Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Best US Presidents

Just imagine what you can see from the Canadian side...

Most lists are, to my mind, biased towards activist presidents, which is to say, towards leftist presidents. It is not clear to me that expanding government is a good thing. No--without good reason, it is a bad thing.

Here's my top five list:

George Washington. He could have been the man on the white horse. He could have made himself dictator or king. That's the usual thing following revolutions. That he did not do so, and set the precedent of the two-term limit, is probably the single most important act by anyone guaranteeing American democracy.

Thomas Jefferson. He roughly doubled the size of the US, without war, lowered taxes, and lowered the debt. Not a bad record, on the whole.

Theodore Roosevelt. Ushered the US onto the world stage as a great power. Showed how the presidency should work: as a “bully pulpit,” by force of personality. Personified the American spirit in a way no other president has.

Calvin Coolidge. Reduced taxes and reduced the federal debt. Cleaned the KKK out of government, granted full citizenship to Indians, fought for civil rights.

Ronald Reagan. Achieved the unprecedented feat of generally acknowledged greatness while trying to shrink, rather than expand, government. Won the Cold War.

Here are a few who did not make it, and why:

Andrew Jackson. A shameless warmonger who introduced the patronage system.

Abraham Lincoln. It is easy to look like a great leader if you lead during a major war. But objectively, the North did not do well in the Civil War: they started with overwhelming strategic advantages, and it devolved into a bloody, protracted affair. Lincoln must take responsibility for his military appointments and firings. He also played pretty fast and loose with civil rights and constitutional protections in the process.

Woodrow Wilson. Again, given unearned credit for leading during war. He introduced racial segregation in the federal government. He greatly enlarged the size and power of the federal government, getting him unearned points for activism which may well have been destructive. His foreign policy was a failure on all counts.

Franklin Roosevelt. His policies probably prolonged the sufferings of the Great Depression. He vastly expanded government and executive powers. He stayed out of World War II until forced to come in; if this was dishonourable for Neville Chamberlain, why should it be honourable for Roosevelt? He broke the precedent of staying for only two terms.

Harry Truman. Bottom line: a machine politician not qualified for his job. He gets unearned praise for having been a war leader (WWII and Korea).

Dwight Eisenhower. He has risen of late in popular estimation. I blame him for kicking a lot of cans down the road. His foreign policy, in my opinion, was disastrous. He stabbed Britain and France in the back over Suez, creating a power vacuum the US was then obliged to fill. He got the US into Vietnam, an unwinnable fight. He set some of the tone for the Eisenhower years, which were not a good time in a lot of ways. There was a reason for the Sixties, after all.

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