Monday, August 02, 2010

Project Completed

About a month ago I completed a project that I have been working on for over twenty five years.I finished reading at least one critical biography of every United States President.This project would not have taken twenty five years had all of the Presidents been as interesting as Lincoln or a Roosevelt.The reading part of the project does not slow you down. It is the procrastination in making yourself read a huge biography of Zachary Taylor.I bet that I read a dozen Lincoln bios before I finished one of old "Rough and Ready" Taylor, and Taylor only served for two years !

You know that line of Presidents you can never remember ? It goes from Van Buren to Buchanan, skipping over Polk.There is a reason you can't remember them. They are not worth remembering. Please take my word for this,no ones life was ever truly enriched by reading a biography of Millard Fillmore or through making a detailed study of Franklin Pierce.The same can be said about those other yahoos who served after Lincoln and before McKinely (excepting Grover Cleveland).Let me tell you, after about 100 pages you begin wondering just how long it is going to be before Garfield can get shot, or why no one thought of shooting him before.

I can say for sure that it is impossible to "rate" the American Presidents.Any historians list of a top ten presidents or a full ranking, which you see about once a year, is malarkey.No one can prove to you that George H.W. Bush was a better Presdident than Calvin Coolidge (although he was).All you can rate is how a President approached the problems he faced in his term(s).The worse off the country is, the greater a President can be.Some perfectly good Presidents were never challanged.Some fairly mediocre men rose to the occasions presented them.Now and then there will be a perfect storm, when the worst of times meets the worst of men. James Buchanan is the classic exapmple. People spent years trying to analyze his leadership ability (none) against his experential factor (great) to see if they could figure out what went wrong.Recently historians have decided that it is more interesting to try to figure out whether he was a homosexual.For awhile historians became so interested in that that they moved on to ask the same questions about Lincoln.Today's historians are mostly trained at the "E" Network I guess.

Mostly what I felt after reading all othese biographies is a sense of wonderment that the Republic has survived its many trials.Please believe me when I tell you that your high school Civics teacher would have made a better President than at least half a dozen men who held the job.Your favorite College Prof. would comfortably fit in the top 50% of the group.With the exception of three or four Presdidents,most of us know one or more people from our lives who would done as creditable job as any of them.The only two that I am sure were indispensible were Washington and Lincoln, so really, I knew as much about Presidential greatness in the first grade as I do now.I do know more than most about presidential mediocrity.Worse than the mediocrity is the cynicism of our two party system which would allow a Warren G. Harding to make it to the top.

Rather than rank these fellows, let me just give you a few thoughts about some of them, some good, some bad.

1.John Adams- I am one who believes that Adams was as great a man as Jefferson and believe that Jefferson was overrated.I will say though that I am not at all sure that John Adams' anger control issues would not have caused havoc and destruction in a Second Term.

2.Eisenhower-This guy was close to being indispensible, but I think that Truman could have handled what he did equally well.That is, to stand as the only reasonable person in the Federal government who could have kept the country out of war between 1953-1961.The country could very easily have emerged from those eight years exhausted and decimated from a limited nuclear war or armed to the teeth and turned into a rouge bully boy. Ike had to handle not just the Russians, but the nuts in his own country and military.Try balancing that beam for eight years without a shot being fired.

3.Eisenhower-Blew the chance of four lifetimes in not putting his unprecedented prestige behind Brown vs the Board of Education ruling.Allowed for an additional ten years of unecessary pain and strife because he, himself, did not believe in the decision or would not more forcefully support it.

4.Reagan-Was able to turnaround the outlook of an entire country in about three years.A tremenbdous accomplishment equalling that of FDR.Unfortunatly he gor rid of the tax and spend liberals in Washington and replaced them with borrow and spend conservatives, setting the stage for the enormous economic lie this country found itself in three years ago.

5.Wilson- the most brilliant student of forgien policy in our nations hisory but was too arrogant to know that to lead a nation to the promised land they have to be willing to come with you.George H.W. Bush used the same ideals of internationalism and pulled a nation along with him simply because he was not an arrogant son of a bitch.

6.FDR-Overcame the traditional isolationist viewpoint of the American people and was able to enter a war againt Germany two years before it was declared.A brilliant example of leadership and patience.He showed the same leadership domestically but without the patience that would have helped some.In the end, he did change the country to where it began to think of itself along the lines of a european state with at least some cradle to grave entitlements.In other words, gave American capitalism a human face.

7.JFK-overrated,overrated,overated in every area except possibly the bedroom

8.Grover Cleveland- Thoroughly honest, amazingly industrious, understood that not being reelected, or even being very popular, was a criteria for the job.

9. Andrew Jackson-Proof that no matter how brave and resourceful you are,you are a danger in the job if you have no knowledge of fiscal or monetary policy.

10.Richard Nixon-over analyzed,over analyzed,over analyzed,but you just can't help yourself. It's like looking in a mirror and seeing that you are exactly what you fear.

more thoughts later