News & Politics

Southpaws Rule! At Least in the White House

Left, left, right, left. It might sound like a dance, but it’s actually the past four presidents picking up their pens.

For 20 of the past 28 years, a left-handed president has led the nation. Presidents Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton were left-handed. President-elect Obama will continue the tradition.

A few generations ago, being left-handed was thought so undesirable that all schoolchildren were forced to write with their right hands. Today, left-handers make up about 10 percent of the US population—but six of the past 12 presidents, including Obama, have favored the left. Even among presidential aspirants the percentage is high, with the 1992 election featuring an all-southpaw choice of Bush, Clinton, or Ross Perot. This time around, Obama beat fellow leftie John McCain.

“Being right-handed has not exactly been a harbinger of presidential success,” says American University history professor Allan Lichtman. He says evidence shows left-handed people to be high achievers, deep thinkers, and skilled speakers and notes that right-handers Jimmy Carter and George W. were “two of the least-esteemed presidents in modern history.”

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This article first appeared in the January 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here