Thursday, September 25, 2008

Judging Presidential Greatness

Everything about this campaign seems to be built on what people already believe. You're going to believe Bill Clinton is the devil based on preconceived notions of his personal politics, and those of the Democratic Party in general. It would be the rare person indeed who set aside those preconceived notions to actually look at what Clinton did as president, and how well the country fared under his stewardship. And, yes, the same goes for the "other side": if you already think that so-called trickle-down economics is a flawed policy, you're going to think Ronald Reagan was just about the worst president in history, probably without acknowledging any positive impact he may have had.

However, as we delve back into history, it seems that presidents are actually judged according to their record of accomplishment. The distance of time makes it possible to say "Yes, this was a good president," or "No, this guy was completely useless." I tried to take a look at some of those men.

1) George Washington (1789-1797) - Our first president, the Father of our country, belonged to no political party. It's kinda hard to find any fault with this guy, since no one had held the job before.
2) Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) - Tommy belonged to the Democratic-Republican Party (confusing, ain't it?), which was the dominant party in the new U.S.A. until the mid-1800s. Their chief "enemy" was the Federalist Party. Eventually, the D-R Party split into factions...the only one of which to survive was the modern Democratic Party. I guess that means, historically, Jefferson was a Democrat. As well as being the author of the Declaration of Independence...and having no head for finance whatsoever.
3) James Madison (1809-1817) - A Democratic-Republican, Madison was the principal author of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the "Father" of the Bill of Rights. He was the last of the Founding Fathers to die.
4) Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) - Honest Abe is a tough call. After several decades of forgettable men - and the rise to prominence of the Whig Party - Lincoln is often referred to as the founder of the modern Republican Party. And so Republicans LOVE to claim him as one of their own. The problem is, he was only ELECTED as a Republican once! For his second election he ran as the candidate from the National Union Party, a direct outgrowth of the Civil War: Lincoln backers PLUS "Northern Democrats" who wanted to abolish slavery and keep the Union intact. (Republicanism itself was founded on anti-slavery as a platform...making civil rights the centerpiece of party belief.) Lincoln was a lawyer who served 4 successive terms in the Illinois State Legislature (as a Whig) and a single term as U.S. Congressman (also as a Whig) before he was elected president. (Which rather invalidates complaints that Barack Obama doesn't have the "experience" necessary to be president!) As congressman, he spoke out against the Mexican-American war, deeming it a charade to serve President Polk's desire for "military glory." Pretty progressive! And, pretty much out of step with a party who likes to claim itself as "the party of Lincoln!"
5) U.S. Grant (1869-1877) - A Republican, now regarded as being "okay" because of his strong support for civil rights for blacks. However, history has long ridiculed his tolerance of inter-party corruption, and he's generally regarded as being on the low end of presidential strength.
6) Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) - A Democrat strong on national defense: namely, he defended our country during WWI. He also placed great confidence in his second wife, Edith Galt. History has long sought to find out just how much she actually did following Wilson's stroke...there are several documents that bear HER signature, as if she was "acting" in his stead!
7) Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) - A Republican who is often looked down upon as being one of our worst presidents. While he was very popular while in office, his administration was rocked by bribery and scandal that Harding himself was "unable to stop."
8) Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) - A Republican who isn't necessarily viewed as "evil." Yet, he was utterly unable to do anything worthwhile economically with the Depression. Perhaps indicative of Republican policy failure? Or, simply a sad case of being the wrong guy at the right time.
9) Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) - A Democrat who is generally lauded as the chief villain of "Big Government" by Republicans. YET: the policies he instituted dug the country out of the Depression. And, oh yeah, he defended our country during WWII.
10) Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) - Wanna talk about being strong on national defense? Here's a simple Democrat who saw the end of WWII...up to and including the use of nuclear war on Japan.
11) Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) - Say what you will about the social "regressiveness" of 50s-era America (where men wanted to come home to work, and they wanted their women pregnant and cooking), this Republican is one of the more successful presidents of the 20th Century. His policies were responsible for building the interstate highway system. As a social progressive, Ike kept ALL the New Deal programs (including a massive enlargement of Social Security), and after agreeing with the Brown vs. Board of Ed desegregation decision made Washington D.C. a model for the country by demanding the integration of black & white students in the city. He also proposed and signed the Civil Rights Act. HERE'S a Republican I'd be happy to vote for these days!
12) John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) - A complicated Democrat, at once practicing a rather reprehensible personal life, while at the same time providing a forward-looking hope to the new generation who elected him. I think his presidency will always be shaded by the rose-colored lenses through which we view his assassination, but at the very least he prevented nuclear war with Russia.
13) Richard Nixon (1969-1974) - We're getting recent enough for the events by which we judge presidential "goodness" to be too close to home. For instance: Nixon is, by most honest political accounts, the last "true" Republican president, at least according to their long-held party platform of social advancement and fiscal conservatism. Nixon got us INTO China and (eventually) OUT of Vietnam, but as a person he seemed power-hungry and loathsome. Of course, all we remember now is the disgrace of his forced resignation due to the Watergate scandal.
14) Ronald Reagan (1980-1989) - And finally we come to Regan. He is seen by the Right as a saviour, and by the Left as the Antichrist. Ron had superb humor and a genuine ability to come across as likeable. (Hey, he's an actor, right?) But, consider: he successfully married the GOP to Christian conservatives, flaunting all that the Founding Fathers sought to evade in the creation of our very country. He was consistent in his desire to castrate organized labor. He instigated a system of "trickle-down" economics, whereby keeping the rich RICH was supposed to allow money to trickle down to lower-class people...a failed policy that we're still reeling from today.

Voting for president isn't about finding a "connection" with the candidate. Who gives a shit about a "connection??" That's phenomenally shallow when considering the next leader of the country. Look at the policies that the candidate espouses, and try to figure out which of those policies would better advance your version of The American Dream.


Blogger L*I*S*A said...

My candidate of choice doesn't have a lipstick-wearing hockey mom attached to the ticket.

'Nuf said.

10:54 AM  

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