In the American republican tradition, the president is supposed to be an exemplary citizen. Not necessarily perfect: Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her study of four significant presidents, includes Lyndon B Johnson, a dangerous egotist who embroiled his country in the Vietnam War and broke the bank in the process. But even LBJ was an example of self-actualisation, a man who got to the top through ability and will. He won a place in Congress by rising earlier, travelling further and meeting more voters than anyone else. When he first came to Washington, DC, he moved into a hotel packed with congressional staff, taking ‘four separate showers in the shared bathroom his first night to engage as many people as possible; the next morning he brushed his teeth every ten minutes’. He asked Lady Bird to marry him on their second date. ‘I am ambitious, proud, energetic and madly in love with you,’ he said. ‘We either get married now or we never will.’ So they did. And why, pray, can’t I meet someone like that?
Goodwin’s other presidents are Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D Roosevelt, charismatic individuals who faced adversity, learned from it and applied the lessons to governance. The conceit might sound a little trite but Goodwin is one of the greatest US historians alive and her knowledge of the subject is