HOW TO DETERMINE THE CHARACTER OF A PRESIDENT

22 Feb

That was then and this is not.

George Washington, our nation's first president

George Washington, our nation’s first president

 Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States.

Haters Gonna Hate (HGH)

This article has been updated. It was originally published under the title "Will The Real Worst President Please Stand Up" on 9/17/2014 at www.claireifyblog.com

Twitter claims to handle about 6,000 tweets per second, roughly translating to 500 million tweets per day. My Twitter topics and interests are varied and my activity is random, so in hindsight, I wonder how and why a troller (or someone) chose me and my timeline to tweet the hashtag #Obama with the brief phrase “The worst president ever.”

“Just baiting,” I chuckled but then I couldn’t resist the urge to respond. Maybe he could give me some examples. I tweeted back with one word: “Because?”

His answer: “He is a weak president. What has he done?”

I have a pretty good idea when an opinion is going to become a useless blowup so initially, I just shook my head and decided to let it go. I have grown weary of the increasing numbers of HGH (Haters Gonna Hate) and I have priorities in life that preclude toxic and fruitless arguments. Speaking up is important but I choose my battles.

But I couldn’t get his comment off my mind. What was his definition of “weak?” Is it because POTUS refuses to play the role of the angry black man? Was the tweeter trying to use the word “weak” as code for something more racially-charged? Whatever his intention, he and his buddies are still out there, overtly labeling Obama as the “worst president ever” and obviously, certain GOP legislators and candidates agree. Instead of presenting a viable platform for running the country, some of the far right continue to lean on the argument that President Obama is weak. “Seriously?

Barack Obama thumbs upWhat is weak is the choice of the word. When I think of weak presidents, names such as Nixon, Dubya, and a few DINOs stand out. For claireification purposes, I also equate weak with cowardly, flimsy, degenerate, forceless, and fragile. I cannot, nor do I believe most Americans would define our president using any of these adjectives. He is calm and maintains grace under fire, and let’s remember, only a few insiders know what goes on behind those closed doors. This was the president who attended the White House Correspondents Dinner the night before the raid that ended with the death of Osama Bin Laden. There wasn’t a reporter at that event who knew the game was afoot.

For 24+ hours I mulled over the benefits and fallout of further response to this abrupt and designed-to-incite tweet, finally deciding to challenge the poster based on an educated guess that he may not know the history of US presidents beyond, say, JFK or LBJ. Also, a glance at his previous tweets and accompanying grammar were big clues. How could he possibly compare forty-four presidents and determine who was the worst? He had difficulty spelling fifth grade words.

The terseness of his response—weak president—was vague and I could be wrong, but the “weak” excuse without justification was, I suppose, the best he could put down in words. This “worst president ever” meme is tiresome but I am not surprised to see it resurface because that’s how the Right rolls. They recycle their dogma with new poisonous twists and without a shred of truth or reality, hoping no one will remember previous counter-positions.

Some things have a clear right and wrong standard, such as police officers killing unarmed citizens or putting drivers in jail for minor traffic violations

Bill Clinton

Warren_G_Harding-Harris_&_Ewing-crop Warren Gamaliel Harding was the 29th President of the United States and considered by many to be the top of the worst!

But worst president? That determination requires comparison and time. Who can say what is bad, worse, or worst when the comparison is values-based and American values  shift from decade to decade, even year to year. There simply is no black and white, right-or-wrong scenario regarding the question of “who’s the worst?” Sports statistics are examples of best and worst records. The RBIs, the steals, the TDs, the fumbles, the assists and dunks, are quantifiable. The actions of sports figures such as Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cannot be quantified because those same right-and-wrong values when applied to character and actions (or non-action) are subjective.

If you’d like a free copy of The Audacity of Hope, read on.

Does George W. Bush deserve the “worst” title because he lured us into a war based on the existence of WMDs that were never found? Or should he get a pass because Dick Cheney held the real power? Should the on-again, off-again conspiracy theory of Franklin D Roosevelt’s alleged advance knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor contribute to a tarnished legacy? That controversy continues to be investigated.

Lyndon B Johnson

George W Bush

George W Bush

 

“There are plenty of stories that make up the America we know today, and there are also plenty of stories Americans have made up.”- Robert Wuhl

Once-presidential-hopeful, Mitt Romney is a rich guy with an obvious disconnect to people, places and things outside the Caymans, Swiss banks, expensive homes and cars and multi-level personal garages. Would he take the lead as worst if he ever decided to run again? Do his off-script remarks make him worse than Bill Clinton who had a (gasp) sexual affair while in office? Oops, maybe more than one. And in the “people’s house” as Dubya put it. Some are presenting judgments before the fact, insisting that Hillary will be the next worst president because she’s too moderate and right-leaning. Or Bernie Sanders will inherit the moniker because he’s a socialist, although a high percentage of American voters cannot  define socialism.

Grover Cleveland admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock. Jimmy Carter admitted to having feelings of lust. Who’s worse? Ulysses S. Grant’s administration was synonymous with corruption but he did his best to fight for Native American rights and call out the KKK. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves while in office. So did James Monroe and seven other presidents.

There’s a lot of gray in between good, bad, worse and worst. An agreement is unlikely because the judgment would depend on the factors involved. What era of our country’s history is under discussion? What is the valid and agreed upon description of “worst?” Who or what is being compared to who or what else? Does the decision rest on the opinions of average working Americans or scholars? What demographic(s) is (are) involved in the opinion-gathering? How far back in time are we going? A bona fide sin as viewed in 1776 is different than today’s sin which leaves wide berth for the sinner. Most important, who is still alive today who had inside access to the actions of any given president? That person would need to demonstrate a damn good memory and unbiased recall. Tough combo.

Attempts to objectively discuss our nation’s past come with credibility baggage. Actor /comedian Robert Wuhl states “There are plenty of stories that make up the America we know today,and there are also plenty of stories Americans have made up.”

In 2010, US News and World Report ran its Ten Worst Presidents based on a compilation of five polls. (http://www.usnews.com/news/history/articles/2007/02/16/worst-presidents-conclusion)

Richard Nixon, AKA Tricky Dick, easily tops this list for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. But what makes him any worse than President Reagan who fired 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981. Conversely, Nixon is credited with significant strides in environmental protection and diplomatic relations with China, and Reagan is revered for his ability to convey a no-nonsense approach to leadership including tax slashing for the wealthy. What? You didn’t know that was leadership? It is for the super-rich.

 

Ronald Reagan fired all the the air traffic controllers

Ronald Reagan fired all the the air traffic controllers

Comments on an August 5, 2014 Mother Jones article by Mark Murrmann (33 Years Ago Today: Reagan Goes Union Busting…”) include many pro-Reagan remarks but one poster writes “Reagan was undoubtedly the worst President in US history. And we continue to this day to be haunted by the disastrous policies that his regime enacted, often illegally. He should have been impeached and tried for treason.” The suggested punishment seems a little harsh but serves to show that “worst” is all about objectivity.

Perhaps insecure and paranoid (WTT=Why The Tapes?), unaware, unthinking and inept might better describe Dick Nixon’s stealth tactics. The Watergate break-in, cover-up and attempted cover-up of the cover-up was one huge ball of unthinkable, unethical, unraveling yarn that was unprecedented in political history. Nixon was labeled “worst” primarily because the plan was botched. His involvement was caught on tape, especially the tape that Watergate security guard, Frank Wills found on the doors of the DNC offices. Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, appointed by the resigning Nixon, took substantial heat for his pardon of Nixon yet Ford doesn’t make significant “worst lists.”

The heavy hitters who assess and revise the “historical rankings” of past presidents include organizations such as Rasmussen Reports, Gallup, the Quinnipiac University poll and the Siena College Research Institute. The SRI has been doing this ever-changing survey since 1982 and records George W. Bush as the fifth worst. He is preceded by Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding and Franklin Pierce. But should the opinions of academics be held as more praiseworthy than those of the American people?

Many political historians consider Andrew Johnson, our 17th president (1865-1869) to be one of,if not the worst president ever. Johnson took office when Lincoln was assassinated and held the view that Whites should have dominance over Blacks and former slaves should be considered serfs. He was the first president to be tried for impeachment. He was acquitted by a single vote. It was also rumored that he had a slave as a mistress who had two of his children. Oh, the hypocrisy. And some believe he was involved in Lincoln’s assassination although that was never proved.

The reason most often cited for Andy’s “worst” title was the fact that he inherited the presidency and then proceeded to push his own agenda. His policies were linked with the poverty that embroiled the South for nearly a century after the Civil War.

Even though no one alive today could have known him, he still ranks as the 3rd worst president in a 2007 US News Poll based on historical documentation.

Franklin Pierce, 14th President- first presidential DUI ever?

Franklin Pierce, 14th President- first presidential DUI ever?

Franklin Pierce, our country’s 14th president, was dubbed doughface (a Northerner with loyalty to the South) and served from 1853 to 1857 but was abandoned by his party for re-election. Although he was described as polite and handsome, he was pro-slavery and an alcoholic, and was criticized as timid. Theodore Roosevelt called him “a servile tool of men worse than himself.” Comedian/actor Robert Wuhl cited Pierce as the first president to receive a DUI after he took a wild horse ride while drinking and ran over a woman.

Millard Fillmore, America’s 13th president (1850-1853) who took over the Presidency after the death of President Zachary Taylor, allegedly did not smoke, drink or gamble (a values-oriented president by the standards of the time) but his overt racist decisions and positions on civil liberties put him on the list of the worst. He left a legacy of ordering enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law and was known to oppose immigration, especially of Irish Catholics.

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore

Warren G. Harding, 29th president, signed peace treaties which formally ended World War I but because of multiple scandals involving others in his administration, Harding is ranked by many scholars as the worst President ever to serve. Rumor persists that he lost the White House china in a poker game, and apparently he was an inadequate communicator. In fact, Harding himself said, “I am not fit for this office and never should have been here.”

Critic, H.L. Mencken said of Harding “He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; of tattered washing on the line; of stale bean soup, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights.”

The political genius of President Coolidge, journalist Walter Lippmann pointed out in 1926, was his talent for doing nothing. “This active inactivity suits the mood and certain of the needs of the country admirably,” Lippmann wrote. “It suits all the business interests which want to be let alone…. And it suits all those who have become convinced that government in this country has become dangerously complicated and top-heavy….”

Coolidge was a man of few words. According to a bio written by Freidel and Sidey, a woman sitting next to Coolidge at a dinner party wagered she could get at least three words out of him. His reply was “You lose.”

On a positive note, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln consistently top the lists of best presidents in polls taken as far back as 1948. Ronald Reagan also stays on a “best” list despite a few dips, due to his communication skills and leadership abilities. I met President Reagan at a Sacramento media event in 1976. He was a fun guy to talk with, knew how to work a room, and had a firm handshake. I asked him why he thought he would make a good president and he started to speak, but wife Nancy who was never far from his side, answered for him. “Ronnie is honest and means what he says,” she told me. “It shows on camera and the camera never lies.”

In summary, the question really isn’t about the best and worst since Americans of different political persuasions have different criteria for what is good, bad, right and wrong, and those standards and values morph over time. Someone you deem as evil, immoral, or revolting, for whatever reason, who later, saves you from a burning building, may cause you to change your opinion of his character.

Perhaps the question to be considered is “Who in his right mind (or left) would want to be president? Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying of the Presidency, “I have no ambition to govern men; it is a painful and thankless office.” Author and intellectual, Gore Vidal declared “Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.”

Few would disagree that the job of POTUS is tough, exhaustive and subject to more darts than laurels, but somebody has to do the job. May the best person win, even if (s)he happens to be the worst.

Your comments are welcome. How do you determine the superlative “worst”? Please share and I will send one of you my “like-new” copy of Obama’s The Audacity of Hope.

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