Tag Archives: USA

Executive experience makes a good president? Part 10

#33 – Harry S. Truman.  Truman gained the majority of his political experience as a U.S. Senator, representing his home state of Missouri.  When he left office, he had an abysmal approval rating (lower than Nixon’s right after the Watergate scandal broke).  His presidency contained a number of controversial moves and decisions: the dropping of the atomic bomb, the Korean War, the support of the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, his dismissal of General MacArthur, and his weak response to Sen. McCarthy’s efforts to press the Communist panic button all give fodder to historians and make Truman’s presidency quite controversial.  However, despite these things, he is regularly ranked in the top ten of greatest presidents, and he made a number of significant contributions, including but not limited to expanding civil rights, expanding social welfare programs, his successful handling of the Soviet union post-WWII, and the successful transitioning of the U.S. from a time of war to a time of peace.  Therefore, I say… EE: no; Good: yes.

#34: Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Eisenhower was a four-star general and war hero during WWII.  After the war he served as president of Columbia University, and for a couple years before being elected president he was commander of the European NATO forces.  So, definitely executive experience.  Eisenhower’s presidency was mediocre at best.  While he presided over a peaceful time in America’s history, he left to his successor a raging Cold War and no test-ban treaty to end the testing of nuclear weapons.  While he did have a hand in finally ending the reign of persecution of Eugene McCarthy, he still sat idly by for years while McCarthy abused his power and conducted the most notorious witch hunt of the 20th century.  In matters of civil rights, it has been argued by Eisenhower’s main biographer, Stephen Ambrose, that Eisenhower wasn’t a ” …reluctant leader — he was no leader at all.”  In short, Ike’s presidency was largely characterized by his willingness to do nothing.  It kept us out of wars, to be sure, but it created and prolonged many more problems.  So… EE: yes; Good: no.

#35 — John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy’s political experience was in Congress, first as a Representative and then as a Senator from the state of Massachusetts.   Kennedy’s presidency has been the subject of mixed reviews… he made lots of aspirational speeches and promises, but his assassination deprived him of the time necessary to follow through.  Though his presidency was relatively short at just under three years, it contained a couple big failures, such as the Bay of Pigs, and a couple of pretty good successes, such as a test ban treaty and the formation of the Peace Corps.  Regardless, Kennedy is often ranked as a top-five president, most likely because of the strength of his leadership and charisma, and the inspirational nature of his words.  So, let’s say… EE: no; Good: yes.

Less than ten to go!  Oh I can nearly taste the finish.  Later!

Executive Experience = Good President? Part 7

#19 – Rutherford B. Hayes.  Hayes had a distinguished military career and served as governor of Ohio before becoming president.  After the incompetence of Johnson and the corrupt nature of Grant’s administration, Hayes was a breath of fresh air for the country, being he was both a competent, savvy leader and very honest.  He brought respectability back to the White House and preserved the remaining presidential power… even regaining a bit of lost ground.  He was the last 19th century president who seemed truly interested in protecting voting rights for blacks.  If he can be faulted for one thing, it might be that he didn’t seek a second term.  He probably would have won and it would have given him more time to see his policies through, including protecting blacks’ rights, all which probably would have been a good thing for our nation.  Regardless, his presidency was pretty well-rounded and marked by a number of forward-thinking accomplishments.  So… EE: yes; Good: Yes.

#20 – James Garfield.  Historians think that if he’d been able  to complete his term, he might have done some good stuff,  carrying on in the tradition of Hayes, though probably not with Hayes’ stalwart integrity.  But he might have done some bad stuff too, as he seemed a bit foundering early in his term.  However, that and two dollars will get you a cup of coffee, since he was assassinated 4 months into his presidency.  His death did help to unite the country in mourning, so at least that can be said for him.  He will thus not be included in my study.

#21 – Chester A. Arthur.  Before becoming VP under Garfield, Arthur was collector of customs in NYC, which sounds sort of lame but in his time, it was a position of great prestige and power.  He was aligned with Roscoe Conkling, a US senator from New York and Republican party boss, who was all about spoils and kickbacks and favor-exchanging to increase his own political power.  Arthur benefited from Conkling’s way of doing business, and likely quadrupled his already lucrative salary through kickbacks, but it was never shown that he took bribes or did anything else more unseemly than the kickbacks.  Conkling was the subject of Hayes’ crackdown on corruption, and Arthur lost his position in the fallout.   Conkling and Arthur then conspired together to get Garfield the nomination for presidency, and Garfield repaid the favor by asking Arthur to be his VP.  When Garfield was assassinated, the Republican party felt they really had an ‘in’ with Arthur, but by all accounts Arthur rose to the position.  He led a fair, productive, and reforming presidency, to the surprise of everyone.  He made the effort to upgrade the White House to a building of style and elegance befitting the nation’s top office.  One of the crowning accomplishments of his administration was the complete reform of the civil servant employment process, requiring service exams for most positions, thus greatly reducing appointments through spoils and cronyism.  He was well-liked and respected among the public, though he didn’t pull great favor with his own party.  He did not receive the nomination to run for a second term partly because of this, and partly because he didn’t really do anything to lobby for the nomination for himself, as he’d been diagnosed with a fatal kidney disease.  He passed away less than two years after leaving office after his first term.  So… EE: no; Good: yes.

#22 — Grover Cleveland.  Cleveland provides an interesting problem here.  Given that he served two, non-consecutive terms, should he get two votes, or just one?  I’m inclined to go with just one, as a summary of his two separate terms.  Let’s see where this takes us!  Cleveland had a pretty rapid political ascent – he started his political career in Buffalo, first as Sheriff, then mayor, then onto the governorship of New York, before receiving the nomination for president.  He didn’t do a bad job as president, but he didn’t do an exceedingly good job either.  He was a man of limited education, and as such often saw issues in very black and white terms, and fixated on certain smaller issues without regard to the bigger picture or historical precedent.  He was certainly less tolerant than other presidents of the time, doing virtually nothing of note to help minority races, and he was against women’s suffrage.  He did manage over his two terms to bring authority back to the presidency with his use of executive privilege and the veto.  But overall, historians view his service as mediocre at best.  So… EE: yes; Good: no.

Spoiler alert

I tend to like spoilers.  Not movie spoilers or anything like that, but those behind-the-pack forces that wreak havoc for the people out front.  A last place team ruins a playoff chance for another team but pulling out an unlikely victory?  Awesome!  Maybe it’s something twisted about my personality, or maybe I just dig the expression of power that comes with it.

It’s probably not a secret that I am fairly left-leaning on the political spectrum.  Although my fiscal heart sits a smidge to the right side of moderate, for social issues I’m quite aligned with the Democratic party, and am registered as such.

I’ve written before about how much Ralph Nader gets my goat.  And it’s not necessarily because of his general role as spoiler, but that he was spoiler for MY candidate.  I suppose it’s fair to say that I like any spoiler, except when I’m vested in he for whom the spoiler works against.

But the campaigns of Ralph Nader, especially in 2000, have duly demonstrated the power of the political spoiler.

And now, I’ve got a spoiler I can get behind!

Bob Barr is running for president on the Libertarian ticket.  He’s got an uphill battle for sure — right now his campaign isn’t even certain they can get him on the ballot in all 50 states.  But people are loving him.  He’s garnering the attention of conservative Republicans, and independents are showing him a lot of interest, too.  Pollster John Zogby’s organization has done a really interesting poll that illustrates just how much influence Bob Barr might have in the ’08 election.

I don’t have the financial clout to max out my $2300 contribution limit for a candidate.  But Barack Obama‘s had a few bucks thrown his way from my wallet.  MoveOn.org Civic Action gets a few bucks when they are starting up a campaign I’m interested in (like now, they are about to embark on a big push in support of universal health care).  And today I decided to throw Bob Barr a bone, too.  If he can wreak half the havoc that Nader did in 2000, it will be money well-spent.

I’m also left to wonder how many of Ralph Nader’s political contributors were registered Republicans.