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Friday, August 18, 2006

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: Presidents of the 20th century

It was a double-header of disaster! I read another anti-American diatribe spewed forth from the mouth of Jimmy Carter in Der Spiegel on the same day a judge, appointed by (ahem) Jimmy Carter declared that the warrantless wiretaps used by the administration to sniff out terrorist activities are unconstitutional. The ACLU went judge-shopping until, after I think nine failures, found one who would play ball. Yay, let's make it easier for them to kill us! Thanks, Dhimmi!

It made me wonder out loud, is Jimmy Carter the worst President of the 20th century? (That he is the worst ex-President goes without saying!) I decided to investigate that, and I plan a few posts that will dwell on this idea, that is, who is the worst President of the 20th century, and, who is the best?

~~~~~~~

The list


Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1909
William H. Taft, 1909-1913
Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921
Warren G. Harding, 1921-1923
Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929
Herbert Hoover, 1929-1933
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933-1945
Harry S. Truman, 1945-1953
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953-1961
John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963
Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1969
Richard M. Nixon, 1969-1974
Gerald R. Ford, 1974-1977
Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981
Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989
George Bush, 1989-1993
Bill Clinton, 1993-2001

As you know, the year elected would be one year before the actual taking of the oath of office. William McKinley, who served from 1897 until 1901, cannot be considered since he was President for only one year during the century. He was assasinated in September of 1901, turning over the reins to Teddy Roosevelt.

I will seek to give each President a grade and also determine who reached the heights of greatness and who the depths of failure. All italicized passages not otherwise credited come from the official WhiteHouse.gov website.

Incomplete Grades

There are three Presidents from the list that did not fulfill a full term of office. I will grade them to an extent, but since they had truncated opportunities I am reluctant to praise them too highly or lambaste them too thoroughly.

Warren G. Harding, 1921-1923 - A Republican, he was a deft political animal who was both a product of and a slave to party politics. A Democratic leader, William Gibbs McAdoo, called Harding's speeches "an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea."

Harding was, like Bill Clinton, an able ascertainer of the mood of the country and able to say much without really saying much at all. Thus, even his followers might not understand what he might decide on an issue. But usually he simply went along with the party line and a Republican congress passed laws that eliminated wartime controls and slashed taxes, established a Federal budget system, restored the high protective tariff, and imposed tight limitations upon immigration. Less decisive than Clinton, he ran a laisse-faire administration and accepted the accolades for the prosperity that came on the heels of the post-war depression.

Behind the facade, not all of Harding's Administration was so impressive. Word began to reach the President that some of his friends were using their official positions for their own enrichment. Alarmed, he complained, "My...friends...they're the ones that keep me walking the floors nights!"

Looking wan and depressed, Harding journeyed westward in the summer of 1923, taking with him his upright Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover. "If you knew of a great scandal in our administration," he asked Hoover, "would you for the good of the country and the party expose it publicly or would you bury it?" Hoover urged publishing it, but Harding feared the political repercussions.

He did not live to find out how the public would react to the scandals of his administration. In August of 1923, he died in San Francisco of a heart attack.


Harding may be best known for the "Teapot Dome Scandal". Like Richard Nixon after him, he chose to hide rather than address the sins of those in his administration. It did not bring him to political ruin but likely hastened his death. His weak leadership and poor judgement would earn him an "F" had he lasted a full term.


Grade: Incomplete (heading for an "F")


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John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963 - A Democrat, he was not supposed to have become the President. Rather, his older brother Joe Jr. had been groomed to the throne by the father Joseph Kennedy, a rapacious robber-baron of the kind that took full advantage of the Warren G Hardings of the world to build empires.

Joseph was killed in WWII. Robert Kennedy was assasinated while running for the Presidency in 1968. Tragically, Ted Kennedy is the only surviving brother, a poster child for the dangers of mixing privilege, money and a total lack of character.

I personally detest Ted Kennedy, but admired Robert and also John. JFK had his faults (The PT 109 story is a crock and he was an infamous womanizer) and yet was a great President in many ways. His Inaugural Address offered the memorable injunction: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." As President, he set out to redeem his campaign pledge to get America moving again. His economic programs launched the country on its longest sustained expansion since World War II; before his death, he laid plans for a massive assault on persisting pockets of privation and poverty.

Responding to ever more urgent demands, he took vigorous action in the cause of equal rights, calling for new civil rights legislation. His vision of America extended to the quality of the national culture and the central role of the arts in a vital society.

He wished America to resume its old mission as the first nation dedicated to the revolution of human rights. With the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps, he brought American idealism to the aid of developing nations. But the hard reality of the Communist challenge remained.


JFK's ill-fated "Bay of Pigs" invasion plans were a disaster. Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev saw Kennedy as a boy, incapable of putting up a fight and challenged America with the building of the Berlin Wall and the installation of missiles in Cuba. Kennedy blockaded Cuba and called the Soviet's bluff. Although Kennedy also agreed to remove weaponry from Turkey in the exchange, the Soviet Union did blink first, withdrew the missiles from Cuba and a nuclear war was narrowly averted.

JFK's brother, Robert, proved to be a crusading Attorney General determined to wipe out organized crime. Many of the President's advisors were the same people who terribly misled Lyndon Johnson during the escalating Vietnam War crisis. It was during Kennedy's administration that the Vietnam War began from the viewpoint of the USA. His administration also began the cycle of test bans and nuclear disarmament talks that proved to be unsuccessful in the eyes of some. Yet his leadership skills were great and many of his visions for the country reflected the best side of the progressive coin.

JFK was assasinated in November of 1963. He was a strong, visionary leader who may have led a successful "War on Poverty" and may have led a successful campaign in Vietnam. We will, sadly, never know.

Grade: Incomplete (heading for an "A")

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Gerald R. Ford, 1974-1977
- A Republican, he was faced with an unusual situation, taking over for the resigned Richard Nixon. The Watergate scandal had opened countless wounds. Ford's task was to help those wounds heal and move the nation along.

He was an All-American football player at the University of Michigan and came to the office of President with a reputation for honesty and moderation, just what the nation needed at the time.

As President, Ford tried to calm earlier controversies by granting former President Nixon a full pardon. His nominee for Vice President, former Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, was the second person to fill that office by appointment. Gradually, Ford selected a cabinet of his own.

Ford established his policies during his first year in office, despite opposition from a heavily Democratic Congress. His first goal was to curb inflation. Then, when recession became the Nation's most serious domestic problem, he shifted to measures aimed at stimulating the economy. But, still fearing inflation, Ford vetoed a number of non-military appropriations bills that would have further increased the already heavy budgetary deficit. During his first 14 months as President he vetoed 39 measures. His vetoes were usually sustained.

Ford continued as he had in his Congressional days to view himself as "a moderate in domestic affairs, a conservative in fiscal affairs, and a dyed-in-the-wool internationalist in foreign affairs." A major goal was to help business operate more freely by reducing taxes upon it and easing the controls exercised by regulatory agencies. "We...declared our independence 200 years ago, and we are not about to lose it now to paper shufflers and computers," he said.

In foreign affairs Ford acted vigorously to maintain U. S. power and prestige after the collapse of Cambodia and South Viet Nam. Preventing a new war in the Middle East remained a major objective; by providing aid to both Israel and Egypt, the Ford Administration helped persuade the two countries to accept an interim truce agreement. Detente with the Soviet Union continued. President Ford and Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev set new limitations upon nuclear weapons.


I believe that Ford is a highly underrated President who did what needed to be done and led the country well. His time in office is marked by no great successes or failures. He did not lead in any new directions. Had he won election in 1976 and armed with a mandate from the people, he may well have left a fine legacy. But it was imperative that his early years take a moderate course and this is exactly what, in retrospect, he accomplished: The ship of state was steadied and the course righted. His greatest failure was to lose the election to Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Grade: Incomplete (heading toward a "B")

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Seventeen Presidents of the 20th century. Three of them had partical terms of office and so we will now bid them adieu. Fourteen remain to examine. Until next time...

16 comments:

creeper said...

"It made me wonder out loud, is Jimmy Carter the worst President of the 20th century? (That he is the worst ex-President goes without saying!)"

Umm, all Presidents of the 20th century are ex-Presidents.

creeper said...

"I read another anti-American diatribe spewed forth from the mouth of Jimmy Carter"

What's anti-American about the interview? He criticizes the Bush administration and Christian fundamentalists, not America or Americans.

"The ACLU went judge-shopping until, after I think nine failures, found one who would play ball."

Source?

oriolebird38 said...

The best is clearly FDR. I don't even think that's debatable.

The worst takes some thinking. I think Harding was there long enough to merit consideration, and that's probably who I'd pick. Taft didn't do a good job either. Carter certainly sucked majorly as well. I do think you're letting Ford off easy though. Domestic policy was poor, and he could've probably done more to combat inflation and recession. His foreign policy was alright but I think I would've given him a C. And I think the Nixon pardon did more harm than good.

I have a special place of enmity in my heart for LBJ too. But that's for a bunch of different reasons.

I have one request for your exams: please spare us the whole diatribe about how Clinton's private misconduct ruined the moral fabric of the nation. Thanks in advance.

radar said...

Hey, Nick, I am not going to harp much on Clinton's moral failings. I will mention them, they are out there. But it isn't critical to his Presidency in my opinion. I can tell you in advance that I don't consider him the worst.

Creeper, it is his career as an ex-President that is reprehensible. If you cannot ascertain the trouble with Jimmy hobnobbing with Islamists and America-haters and telling them what they like to hear, then nothing I say will help.

Source for what? Look it up, they tried for this injunction at several courts before they found one that would rule in their favor.

Anonymous said...

Radar,
How come we're the ones who always have to provide links and research? Can't we be lazy and have you do the work for a change?

My old quote is fast becoming folk wisdom.

-scohen

creeper said...

Radar,

dodging and evading...

"Creeper, it is his career as an ex-President that is reprehensible."

Okay, so this has nothing to do with the interview then? Because it kinda read like you meant to convey that Jimmy Carter spewed forth an anti-American diatribe in that interview you linked to.

Which turns out not to be true. And it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to figure that out.

"If you cannot ascertain the trouble with Jimmy hobnobbing with Islamists and America-haters and telling them what they like to hear, then nothing I say will help."

Now you're putting a whole bunch of words in my mouth. So where did this happen? In the interview you linked to?

"Source for what? Look it up, they tried for this injunction at several courts before they found one that would rule in their favor."

You claimed that the ACLU went through (approx.) nine failures of judge-shopping. If you didn't make this up from scratch, surely you've come across it somewhere. All you have to do is say where.

Then again, maybe you did make it up...

"How come we're the ones who always have to provide links and research? Can't we be lazy and have you do the work for a change?"

At the very least Radar should be able to do it for claims he makes himself.

creeper said...

"The PT 109 story is a crock"

In what way?

chaos_engineer said...

I've always thought that Carter was a weak President, but I also think that he's probably the best ex-President of the my lifetime. (Mostly on the strength of his work with Habitat for Humanity.)

I checked the links you mentioned...I've gotta agree with Creeper that there's no anti-Americanism in the first link.

As to the second link...it sounds like Carter appointed a strict constructionist who took a literal interpretation of the Fourth Amendment. It's a controversial decision, but I wouldn't say it's objectively wrong. (It'll be interesting to see whether it gets past the judicial activists on the Supreme Court, though.) Anyway, the appointment was one of Carter's acts as President. It doesn't speak to his reputation as an ex-President.


I've always thought that Carter's greatest strength and greatest weakness is that he's a Christian. Most politicians are happy to parrot Christian rhetoric in a cynical effort to get votes, but hardly any of them actually live by Christian principles.

Carter was the exception. His Christianity brought down his Presidency and it weakened the country..."Love thy Neighbor" is an admirable precept, but it wasn't a practical way of dealing with Iran or the USSR. What we needed was a ruthless foreign policy, without a hint of Christian compassion in it. And we were lucky to have Reagan to meet that need.

On the other hand, Carter's Christian compassion has led him to do important charity work as an ex-President. Reagan's most notable act as an ex-President was to charge $2 million for making a couple of speeches in Japan.

chaos_engineer said...

I forgot to mention...of the ex-presidents who have appeared on _The_Simpsons_, Carter and Ford seemed pretty nice, but Clinton and Bush Sr. acted like jerks.

I think those were actors and not the actual people, though, so I'm not sure if that should count towards their ratings.

(My blogger verification word was qziyefjw. "Qziyefjw: A fat, dumb, balding North American ape with no chin.")

loboinok said...

"(My blogger verification word was qziyefjw. "Qziyefjw: A fat, dumb, balding North American ape with no chin.")"

Ted Kennedy

radar said...

PT 109 - I hate to post on it because I don't want to rag on Kennedy, who I thought was heading for greatness as a world leader. PT boats were not meant to engage destroyers and his boat was out of position and off its mission during the fated cruise that put Kennedy in the water and almost the grave. It requires speculation to decide what JFK was actually doing and why. 'Nuff said? Or do we really need to open that particular can?

Anonymous said...

Do you have credible sources for any of your assertions?

From Wikipedia:

The PT-109 was sent out on a night mission to intercept the Tokyo Express, a convoy of destroyers on a night resupply mission. In a poorly planned and uncoordinated attack, 15 boats with 60 torpedoes did not score a single hit. The PT-109 patrolled the area in case the enemy ships returned. Around 0200, on a moonless night, Kennedy's boat was suddenly rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri traveling at 40 knots on August 2, 1943 in the Blackett Strait between Kolombangara and Arundel in the Solomon Islands


Off it's mission? No.
PT Boats don't attack destroyers? Nope.

So is it support the troops unless they disagree with you politically, then quesion their service?

How do you sleep at night?

-scohen

radar said...

Scohen,

I said I admired Kennedy and I also said I didn't want to get into the PT thing. So what in the heck do you think you are talking about? I gave the guy an "A" although incomplete due to a shortened term. I did agree with Kennedy politically. I even worked to pass out campaign literature to elect his brother in 1968. Get your story straight!

Anonymous said...

"I said I admired Kennedy and I also said I didn't want to get into the PT thing. So what in the heck do you think you are talking about?"

I think I'm talking about how your story doesn't seem to match the facts. Does just saying you don't want to talk about something make questioning the veracity of your statements off limits?

If you want to put up, provide a link, but don't complain incredulously when you're challenged. And I'm not the one who needs to get my story straight --you're the one challenging accepted history and questioning a man's service to his country.

-scohen

creeper said...

"I said I admired Kennedy and I also said I didn't want to get into the PT thing. So what in the heck do you think you are talking about?"

Well, obviously not the part where you said you admired him, but the part where you said "the PT 109 story is a crock".

Not that hard to figure out.

radar said...

commenters unhappy about my PT boat references can see my new posting on the subject for August 24th.