“As America’s first Pacific president,” said President Obama in Tokyo, “I promise you that this Pacific nation will strengthen and sustain our leadership in this vitally important part of the world.”
It is true that the president was born in Hawaii (sorry, birthers), lived from ages six to ten in Indonesia, and attended a Honolulu prep school. But he is not our first Pacific president. Richard Nixon was born in California in 1913, and spent much more of his life in the Pacific region than the current president has. Moreover, while Barack Obama made his career in Chicago and Springfield, Ronald Reagan made his in Los Angeles and Sacramento.
And the incumbent is hardly the first chief executive to have lived in another Pacific Rim country. William Howard Taft was governor-general of the Philippines. Dwight Eisenhower had military postings in the Philippines and the Panama Canal Zone. Herbert Hoover worked as a mining engineer in Australia and China; he even learned to speak Mandarin. Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Bush 41 all served in the Pacific during the Second World War. What they did as adults was perhaps more consequential than what Obama did as a child.
– John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.