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Monday, February 19, 2007

Presidents' Day

Here's a link to all of the Presidential Libraries. It, and the holiday, got me thinking about how I would rank the Presidents. Thing is, though, while I REMEMBER all the Presidents, and their years in office (very useful if you ever go on a game show), I don't always recall just what they DID. I could look it up, but why do that when I have you to fill in the holes?
Washington- the Kelly Clarkson or Richard Hatch of Presidents. It's tough being first. He could have turned the office into a quasi-monarchy. That he didn't serves us well. He also came up with that two-term idea.
J. Adams- The fact is that I'm not recalling much other than the Alien & Sedition Act
Jefferson-I think he gets a lot of points for his pre-Presidential stuff, like that Declaration thing. It's so fortunate that Napoleon was so hung up on holding on to Haiti that he'd sell Louisiana to us for a relative pittance.
Madison- Of all the wars the US ever fought, the one I probably understand the least is the War of 1812.
Monroe-He had some doctrine that said, "Europe, stay out of the Americas! It's our turf now!" And, over the years, we've acted accordingly.
J.Q. Adams- Strange. I remember his controversial 1824 election, and his subsequent service (and death) in the House, but his Presidency doesn't register.
Jackson- The guy who appears on the $20 bill wasn't that fond of the national bank. He also believed in the spoils system.
Van Buren-the Herbert Hoovers of his half century, with the downturn in 1837, probably not his fault.
W.H. Harrison-Gave a killer of an inaugural speech.
Tyler-As the first person to become President after not being elected President, don't think he had much leverage. (But his post-Presidential career really weirded out some guy in Buffalo.)
Polk-I read recently someone comparing his adventurism in Mexico to GW Bush's actions in Iraq.
Taylor-Was he poisoned?
Fillmore-The last of the Whig Presidents (4 guys, 8 years). Don't remember if the Fugitive Slave Laws were passed under his tenure or his predecessor's. The guy pictured, as though you didn't know.
Pierce-Another one of those ineffectual antebellum Presidents. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing new states whether they'll be slave or free, didn't help the situation.
Buchanan-The "bachelor" President. Way out of his league in stopping the war, or maybe it was inevitable.
Lincoln-On the one hand, he saved the Union. On the other hand, he used tactics suspending liberties that the current occupant seems to have purloined.
A. Johnson-From a different party from Lincoln. Impeached and almost convicted. Grant-Was he sober by then?
Hayes-One of my least favorite Presidents. Not only did the 1876 election vs. Tilden make Florida in 2000 seem like due process at its finest, but the end of Reconstruction was disastrous for freed blacks, as the rise of the KKK and other groups took place.
Garfield-Lived a while after being shot, which probably ground the government to a halt.
Arthur-Seemed like a competent public servant.
Cleveland-Definitely need to read up on this - I remember labor and currency issues abounded in the 1880s and 1890s -
B. Harrison-But I'm not remembering...
Cleveland-...the major issues of these administrations.
McKinley-Definitely the hard money, backed by gold, issue. Also the Spanish-American War.
T. Roosevelt-Environmental stuff, didn't shoot a baby bear, won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the Russo-Japanese War. One of my faves.
Taft-Even though he was TR's VP, TR was so ticked off by him that he ran as a third party, giving the election to the Democrats.
Wilson-Kept us out of war, for his first term. Got us into war in his second. Was too ill to really push the League of Nations.
Harding-The first President elected after women's suffrage, and I recall some historian saying "See? See? They should have had the vote," as though they voted for him because he was (arguably) good looking. Teapot Dome.
Coolidge-Don't know. They called him Silent Cal.
Hoover-Depression. If he never became President, he would have remembered much more kindly by history.
F.D. Roosevelt-Term 1: great programs to try to get folks out of the Depression. Term 2: the great overreach, with the Supreme Court packing plan. Term 3: TERM 3? WWII, of course. Term 4: TERM 4?! Died early on.
Truman-Dropped the A-bomb (yuck), instituted the Marshall Plan for post-war Europe (yay), was declared politically dead in '48 (but wasn't), fired MacArthur over Korea.
Eisenhower-selected Earl Warren to head the Supreme Court (apparently to his later chagrin). Sent troops into Little Rock, which is probably the first event I remember separate from things immediately in my life.
Kennedy-On one hand, Bay of Pigs; on the other, the successful (and ultimately peaceful) 13 days in October. On one hand, VietNam; on the other, coming around on civil rights, especially after the August '63 March on Washington.
L.B. Johnson- Great Society (Medicare/Medicaid), civil rights, VietNam. But guns and butter didn't work. In some ways, nearly as tragic as Nixon.
Nixon-EPA, China on the one hand; VietNam and Watergate on the other. He's better than I thought at the time, or maybe his successors are worse than I could have imagined.
Ford-Revisionists now praise him for his courage in pardoning Nixon. I'm not convinced yet.
Carter-I thought he was saying a lot of the right things about conservation. Perhaps he didn't communicate them well enough: his Moral Equivalent Of War became dubbed as MEOW. Then the 11/4/79 capture of the hostages in Iran sealed his fate.
Reagan-At the time, I thought he ought to have been king. He was a great cheerleader for America. His greatest accomplishment was surviving the assassination attempt in good spirits, for it generated the political capital to propel his budget-busting tax cuts in that first year that the election alone would not have provided. 200+ dead in Lebanon? Invade Grenada! After VietNam and Watergate, he discerned America needed a win! Even if it was some place most of them never heard of. Reagan was also helped, oddly, by the Carter-directed boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, for when the Soviet bloc retaliated at the 1984 Olympics in L.A., the US really cleaned up. Born in the U.S.A. indeed.
The fact that I disliked Reagan more than any President in my lifetime, over Star Wars, Iran-Contra, his positions on race, doesn't negate the fact that, in large part, that people seem to have bought his message.
G.H.W. Bush-The ex-head of the CIA made me nervous going in. "100 points of light" SOUNDED good, but I'm sure that it really translated into policy. History, though, will be kinder to him, though, because while he did engage in war with Iraq, he didn't invade Baghdad, which would show the geopolitical wisdom the next Republican President would seem to lack.
Clinton-"The first black President" - don't know where that came from, but it annoyed the crap out me. Oh, where was I? Oh yeah, Clinton's Presidency. First two years - a disaster over health care and "Don't ask, don't tell." His successes in balancing the budget, albeit it with a Repub Congress will stand out. Monicagate, and the fact that THAT was the source of his IMPEACHMENT (as opposed to, say, a successor's twisting of the truth to go to war) should make historians chuckle. I remember very specifically, during that mess, when he tried, and failed, to get Osama bin Ladin, and the general consensus was that it was a ploy to distract us from the importance of the stained blue dress.
G.W. Bush- After 9/11, with the world united behind the United States, this President had the opportunity to be a great President. And he blew it. Won't even get into his dismal environmental record, which is actually mildly surprising, given his reasonably positive record - I hear - as Texas governor. Or his suspension of liberties, for which the Repub Congress in his first six years must share the blame.

O.K. - so the best Presidents, just based on their terms in office, not before or after- it's hard not to put Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and the Roosevelts in some order. The worst? Aside from those who died too quickly (W.H. Harrison, Garfield), it's difficult not to put those Presidents immediately before and after the Civil War, and of course, Harding. I'd pick Pierce, Buchanan, A. Johnson, Hayes, and old Warren G., in some order. Since his term isn't over, I won't muse about the current occupant as Rolling Stone did, but, absent a miracle in the next two years, bottom five land seems certain. Lucky Franklin Pierce.
Here's what historians think, and more importantly, what Gay Prof thinks.


GayProf said...

Well, that pretty sums them all up. Hoover, though, would probably not be well regarded even if he didn't become president. After all, it was many of his economic policies (i.e. support business, screw the citizen) that compounded the U.S. Depression. Once President, though, he decided to blame others for the economic collapse (particularly Mexican immigrants -- Gee, we wouldn't hear that again...).

Nik said...

I've always been oddly fascinated by the "loser" Presidents like Pierce, Buchanan and Harding - there's been some interesting fictional accounts written around them, like Glen Carter Gold's "Carter Beats The Devil" and John Updike's "Memories Of the Ford Administration" (which despite the title, actually includes lengthy patches on Buchanan's life)

EM said...

Nixon was the first president I remember. I would read the stories about Watergate in the paper when I would eat breakfast before going to school.

There was a pretty good (for the History Channel)doc on about the Nixon presidency this weekend. Focused on the whole presidency and not just Watergate.

There were some things he did--EPA, Black Lung benefits (I live in a coal-mining state), emphasis on drug treatment as a crime prevention method--which were actually laudable. Bob Dole made the comment that Nixon would actually be too liberal for today's Republican party!

Ford, all I remember are the assasination attempts and Chevy Chase.

Reagan had one of the most scandal-ridden administrations in history, above and beyond Iran-Contra. I remember a Time magazine cover story "Whatever happened to ethics?" in response to something or another in his administration. People forget that in the rush to villify Clinton and canonize Reagan. Why hewasn't impeached is beyond me.

The thing that I will always remember Reagan for, however, is the thousands of people in this country who died while he refused to address the scourge of AIDS.

Let's also not forget that Clinton was responsible for the Defense of Marriage Act.