Very much so. With a first novel, one never knows how it is going to be received. But so far, I have had nothing but positive and exciting feedback. The funniest came from a US Air Force fighter pilot who also served as a combat instructor. Much of Distant Thunder revolves around an Israeli F-16 fighter pilot complete with several segments of air-to-air combat. This particular pilot picked up the book with skepticism written all over his face. You see, I have never even touched a fighter plane, let along fly one. I’m not a pilot. All I have is a computer flight simulator. But not three weeks went by before this guy emailed me with a one liner. “I can’t believe you nailed it.” The next time I saw him he just shook his head. Since then, other pilots have commented that the aerial sequences are accurate and thrilling.

Q: What is your daily writing routine?

A:  There’s no doubt that writing takes discipline. However, I am also a full-time Pastor of a vibrant congregation. That takes up the bulk of my days and weeks. Therefore, I have been forced to carve out my noon hour specifically for writing on my novels, and my evening or early morning times for working on my blogs.

Q: When you put the pen or mouse down, what do you do to relax?

A: Oddly, writing for me is relaxing. But I also have a few hobbies. I love to fish and hunt. Gardening is a great source of peace and quiet, and I am a passionate football fan.

Q: What book changed your life?

A: As with most students I had to read many of the classics during my high school years. But when I was 17 years old, my dad gave me a set of books called The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. I was hooked. That was thirty-three years ago, and since then, I have read Tolkien’s masterpiece nineteen or twenty times. What a work of art!

Q: If someone were to write a book on your life, what would the title be?

A:  That’s a great question, and difficult to answer, mainly because I’m not that introspective. So, as with any wise man, I consulted my wife. Here is her response concerning the title of my life. “Saddle-up Your Horse: We’ve Got a Trail to Blaze.”  I suppose that fits. I am a self-starter, am self-motivated, and love to create.

Q: Finish this sentence: “The one thing that I wish people would understand about me is…”

A:  “…I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I believe and live that verse. It is my driving force.

Thank you for this interview Jimmy.  I wish you much success on your latest release, Distant Thunder!

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Interviews

Guest Blogger: Newsweek Editor & Pulitzer Prize Winner Jon Meacham

Jon_MeachamToday’s guest post is by Newsweek editor, Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.  Thank you for your post, Jon!

Guest Blog by Jon Meacham on Andrew Jackson and the Controversy Surrounding Him

The punch saved the day. On the afternoon March 4, 1829, Andrew Jackson’s supporters, thrilled that Old Hickory had ended the reign of the unpopular son of another president, joyfully swarmed the White House, destroying carpets and crockery before being lured out of the windows by strategically placed buckets of punch. “Here was the corpulent epicure grunting and sweating for breath,” reported the New York Spectator, “the dandy wishing he had no toes—the tight-laced Miss, fearing her person might receive some permanently deforming impulse—the miser hunting for his pocket-book—the courtier looking for his watch—and the offie-seeker in agony to reach the President.” Establishment Washington was horrified, and Jackson’s aides had to form a protective circle around the new president in order to get him back to safety at his hotel. It was mayhem; “the whole house,” said Margaret Bayard Smith, a longtime Washington observer, was “inundated by the rabble mob.” There was, though, another way of looking at the matter. Perhaps, just perhaps, after six presidents from the upper reaches of American life, democracy—Jacksonian democracy—was making its stand.

I wanted to write about Andrew Jackson not only because of what he once meant, but what he means even now. History is not a clinical undertaking. The past, as William Faulkner once wrote, is never dead; it isn’t even past. To understand Jackson is to understand ourselves—the good and the bad, the light and the dark, the hope and the tragedy.

American LionEvery president since Old Hickory has worked in the shadow of, and stood on the shoulders of, Jackson, a man who is at once ubiquitous yet unfamiliar in the first decade of the 21st century. Think this may be overstated? Look no farther than the 2008 presidential campaign, one in which both candidates evoked elements of Jackson’s character and persona. Barack Obama was a change candidate, the nominee of the party Jackson founded, who would come to Washington, as Jackson did, to clean house. John McCain was a noble warrior who bears the scars of combat, a hawkish politician with a notable temper who is also capable of great human warmth.

Soldier, brawler, duelist, lover and politician, Andrew Jackson was the first American president to be the target of assassination, and the only one to attack his assailant. Tough and wily, passionate and canny, Jackson created the modern presidency, rewriting the script of American life to give the people a larger voice in its affairs than the Founding Fathers—who preferred government by elites over mass democracy—envisioned. Before Jackson it was possible to think of America without taking the role of the people into account; after him such a thing was inconceivable. As Harry Truman once said, “He looked after the little guy who had no pull, and that’s what a president is supposed to do.”

The challenges he face resonate in our own age. He believed the financial sector of the American economy was spoiled, corrupt and bad for the overall health of the nation, and so he destroyed, at great length, great drama and great cost, the Bank of the United States. He wanted the country to be a respected force around the world, and so he was quick to send forces to confront pirates, and he engaged in an epic diplomatic battle against France when the Chamber of Deputies refused to pay money it owed the United States. He thought the American Union sacred, and so he threatened civil war to put down radicals in South Carolina who were considering moves that could lead to secession. He was convinced that church and state should remain separate, and so he resisted calls for the formation of a “Christian party in politics,” and was troubled by ministers who involved themselves in politics.

He was the first truly self-made man to become president. Jackson was, to put it kindly, no scholar. When Harvard University voted to give the seventh president an honorary degree in 1833, a Massachusetts newspaper wrote that he deserved “an A. S. S.” as well as an “L. L. D.” From afar, the man Jackson had defeated for the White House, John Quincy Adams, was horrified his alma mater was recognizing a man he thought a barbarian who could barely spell his own name.

What could he teach the next president? Here are five lessons that President McCain or President Obama might usefully heed from Old Hickory:

Talk to people outside the Washington bubble. There was no Beltway in Jackson’s time, but there was an insular capital culture that could create divisions between Washington and the rest of the country. The White House can be lonely, isolating and distorting: presidents only hear good news from subordinates and criticism from foes. Jackson understood this, and often received members of the public as well as old friends, and he traveled every year to the shore in Virginia and back to his farm, the Hermitage, in Nashville, staying at hotels and public houses along the way. This way he could hear what real people were saying and get a sense of what real people were feeling—a crucial element in the art of democratic leadership. He also kept up a stream of correspondence with people around the country. No president will ever get as much unvarnished advice as he needs—the urge to defer to the man in power softens even the strongest of advisers—but Jackson found ways to learn more than he would have if he had simply depended on his staff.

Position yourself as the voice of the many. Jackson was the first president to assert that he was “the direct representative of the American people,” and he created a dramatic narrative in which he was the champion of the masses fighting corrupt elites—and he decided who to call a corrupt elite. Whether his foes were South Carolina radicals, the aristocratic Bank of the United States, or France, he always claimed the moral high ground. It drove his enemies crazy, but emboldened and motivated his own supporters beyond measure.

Turn your vices into virtues. Jackson was, to say the least, a hot-tempered man. (He carried two bullets in his body from duels and gunfights over matters of honor, and threatened to hang his own vice president.) But he was wise enough to know how to make this possible disadvantage an advantage. Once, during a crisis over the future of the Bank of the United States, he frightened a group of callers who had come to ask for economic relief. They left, terrified that to cross the president was fatal, and thus they moved closer to his position. After they left, Jackson’s apparent fury evaporated instantly. “Didn’t I manage them well?” he smilingly asked an aide. It had all been for show—and he got his way.

Control the message. Irritated by the coverage he was receiving from the partisan papers of the day, Jackson did not just whine about the press: he did something about it, founding his own newspaper, the Washington Globe. Often dictating stories and mapping out political strategy with its editors, Jackson was able to present his case in an unfiltered way to a broad audience. (It would be as though McCain founded Fox News or Obama created NPR.)

Appear inflexible—while being flexible. Jackson was an implacable defender of the Union against early Southern moves that could have led to secession. With thundering proclamations, he threatened the radicals with military invasion—he said he would personally lead the troops into South Carolina—but behind the scenes he cautioned the Union forces against precipitating any bloodshed, and in Congress his administration quietly produced legislation that ultimately defused the crisis peaceably. Old Hickory had won again.

FDR once said that Jackson was always relevant because the battles he fought—for the people against the privileged, for democracy, and for Union—were battles that face every generation. They certainly face ours. Here’s hoping the spirit of Jackson will help us see the way forward.

Jon Meacham is the editor of Newsweek and author of American Lion and the New York Times bestsellers Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship and American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. He lives in New York City with his wife and children. You can visit his website at www.jonmeacham.com.

1 Comment

Filed under Guest Bloggers