Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Worst. President. Ever?
Mirror, mirror on the wall..who's the worst president of all?
As the Bush Administration winds into its last few months with the president's approval ratings heading south of 30%, there's been a slew of online polls and articles lately asking that very question.
I fully intend to let the members of Joshua's Army and our assorted guests weigh in on this one in the comments section, but first, as usual, you have to put up with me first. Buy the ticket, take the ride like I always say.
I have a rather different way of analyzing this question than the sort of leftard, deconstructionist academic that passes for a historian too often these days. I still have this primitive regard for facts...and for cause and effect when it comes to historical patterns.And unlike them, I have absolutely no interest in manipulating 2+2 to make 5 if it happens to fit my political agenda.
We've had some great men in charge of our Republic,and we've also had our share of waterheads, thieves and political hacks. It tends to average out in our favor - at least so far. And sometimes, they've been one and the same person. Even the best ones have had their share of stupidity and outright greed, and some of the worst, rottenest misfits ever to sit in the Oval office have occasionally had their good days.
So, what's my criteria for worst? Which presidents should we consign to Dante's lowest Circle of Hell, a spot for utterly failed politicians?
Simple, says I...whomever did the most lasting and deep-seated harm to the country as a whole.
Under my criteria, figureheads like Harding, Grant and Garfield don't quite qualify. While their administrations had a major stench of corruption about them,they all occurred at a time when the damage to America as a whole was minimal. Some money changed hands that shouldn't have,but neither the nation's basic fabric,it's image of itself nor its overall security was threatened.
Ditto on überprogressive Woodrow Wilson and his wife, who was actually the president for almost a year when he became incapacitated. Their truly frightening ideas on reordering American society at home and its sovereignty abroad never really caught on with the American people or with Congress, so the actual damage was limited, and the American public got a good lesson on why academics make lousy presidents.
Richard Nixon is another name that comes up frequently, proof that the dinosaur media isn't entirely extinct yet.While Nixon's major and far reaching accomplishments in office almost succeed in dwarfing his oafish attempt to cover up what amounted to a simple breaking and entering, the fact remains that the hysterical bleating in the media on the national soap opera that Watergate became led to what amounted to an American crisis of confidence, and the subsequent election to Congress of some of the most anti-American know-nothing legislators in its history, some of whom are still there, trying to eat away at the foundations of our beloved Republic like termites on benzedrine.
Based on that, Nixon almost makes the list, but not quite, since it was the reaction to his misdeeds that was so out of proportion that caused the damage, rather than the deeds themselves. And frankly, for all of Nixon's kinky paranoia and inability to work the media, there's enough stuff on the positive side of the ledger to make putting him on the list an injustice.
So, all that aside, who do I have in mind for Worst.President.ever? Here are my nominees, in no particular order:
1) James Buchanan - For sheer deer-in-the-headlights frozen inaction while looking head on at an oncoming train wreck, its hard to beat James Buchanan, who occupied the White House as a Democrat from 1857-1861. He was mainly elected because Millard Fillmore and the anti-immigrant Know-Nothings split the Republican/Abolitionist vote in 1856 and because he had no baggage on the slavery issue one way or the other, having been US Ambassador to the Court of St. James in England during the Kansas/Nebraska debate.
That perception changed quickly once Buchanan was in the saddle, since he felt his best bet politically was to simply appease the slavery interests, rather than trying to actually work out a reasonable solution while it was still possible. He unashamedly lobbied for the Dred Scott decision in the Supreme Court, which is now widely characterized as sheer politics that had little to do with the Constitution as such, asserting that Congress had no constitutional power to exclude slavery in the territories being added to the US. Given the political climate, this actually had the effect of radicalizing both sides of the slavery question, no mean feat. His ham fisted support of the Lecompton Constitution in Kansas, which would have admitted Kansas as a slave state even though the voters in Kansas rejected it was a another step along the same road, and led to a shooting war there.
Not that Buchanan was anti-war when it suited him - with the right people. One of his dubious accomplishments was to send US troops to war against Brigham Young and the Mormons in Utah, an exercise that achieved absolutely nothing except a few US casualties, the most expensive war in US history up to that time and the futile involvement of a large part of the American Army half way across the continent in an attempt to suppress the Mormons when they might have been better employed dealing with the Southern militias that were forming at the time a lot closer to home.
Those militias training and arming themselves and the fact that a number of political figures in the South were openly advocating secession was not exactly a secret to the Buchanan administration..which did absolutely nothing about it. Buchanan's bright idea to deal with the problem came out in a speech to Congress on December 3, 1860, in which he denied that states had the legal right to secede from the Union - but that the Federal Government legally had no right to prevent it!
After that bit of wisdom, South Carolina took the hint and seceded from the union on December 20,1860 followed by six other southern states,who formed the basis of the Confederate States of America. And before Buchanan left office, virtually every major arsenal and military base in the South had been captured, and civil war was inevitable, given the passions that had arisen on both sides thanks to Buchanan's failures in office.
If it's possible to blame the Civil War on one man, James Buchanan is about as close as you're going to come. Yecch!
2) Jimmy Carter - No, they don't hardly make `em like Jimmah no more...thank G-d. An utterly ineffectual hack as a governor, he was voted into office in the backwash of Watergate, when Satan himself could probably have been elected president running as a Democrat.In four years, he managed to appoint some of the most whacked out Federal judges in America's history and practically destroy the CIA and the military. He also found time to mismanage the nation's economy in almost comic fashion unless you were somebody who needed to finance a car or a home loan at double digit interest rates or was trying to survive on a fixed income during massive inflation. Then, the humor of the situation had a way of escaping you.
Even more comically, Carter went on national TV to blame his screw ups on 'America's malaise.'
In foreign policy, President Carter was loved by the UN and assorted radical terrorists everywhere, while being humiliated by the commies all over the world. In the Middle East, he ended up alienating one key US ally, Israel, by smooching and cooing with Yasir Arafat. His one supposed achievement, the Israeli-Egyptian peace accords, was actually worked out long before Carter got involved by Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin in meetings in Jerusalem and Madrid. Jimmah mostly provided the photo-op, and a US $2.5 billion stipend to the Egyptians that continues to this day.
Meanwhile, he was cutting the legs out from under our other ally in the region, the Shah of Iran with massive criticisms and arm twisting. Carter's coup de grace to the Shah was to pave the way for the Ayatollah Khomenei's takeover and the Islamic Revolution by successfully pressuring the Shah to allow Khomenei back into Iran. We're still dealing with the consequences of that idiocy today.
Carter got a brief spurt in popularity from the Iranian Hostage crisis, when his fellow American united behind him as they usually do when some stinkin' foreigners get out of line. That spurt turned to major derision when they realized that Carter was about as good at dealing with the Iranians as he was at dealing with the US economy, and President Jimmah was unceremoniously booted out of office after one term, mutating into the Cwazy Unkie Jimmy of today.
In terms of the actual harm done to the country, Carter has to be high on anyone's list.
3) Bill Clinton - Mr. Bill bears the proud distinction of inheriting leadership of the sole global superpower and squandering the peace dividend by leaving the country much more vulnerable than it was when he got there, laying the groundwork for a number of 'issues' we're still struggling with.
Clinton was elected as a minority president thanks to the ineptness of his predecessor and the efforts of one Ross Perot, who had enough money and enough instinctive knowledge of how to use media whores like Larry King to mount a credible third party campaign. He was able to split the GOP vote and thus allow Clinton to slither into the Oval Office as America's own lounge lizard, where he quickly made himself at home.
Mr. Bill had always had an instinctive loathing for the military, (probably a father thing) and after all, it wasn't like we actually needed those knuckle draggers anymore,what with the end of the Cold War and the US being the sole superpower. So he cut them down to a bare minimum. What's more, he apparently decided that the USA needed to make the playing field more even. Especially when it came to doing business and paying back old friends like the Chinese, represented by Mr. Bill's old friends and campaign donors the Riyadis. Aside from accelerating the wholesale export of manufacturing jobs out of the US, Mr. Bill also used heavy Democratic party donor and defense contractor Loral to funnel advanced military technology to the Chinese as fast as he could sign the paperwork. Most military analysts estimate that the Chinese made a Great Leap Forward of at least two decades in military technology during the eight years of Clinton's two terms.
Mr. Bill's foreign policy faux pas didn't end with China. There was his farcical agreement with the malignant Kim il-Jong of North Korea that ended up paving the way for the creation of a rogue nuclear nation. There was his embrace and empowerment of the nearly defunct terrorist Yasir Arafat and his arm twisting of Israel to allow a terrorist state to be created on its borders with the Oslo Accords. And there were interludes in Somalia, where under equipped marines were sent for no good reason, and Bosnia, where Mr. Bill decided to do exactly what he criticized his successor for a few years later - intervene in a sectarian civil war and take sides not with an historic ally, Serbia, but with insurgent Muslims in what was supposed to be a temporary involvement. Not only are we still there, but our involvement in Bosnia and the subsequent involvement in Kosovo by Clinton's successor have paved the way for Islamist enclaves in Southern Europe, along one of the traditional routes of jihad against the west.
The most serious lapse during the Clinton years concerned his virtually ignoring the growing menace of Islamist terrorism, starting with the first World Trade center bombing in 1992 and continuously escalating throughout his two terms. Not only did Clinton pass on golden opportunities to kill or take custody of Osama bin-Laden, he had his deputy Attorney General, Jamie Gorelick, build a 'wall' between various American intelligence agencies and forbid intelligence outfits like Able Danger from sharing intel on Mohammed Atta and some of the other highjackers with other intelligence agencies - because it might prejudice these non-citizen's legal rights! Also during Clinton's two terms, wahabi penetration into American society and the takeover of America's mosques and madrassahs continued unabated.
Mr. Bill is also on record as being the only president in history who literally disappeared and could not be found during several crucial moments when major decisions needed to be made, and the only president ever to lose the 'credit card' containing the codes needed to launch a nuclear attack.
Clinton shares the distinction of having committed felonies like obstruction of justice and perjury while in office with Richard Nixon. Unlike Nixon, he knowingly committed these crimes to protect himself and cover up his own misdeeds, rather than to protect his subordinates for things done without his knowledge after the fact. Also unlike Nixon, there was little on the plus side of the ledger in positive accomplishments to make up for Mr. Bill having given a whole new meaning to the phrase "have a cigar".
President Clinton was impeached by the House, based on those nifty constitutional phrases about high crimes and misdemeanors.However, a Democrat majority in the Senate was not about to send the first Democrat to win the White House in almost twenty years packing, so he wasn't forced to resign, thus becoming the only felon ever to serve out his complete term in office. However, he was disbarred and became the only president in US history to have his final State of The Union Address boycotted by the entire Supreme Court, including the justices he himself had appointed - another first in US history.
Clinton luckily came to power during a period when the new technology of the Internet was pumping billions into the American economy,and it's somehow fitting that he was president during an era when companies made paper millions for producing nothing, or even showing a profit. However, he did little to invest in infrastructure, energy independence or growth, and when the Internet bubble finally burst that was the end of the Clinton economy.
Like a lot of other ambitious pols who grew up without money, Mr. Bill came to politics to do good...and ended up doing right well for himself, as his recent tax returns will attest to.
As America's first baby boomer president, he epitomized the malignant narcissism and disdain for any sort of delayed gratification characteristic of much of that generation. He not only holds the distinction of leaving the country much less safe than it was when he took over, but of lowering the general tone and respect for the office itself...and getting filthy rich in the process.
4) George W. Bush - I hesitate writing this one. For one thing, the 'distance' factor is missing, and for another - well, let's just say I take no pleasure in kicking someone who's been gang banged ever since he took office, and mostly for stuff that isn't part of my criteria, let alone even factual.
However, based on his performance in the White House and certain things that very much fit into the idea of immense harm done to the country, I can't in good conscience leave Dubbya off.
Elected as a minority president in the most disputed American election since 1876. George W. Bush came into office minus the normal honeymoon period that normally accompanies new presidents. He was slashed at from day one, and that unreasoning personal hatred directed at him may have had at least something to do with some of his more questionable decisions.
George W. Bush ran and was elected running as a conservative, but in reality he was simply a 'bidness' Republican, with some ideas about cutting taxes and seeing to it that corporate America did Just Fine and Made Money.
That changed as of September 11th, 2001, when America's vacation from history officially ended, eight months after Dubbya entered the White House. Instantly, the entire climate in the country changed.
Again, as with President Carter, Americans rallied around their president in time of crisis and were ready to be led as a united country to take some serious retribution on the scum who perpetrated 9/11, and their friends pulling the strings back home in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, some of those same people were long time friends and business partners of the Bush family and their friends in the oil bidness,which made things awkward - to say the least.
So in my view, President Bush felt that he was forced - not for the last time - to change what he may have instinctively felt was right by having to consider certain outside personal interests.
Speaking to a nation that was united behind him and ready, willing and able to kick butt and take names, President Bush made what is, in retrospect, an astounding speech.
Instead of actually naming our enemies and their ideology - Islamist fascism - the president announced that America was now involved in a war on 'terror', that we should all calm down, that the creed of our enemies meant peace, that the goal of this war was `safety and security' rather than victory, and that everything would be all right if we would just go shopping.
This was roughly the equivalent of President Roosevelt talking to the nation the day after Pearl Harbor and announcing that we were in a Great War on Aviation, that bushido meant peace, that victory was not our goal and that the feds would handle everything so as not to inconvenience anyone too badly.
Psychiatrists commonly refer to what President Bush did after 9/11 as 'category error', making a problem impossible to solve because of the inability to name it correctly. Rather than channeling his fellow citizen's justifiable anger into preparing the country for war, instituting some necessary security practices and eliminating security risks at home, the president did none of these things, but basically cooled everything down and urged people to get back to business as usual.
He also flushed away the opportunity to get a hostile and partisan Democratic congress on board by failing to get their votes to pass something resembling the first 1941 War Powers Act, pass a declaration of war against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups and any nation giving them material support, or to provide for necessary domestic surveillance of suspect persons here in the United States. Had he done these things after 9/11, with a united country behind him, even the most partisan Bush hatin' Democrat would have had to think twice about voting against the White House.
Essentially, he short-circuited America's war effort from Day One, and ensured that there would be bitter partisan obstruction on these vital items later.It also meant that every single part of the war effort would have to be 'sold' separately to the public and Congress at a later date.
For that alone, I think he belongs on the list.
Instead of involving the US in a total and unified war effort, the president came up with a unilateral policy called the Bush Doctrine, which he expressed in bellicose statements like `you're either with the terrorists or with us.' Unfortunately,due to some of the associations I mentioned above, the president was unwilling or unable to apply this policy with any consistency.
Instead, he put an army and billions of dollars worth of equipment into a land locked country surrounded by hostile territory that could only be resupplied by bribing Pakistan, a country that arguably had as much to do with terrorism directed against the west than Afghanistan did.
President Bush did finally get our military involved, but he likewise performed in mixed fashion, including handcuffing our troops with bizarre Rules of Engagement that would have made their grandfathers who won WWII shake their heads in disbelief. After a brilliant (if overly delayed) campaign in Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban from power, a number of our enemies escaped and found refuge and safe transit to other locations via Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, something that should have gotten these countries on the wrong side of the US, but passed without a single word from the White House.
The next US military operation in Iraq had to be sold to the public and congress anew, because of the way the Bush Administration had failed to mobilize the country in the first place. So the president sold Iraq as an imminent threat to the US, which it wasn't, instead of as an imminent threat to the Saudis and all that oil, which it was.
To top it off, Bush masturbated over diplomacy with the likes of a UN that was eyeball deep in the corruption of the Oil For Food scandal and was quite happy with the money it was making for 19 months before sending in the troops...which allowed the anti-War Left to metastasize like a huge tumor at home against a united war effort and allowed Saddam Hussein plenty of time to dispose of any of those WMD's he may have had and sow the seeds of a nasty insurgency.
The incredible bravery of our warriors, the brilliant leadership of Generals Petraeus and Ordiano and the sheer brutality of al-Qaeda and the Mahdi Army may have turned things around in Iraq remarkably. But the fact remains that due to the Bush Administration's policies on the way the war was initially fought and the president's failure to confront Syria, Iran or Saudi Arabia , we're just now turning the corner in Iraq after a five year involvement there. And we may never turn the corner in Afghanistan.
It only took us four and a half years to utterly defeat the Nazis and the Japanese Empire, who were far more powerful.
I could also add foreign policy fiascoes with Iran, Pakistan, Syria, North Korea, PortGate, Lebanon and Gaza to the list, although in fairness those are developing situations that might be recouped in the administration's remaining time in office - although I doubt it. These are all issues that will remain to be dealt with by Bush's successor unless they're handled before he leaves.
On the home front, America's borders remained an open sieve, with little or no oversight on whom or what was coming across them. And during Dubbya's watch, Saudi/wahabi/Islamist penetration into America's institutions continued unabated, as did the export of American manufacturing jobs overseas.
On the plus side of the ledger, there were the Bush tax cuts, two good Supreme Court judges and a few decent federal judges. And the fact that the United States has avoided another major terrorist attack..although I would say it's due to us being extremely lucky more than due to Dubbya's policies in this regard.
Bush's fellow citizens would undoubtedly vote in droves to kick him off the island tommorow if they could, and they'd probably line up buy lottery tickets to see who'd be chosen to give the raft a shove towards the open sea.
That said,..let's say I'm including him as an honorable mention, with the possibility (slim) of reprieve if his actions during the remainder of his term and a little historical distance make a difference.
Soooo..who are your nominees?