Monday, May 22, 2006

Bush Leagues

KABC Talk radio host Doug McIntyre recently wrote that "most historians believe it takes 30-50 years before we get a reasonably accurate take on a President's place in history.
"So maybe 50 years from now Iraq will be a peaceful member of the brotherhood of nations and George W. Bush will be celebrated as a visionary genius..."
But "after five years of carefully watching George W. Bush," McIntyre writes, "I've reached the conclusion that he's either grossly incompetent or a hand puppet for a gaggle of detached theorists with their own private view of how the world works. Or both."
This is no small step for McIntyre, who concedes he was a Bush backer. "So I'm saying today I was wrong to have voted for George W. Bush," he writes. "In historic terms, I believe George W. Bush is the worst two-term President in the history of the country. Worse than Grant. I also believe a case can be made that he's the worse President period."
That, of course, remains to be seen. But it got me to wondering: Who were our worst Presidents?
Any compliation must be viewed against the backdrop of our country's slash-and-burn political atmosphere, in which the person on the other side of the aisle is not just your idealogical opposite but your mortal enemy.
If you didn't vote for him, he automatically moves to the top of the list,
But, mustering all the neutrality I can, one could make a good case in my lifetime for Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter to make the all-flop team.
Historians and scholars, not suprisingly, are all over the map on the issue.
George Washingon, Abraham Lincoln and Frankin Roosevelt almost always make the top of their list.
Public opinion polls give high marks to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Many historians do not.
Ranking at the bottom by most are Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Warren G. Harding.
Why? A bit of research into scholarly articles and encyclopedia entries explains it all.
Pierce makes the list because of his failure to take the steps necessary to head off the impending Civil War. A northerner with southern sympathies, he was ultimatley abandoned by his own Democratic party and not renominated for a second term when his popularity in the north declined.
Philip B. Kunhardt and Peter W. Kunhardt wrote in "The American President" that Pierce was "a good man who didn't understand his own shortcomings."
He is the great-great granduncle of current U.S. President George W. Bush.
Buchanan was also skewed for failing to prevent the country from sliding into the Civil War. On Buchanan's final day as president, he remarked to the incoming Abraham Lincoln, "If you are as happy entering the presidency as I am in leaving it, then you are truly a happy man."
Before Buchanan left office, seven slave states seceded and the Confederacy was formed.
Historians in 2006 voted his failure to deal with secession the No. 1 presidential mistake ever made.
Andrew Johnson, vice president under Lincoln, ascended to presidency after Lincoln's assassination. Johnson was president during part of the Reconstruction following the Civil War. His conciliatory policies towards the defeated rebels and his vetoes of civil rights bills embroiled him in a bitter dispute with the Congressional Republicans, leading the House of Representatives to impeach him in 1868; he was the first President to be impeached. He was subsequently acquitted by a single vote in the Senate.
Oddly enough, Johnson was elected as a Democrat to the Senate and served from March 4, 1875, until his death on July 31, 1875.
Harding presided over a number of scandals involving others in his administration and, after his death, gained a reputation as being one of America's least successful presidents. In numerous polls of historians, Harding is ranked as one of the worst.
The most infamous scandal of the time was the Teapot Dome affair, which centered on Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall, who was eventually convicted of leasing public oil fields to business associates in exchange for personal loans. In 1931, Fall became the first member of a presidential Cabinet to be sent to prison.
Thomas Miller, head of the Office of Alien Property, was convicted of accepting bribes. Jess Smith, personal aide to the Attorney General, destroyed papers and then committed suicide. Charles Forbes, director of the Veterans Bureau, skimmed profits, earned fat kickbacks, and ran alcohol and drugs. He was convicted of fraud and bribery and drew a two-year sentence. Charles Cramer, an aide to Charles Forbes, also committed suicide.
Harding didn't personally profited from these crimes, but he was apparently unable to stop them. "My God, this is a hell of a job," Harding said. "I have no trouble with my enemies, but my damn friends. . . they're the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!"
In the meantime, Grant, cited by McIntyre, is my most measures a bottom feeder. He is usually described as a brilliant militray strategist but a poor president, another vicitim of scandal plagued administrations but whose personal integrity was never questioned.
Does George Bush belong in this rogue's gallery?
He's clearly no Washington. But is he a Buchanan? Only time will tell.

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