Tag Archives: history

“Executive Experience” = Good President? Part 6

#17 — Andrew Johnson.  He served as a US Senator and also was governor of Tennessee for two terms.  Johnson might not be considered THE worst president ever, but he’s certainly up there.  The first president ever to be impeached, the reasons for impeachment are really quite minor in light of the monumental failure historians now see as Johnson’s presidency.  Johnson took a 180-degree different approach to Reconstruction than Lincoln had intended.  Where Lincoln wanted a moderate, conciliatory approach to reintegrating the southern states and wishes to ensure rights for the freed slaves,  Johnson took a much more hardline approach (though he later softened his stance), and he was a huge racist who had no intention to allow freed slaves any rights whatsoever.  Some think that had he taken a more progressive approach to the freed slaves, it might have ameliorated the race problem in our country.  Besides that far-reaching consequence of his political action (or inaction) even today, he also undermined the office of the President with his political ineptitude and allowed Congress to enjoy a more powerful role through precedents set while he was in office that they enjoyed for the next three decades.  So… EE: yes; good: no.

#18 — Ulysses S. Grant.  He was a major military player in the Civil War, orchestrating many of the successful Union battles.  In 1866, he was named general of the armies, the first person since George Washington to hold that rank.  Grant’s presidency was certainly characterized by many positives: his fight to help gain rights for African-Americans, including the passage of the 15th amendment, the positive direction of his Native American policy, and establishing the nation’s first national park stand out as highlights.  However, there’s a lot on the negative side: his administration was epically corrupt.  He continued Johnson’s “efforts” to diminish the power of the President for his two terms.  The numerous scandals and his own political lack of experience, despite being such a strong leader on the military front, rendered his administration pretty much impotent by the middle of his second term.  So… EE: yes; good: no.

(Also, a quick shout-out to my friends Amanda and Dave, who earlier tonight as I talked to her was having contractions 4-5 minutes apart and contemplating a trip to the hospital to give birth to their first baby!  Good luck you guys!!)

Does “executive experience” equate to Presidential success? Part 5

#14 — Franklin Pierce.  He reached the rank of brigadier general during the Mexican-American War but short of being an awesome leader, I don’t count that.  His only political position before the presidency was as a Senator representing NH, so that doesn’t count either as ‘executive’ experience.  Through a number of acts by his administration, Pierce managed to splinter the country and revive all the anger between the North and South.  This quote from Wikipedia says it pretty succinctly:  “Pierce lost all credibility he may have had in the North, and, as of 2008, was the only elected president (rather than a Vice President who succeeded to the position) to fail to be renominated by his party for a second term. Pierce is ranked among the least effective Presidents as well as an indecisive politician who was easily influenced. He was unable to command as President or to provide the required national leadership. Yet, he had the courage to stand by his convictions and buck the will of is own party, leading to his political exile.”  So… EE: no; good: no.

#15 — James Buchanan.  He was a senator, and Secretary of State, but by my definition no executive experience.  Buchanan has long gone down in history as the man who allowed the Civil War to happen and was perhaps the worst president ever, and it seems this is basically true.  But to be fair, I wanted to see if maybe he had any rousing successes during his presidency.  Here’s what I found:  He tried to start a war against Utah.  He directly influenced the majority vote in the Dred Scott Decision by lobbying judges, upholding the rights to own slaves.  His administration made efforts to try to take Cuba by force.  He presided over a financial panic and was accused of financial mismanagement.  His handling of the initial seceding of southern states with complete impotency.  He declared the secession unconstitutional, but also felt it was unconstitutional for the federal government and army to do anything about it, not even preparing the army for the impending war.  He was, in actuality, a skilled politician and a brilliant man, by many accounts, and at another time might have made a very good president.  But the political climate at the time required a forceful, strong, decisive leader willing to act quickly, and this was something Buchanan was not.  So… EE: no; good: no.

#16 — Abraham Lincoln.  He was a captain in the Illinois militia for awhile, and also ran a small store for awhile before becoming a lawyer and serving in the Illinois state senate for awhile, after which he served representing Illinois in Congress (as a Representative).  So, no executive experience.  (I could draw many parallels to Barack Obama right here, but I’ll take the high road and avoid that.  😉 )  Lincoln was president during what can safely be considered the most challenging and pivotal in our nation’s history.  And granted, he did a whole lot of stuff that at a time of peace would possibly be seen as tyrannical: declaring war without Congress, suspending the writ of habeus corpus, imprisoning thousands of Confederate soldiers without due process, spending millions of dollars without congressional approval, etc.  While many of the things he did as president could (and often are) considered unconstitutional, his point of view was that, what was the point of preserving the Constitution if by doing so, it is lost entirely?  And to his point, in doing so he preserved the nation, started the country on a path of a successful Reconstruction, and freed millions of slaves.  You may not agree with the means, but you have to appreciate the result.  So… EE: no.  Good: yes.

Does “executive experience” equate to a good president? Part 4

#11 — James K. Polk.  Polk was both Speaker of the House and Governor of Tennessee.  He was trained as a lawyer and also helped run his family’s successful plantation.  The Polk presidency is generally looked upon as a good one, but one of missed opportunities.  Under his administration, the United States added territory that would later make up most of our western states, including Washington, California, Oregon, etc.  Part of that territory was gained through the skillful directing of the Mexican-American War.  He was able to reduce tariffs and the economy prospered.  One source of contention is that he did little to stem the spread of slavery, and in fact grossly underestimated how his support of letting slavery expand into the newly acquired territories would fan the flames of emotion in the country.  He also attempted to purchase Cuba from Spain, but the offer (upwards of nearly $3 billion in today’s dollars) was rejected.  (Imagine the difference in the Cold War if that transaction had gone through?!?)  But overall he seems to have been productive, masterful at negotiations and he successfully achieved Manifest Destiny and secured our border with Mexico.  Perhaps he lacked some foresight, but it’s easier to see that now, in retrospect, than it probably was at the time.  So, I would say:  EE: yes; Good: yes.

#12 — Zachary Taylor.  Attained the rank of Major General in the Army and was a national war hero.  Having never held political office or even bothered with telling people his political leanings, it was pretty much a crap shoot when he won office to see what he would do.  It turns out he was pretty against the expansion of slavery, which incited the South.  But then he went and died of suspected cholera and never really got to see his policies through, as his veep, Millard Fillmore, took over and supported a somewhat different philosophy.  Had Taylor lived and won a re-election to see his policies through, it might have stemmed the spread of slavery and even, possibly, prevent the Civil War.  Besides that, though, he was fairly mediocre… scaled back on the pursuit of Manifest Destiny a great deal, made a treaty with Britain with unnecessarily large concessions, and no one in Congress took him seriously, so he couldn’t otherwise get much done.  All that aside, I’m simply inclined to just not count him, between being unable to determine if he was a really good president, being undecided whether to count his army career as “executive experience” and the shortness of his presidency.

#13 – Millard Fillmore.  He was a VP, a U.S. Senator, a state senator (in NY) and the NY State Comptroller.  Lots of political experience to be sure, but no executive experience.  He took over after Taylor’s death.  He supported the Compromise of 1850, which was a complex set of laws but to summarize, it made California a free state, allowed the possibility of Utah and New Mexico to enter the Union as slave states, and a couple other provisos that attempted to appease all sides but instead inflamed them all instead.  The Compromise did serve to probably delay what was now a nearly inevitable Civil War, so it can be credited for that.  Millard Fillmore also has a number of other accomplishments as part of his legacy – establishing trade with Japan, and presiding over a great number of foreign relations successes in his short tenure.  Common belief seems to be that his presidency was unremarkable, but given the tempestuousness of the times he found himself as President, it seems to me he did a pretty decent job.  He was not nominated to run for a second term more because the Whig party was in disarray more than for his popularity at the time.  So… I might be in the minority here, but…  EE: no; good: yes.

OK, I need to go to bed.  30 to go.  Yikes.

Does “executive experience” equate to Presidential success? Part 3

You can click on the page “Executive Experience: Is it important?” above to see all the previous posts on this topic.

#8 – Martin Van Buren. He was a Secretary of State and a Vice President, which do not qualify him… but was governor of New York state for like 3 months. So that counts! Van Buren was instrumental in building the political system as it exists today, which is quite noteworthy. Historians, however, do not hold him, as a President, in very high regard. The United States went through a really bad economic depression during his tenure, and his insistence on clinging to his strong beliefs in Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democratic ideals prevented him from taking actions as President to ease the depression. Also, despite his leadership in the political arena, he somehow could not manage to get the Congress to pass any sort of measure to try to ease the depression until three years into it. His impotency seem to be his greatest presidential legacy. So… EE: yes. Good: no.

#9 — William Henry Harrison. I simply don’t have the heart to try to count him. It’s way too hard to assess the value of his presidency when he died 32 days into it. Perhaps had he kept his coat on at his inauguration I’d have more to write about. Thus WHH gets a pass. What’s interesting to note is that beyond this reputation regarding his unfortunate demise, I realized I didn’t know a thing about him. He became a national hero as a general in the War of 1812, and before that has been governor of the Indian territory (present-day Illinois and Indiana) during which he managed to finagle the Native Americans out of thousands of acres of land for little to no compensation. His presidential campaign was notable for two reasons. First, it was the first ‘modern’ political campaign. Although WHH was from what might have been the wealthiest family in Virginia, his handlers managed to create an image of him as a commoner, a man of and for the people. Second, he was the first Whig elected to office.

#10 – John Tyler. Tyler was the first VP to take over the role of president because of the president’s death. Before his 32 days as VP, his experience included being a lawyer, governor, and senator. It may be Tyler’s greatest presidential accomplishment that he managed to become president after WHH’s death at all; there was a lot of confusion over the wording in the Constitution regarding the succession of the veep should the president die, and not everyone thought that it meant Tyler should become the de facto president. His presidency also included the entry of Texas as a state… and little else. He was stubborn and uncompromising and thus just didn’t get much done. Plus as a slave-owning aristocrat he was mostly out of touch with everyone in the country except other slave-owning aristocrats. So… EE: yes; Good: no.

Ten down, 33 to go! But alas I must pick up Lane from preschool.

Does “executive experience” equate to Presidential success? Part 2

To see the rules for my analysis, and the first four Presidents, check out Part 1.

I want to try to fit in a couple more old white dudes before I feed the kids lunch!

#5 – James Monroe. Monroe was a senator and governor of Virginia before becoming President, so he does have executive experience. Was he good? All signs point to yes! After all, his presidency was known as the “Era of Good Feelings”. He made great strides in domestic policy, sponsoring greater feelings of nationalism. He is perhaps best known for the Monroe Doctrine (declaring the Americas’ independence from colonization and foreign rule), which arguably set the USA’s course toward being a superpower. So… EE: yes; Good: yes.

#6 – John Quincy Adams. He did a lot of ambassador type work, and served as a very successful Secretary of State under James Monroe. But no official executive experience. Adams was the subject of a lot of bad blood for the way the election went down, and was thusly rendered pretty impotent with Congress. While there’s no argument with his accomplishments both before and after his presidency (when he actually served in the US House of Representatives for 17 years after his one term as President) his presidency is characterized by its lack of accomplishment. He had lofty and noble ideas, but they were often out of touch with the current political climate and he was hugely disliked as president. Andrew Jackson defeated him handily after his first term. So… EE? No. Good? No.

#7 — Andrew Jackson. He was a plantation owner, lawyer, and military officer, among other things. By all accounts he was a very successful plantation owner, making a number of large land acquisitions and at one point owning upwards of 150 slaves. His military career was, in a word, legendary. He achieved the rank of major general and appears to have been the very model of one – he led some very important victories. One victory was over the Seminole in Florida, convincing Spain to relinquish their positions there and paving the way for Florida to become a state. Jackson also served as the first governor of Florida for a few months. So, I’d say he has executive experience — the combination of successful plantation owner (and self-made at that), a heroic military career at a fairly high rank (major general isn’t in my definition of executive power but he was very successful in his role), and his short time as governor. He also served as a Representative and Senator, but we all know that doesn’t count. 😉 His presidency is the subject of much speculation. Some seem to look toward his ability to reduce the national debt and expand the scope of presidential authority to raise him on a pedestal. Others see him as a tyrannical hothead who took everything personally, seemed to formulate his personal political beliefs out of spite, started the Spoils system, perpetuated the Trail of Tears and other Native American removals, and feel he was the closest to having a Caesar-type ruler as the U.S. has ever come. (One of his many nicknames was “King Andrew”.) I’m not sure his moderate successes outshine the many negatives of his presidency. Thus, my personal inclination is to say he did more harm than good. So, I’m going to say…. EE: yes; good: no.

OK, time to feed the kids lunch. More coming soon!!

Does “executive experience” equate to Presidential success? Part 1

I’m really, really curious.  I want to look at the presidencies of the United States — ALL OF THEM — and see if “executive experience” really makes a great president.  After all, it’s really being talked about right now.  The Democratic ticket has no executive experience.  Sarah Palin has way more executive experience.  Blahbity blah blah blah.

But does it matter?  Do you need that sort of experience to go down in history as a good president?  And if you have that sort of experience, does it help solidify your place in history as a good president?

This should be fun.  I love this sort of thing, and I’m sure I’ll learn more about our past commanders-in-chief.  Maybe you will, too!  I’m way too lazy to cite stuff, so you’ll just have to trust me that I’m not making anything up.  I’m just doing this for fun so I don’t want to hear any grumbling about my lack of sources.  I’m doing this for me, for my own enjoyment, and just typing it up here so that others might get a kick out of it, too.

I’m going to write this as I research it.  Meaning, as I write, I’m not going to know what I find out about future presidents.  I’m going to start at #1, and go all the way through #43, summarizing the CV of each for its level of “executive experience” and then deciding if each has been remembered as a “good” president (mostly through my own opinion but I will try to be somewhat objective).  And I guess I should have a way analyze the results.  Maybe a comparative percentage presentation — percent of ‘good’ presidents with executive experience combined with ‘bad’ presidents without executive experience (null) vs. percent of ‘good’ presidents without executive experience combined with ‘bad’ presidents with executive experience (alternative).  That should work.  I’d expect, based on the rhetoric during the Republican convention so far that the first percentage will be higher than the second percentage.  We shall see!

First, let’s define “executive experience”.  (And again, I have very little knowledge in the way of the backgrounds of the Presidents through the ages — I have no idea what I’m going to find as I Google each man.)

OK — executive experience:  Let’s call it an ‘executive’ government job — at minimally, the level of governor.  I’m simply not convinced that VP should count.  Yes, in the early days of the country they were elected separately, and nowadays they often play significant advisory roles, and they preside over the Senate counting votes and breaking ties, I gotta say, I just don’t see how ‘executive’ it is.  And the Secretaries of the Cabinets…. on the face I want to count them, but they are heads of such narrowly focused organizations…. I just asked Frank and he votes no, not to count them.  So I won’t.  Owning and/or running a fairly large business as CEO.  Attaining the rank of Lieutenant General or General in the Armed Forces (or Vice Admiral or higher in the Navy).  And maybe I’ll give credit as I go for some other stuff.

I am not aiming to decree someone a good or bad person, or to lift up or decry their activities and accomplishments before and after the presidency.  Obviously our initial string of Presidents were all founding fathers, and in and that of itself is a measure of their personal greatness.  I’m trying to objectively form an opinion of these men as Presidents, independent of their other life achievements (or lack thereof).  So… should I decide that Thomas Jefferson was a crappy president, please don’t crucify me.  I’ll just decide, of my own opinion based on the trifle of things I read for each president, whether they were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (ie. not necessarily BAD, but mediocre or worse).  Feel free to argue with me.  It will only increase my own learning on the matter.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

#1 — George Washington.  He was a General.  He led the entire Continental Army and then later the official United States Army.  Before his army career he was a farmer (a rich and successful one, though he did not make himself rich, he was ‘old money’.)   Good president?  By all accounts, I would say so.  It seems pretty agreed upon how thoughtful and fair he was, and how he listened and sought out opinions from all sides before making a decision.  Most importantly, the new country did not crumble under his leadership, as it most likely had the potential to in those early years.  So:  EE: yes.  Good: yes.

Oooh, I’m going to need a spreadsheet.  If only I had a friend or two who liked this sort of thing…

#2 — John Adams.  He was VP for eight years under GW.  Before that he served in what could be considered the legislative branch of the colonial government, first for the Massachusetts colony and then in the Continental Congress.  Before THAT he was a lawyer, who notably defended the British soldiers who committed the Boston Massacre and were subsequently charged with murder.  He achieved acquittals for six, and two were convicted of manslaughter.  So under my definition, he doesn’t have the executive experience I’m looking for.  It seems to be generally agreed that while he was viewed unfavorably during his time, history has viewed John Adams with a more favorable eye.  Specifically, the U.S. was having major problems with France.  The American populace hungered to go to war with France.  John Adams managed to avoid war and even more so, become allies with France before the end of his term.  I have to vote that Adams, all in all, was a success.  Again, the fledgling country stayed afloat, and since there’s “no such thing as a good war or a bad peace”, avoiding a war with a major superpower of the time was obviously (to me and others) a pretty wise move.  So… EE?  No.  Good?  Yes.

#3 — Thomas Jefferson.  Among his other notable accomplishments, like having Jeffersonian Democracy named after him, and penning a famous document or two, he served as Governor of Virginia for three years before becoming VP and then President after defeating John Adams.  There’s no arguing that Thomas Jefferson was a remarkable and intelligent man, with an amazing gift for the written word.  But to look at the major events of his presidential administration, I have to say he may have done more harm than good.  Among the good was the Louisiana Purchase and commissioning the Lewis and Clark expedition.  The bad included being the author of the words “all men are created equal” but doing little to eliminate slavery as an institution, and only freeing his own slaves in his will, upon his death.  He chose during his administration to suspend all trade with England and France (as American sailors were being captured in great numbers by British navy ships and forced into service for the Crown) which sunk the country into an awful economic state.  This trade war eventually led to the War of 1812 with Britain, possibly the closest our country came to collapse.  Great man?  Legendary?  I’ll say yes.  Good president?  Against every ounce of my being, against the fabled greatness, I’m going to say, no.  So…. EE: yes; Good: no.

#4 — James Madison.  He mostly wrote the Constitution, and as a US Representative helped establish the first ten amendments to the Constitution, more commonly known as the Bill of Rights.  He was Secretary of State under Jefferson.  But, according to me, no “executive experience”.  Most notable during his presidency was the War of 1812 with Britain.  Details aside, the U.S. won and remained an independent nation.  Rousing success, if you ask me, even if he bungled a lot of it, and even if Britain was a bit distracted by France at the time.  His policies also led to a stronger military and growing economic freedom and prosperity.  Maybe he wasn’t a super duper fabulous president, but I think he made the most of the situations presented him.  So…. EE: no; Good: yes.

Damn, this is taking a long time to get through each one.  But I shall persevere!!  More to come!

History in the making, whether you like it or not

I have to give props to John McCain. He just picked Alaska governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Yeah, she’s a chick.

As far as Republicans go, I have to say John McCain doesn’t give me the dry heaves. Sure, he graduated 894th out of 899 from his class at Annapolis (and probably only got in because daddy and granddaddy were admirals). Sure, he cheated on his disabled first wife when he came home from being a POW and she’d been in a car accident and she wasn’t the stunning beauty he’d left behind to go to war. And that whole “you’re rich if you make over $5 million a year” claim was a bit nauseating. Still, I can give him props too. That whole POW thing. That he still supports his ex-wife financially (and voluntarily so) that she may get the best treatment. He may be a bit crazy but I think deep down he’s got a good heart and he loves this country. If he won, I wouldn’t get the sense of impending doom that I got when W won both times. I wouldn’t be happy, and I certainly don’t want him to win, but I do think he’s a notch or two above a George W. Bush/Cheney administration.

And you just gotta love this VP pick. I’m not naive enough to think that he did it to ensure a history-making winning ticket no matter who wins, though that is very cool. I can see this for what it obviously is — direct pandering to the hoards of undecided Hillary Clinton supporters who are thinking about not voting for Barack Obama because they are “disenfranchised with the primary process” (aka they are sore losers). The McCain camp obviously things these hoards want to get behind a woman — ANY woman — and were thus more than happy to offer one up for them. I find this kind of insulting, because it assumes (and perhaps rightly so for at least some of the Hillary supporters) that the only reason they liked Hillary is because she has a vagina. I hope at least some of her now disenfranchised supporters liked her for more than that, had more reason than than to offer her their support. But maybe not.

Anyway, despite the motivation for the choice, it does make me happy to see an election where we’re going to end up with an historic result. I’m so, so glad for it. It renews my hope.