Sometimes I’m just annoyed at politicians. Yesterday, after receiving a letter from Sen. Brownback and reading coverage of Sarah Palin, I was annoyed at them.
So, in keeping with my theme of being annoyed at politicians, here’s my cynic’s guide to American presidents. Yes, it’s biased, under-represents successes, but that’s the point.
I’ll start with FDR, because I feel like it.
FDR – 1933-1945 (D)
Took office during the worst economic crisis of the 20th century. Tried lots of things to fix it; a few of them actually worked, and the best produced social improvements that lasted decades.
Finally solved the depression by getting us into a war, but died before he could get us back out of it. In a stunning display of racial and ethnic discrimination, rounded up and jailed legal Japanese, German, and Italian immigrants and their children just because they were Japanese, German, or Italian. Presided over the firebombing of Dresden, which killed roughly 25,000 civilians in what would be called a terrorist war crime today. Formed an alliance with Stalin that indirectly led to the Cold War.
When asked if he wanted the German people to starve, he replied, “Why not?”
Had an affair with his wife’s secretary that must have inspired Gov. Sanford. FDR, however, kept it secret from his wife for 4 years and the public for 48 years.
Harry S. Truman – 1945-1953 (D)
Became vice president, but when FDR died 82 days later, didn’t want to be president. Victory in Europe was achieved shortly after he became president, but not due to anything he did. Ended World War II, started the Korean War, the Cold War, and the nuclear arms race. Saved the lives of countless Berliners, ended the lives of even more Japanese, though Stalin knew about the bomb years before Truman did.
Desegregated the US military in an early civil rights victory, but committed some of the worst mass murders in history using that same military.
Famously embarrassed the Chicago Tribune by winning re-election over Dewey.
Had the lowest approval rating for any American president until George W. Bush came along.
Dwight D. Eisenhower – 1953-1961 (R)
Before becoming president, was supreme commander of NATO during World War II, and thus also was implicated in the Dresden bombing. Reclassified German POWs, depriving them of Geneva Convention protections. Played on fear to justify building the interstate highway system, one of the largest long-term contributors to environmental and energy problems. Refused to defend people from McCarthy, despite privately criticizing McCarthy.
Integrated Washington, DC public schools. Took over the Arkansas National Guard to integrate Arkansas schools. Failed to get us involved in wars in Lebanon and Vietnam, despite his best efforts. Picked Nixon as his vice president, a decision nobody will forgive him for.
Famously warned of the military-industrial complex, a prediction that the profit motive of defense companies would lead politicians to support war for jobs. One of his most accurate predictions, ironically about a situation he created.
JFK – 1961-1963 (D)
Defeated Nixon to win the presidency, mainly because JFK looked better on black and white TV. Famously said “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” But the country did several things for him, including providing security when he had secret meetings with his mistress. (Gov. Sanford, you have a lot to learn.)
Tried Eisenhower’s plan to overthrow Castro. Almost got us a war with Russia, and Castro captured 1189 people. Also almost succeeded in starting the world’s first atomic war, also over Cuba, which was created partly because his earlier Bay of Pigs invasion. Despite putting 16,300 soldiers in Vietnam, it would take Johnson to finally turn that one into a war.
LBJ – 1963-1969 (D)
Supported the largest expansion of civil rights in the 20th century, and also the largest chemical weapons poisoning of a people in American history. Destroyed 6 million acres of land, intentionally destroying Vietnamese food crops, and poisoned 4 million Vietnamese and countless American soldiers. Vietnam war led to the death of 2 million Vietnamese civilians and tens of thousands of American deaths.
An early supporter of the war on poverty, voting rights, and the war on crime, he nonetheless stirred up some of the biggest riots in the 20th century because of Vietnam.
Managed to win re-election in 1964, though probably only because the Republicans had nominated Barry Goldwater, who made LBJ’s war policies look mild and sane.
Didn’t bother to seek re-election in 1968, knowing he was so unpopular. Though still remained more popular than Truman and Bush, which is saying something (though not a lot).
Richard Nixon – 1969-1974 (R)
Known as “tricky Dick”, managed to live up to the nickname. Announced he was leaving politics after losing to JFK in 1960 and a governor’s race in 1962, then won the presidential election in 1968.
Secretly expanded the Vietnam war to include Cambodia and Laos, while simultaneously calling himself a peacemaker. Greatly expanded Social Security and Medicare, supported the Equal Rights Amendment, Title IX, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.
Went on a famous trip to the Soviet Union, where he mocked Brezhnev for not having color TV. Went on a famous trip to China, where he opened up the possibility of numerous ping-pong tournaments between the two countries.
Despite being heavily favored to win re-election in 1972, his paranoid campaign organization, called “creep” (CRP), broke into Democratic headquarters. The resulting coverup had him ordering illegal actions by the FBI, and unleashed G. Gordon Liddy on the country, which we’ll never forgive him for. His arch-nemesis — print journalists everywhere — achieved new respect due to the Watergate scandal, immortalizing an otherwise obscure porn movie by naming a secret FBI informant after it. Perhaps Nixon’s most lasting achievement.
Famously lied when he told people “I am not a crook.”
Gerald Ford – 1974-1977 (R)
Became president, and lost to Carter, because of Richard Nixon. Wikipedia wrote 2 paragraphs about his presidency, which seems about average for him. Supported women’s liberation, opposed swine flu. Both supported and opposed LSD. Best thing to ever happen to Chevy Chase’s career on SNL.
Jimmy Carter – 1977-1981 (D)
A Georgia farmer, he defeated Chevy Chase to win the presidency in 1976. Got us involved with Iran, failed to rescue the American hostages.
Dealt with an energy crisis by talking honestly about it with American people and making solid plans to deal with it. That ended so poorly that it would be 20 years before another president attempted the “honesty and planning” approach. Could have saved us trillions of dollars if he had been less honest about saving energy.
Famously built homes for the people that Reagan made homeless.
Ronald Reagan – 1981 – 1989 (R)
Despite presiding over the largest expansion of the federal debt in history, he is still well-liked by fiscal conservatives. Unlike Carter’s “tell it like it is” approach, told everybody that things were fine and getting better, and got us into $3 trillion of debt as a result.
Famously fired all the nation’s air traffic controllers, leading to ongoing problems with ATC today. Started a war in Grenada, another in Libya, and escalated the Cold War, though gave the whole country Alzheimer’s about all these actions. Famously called Nazi SS soldiers victims, but ordered generals to lay a wreath on their grave after it became too controversial for him to do it himself.
Violated US and international law by selling weapons to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. Also sold weapons to Iraq to use to fight Iran. Single-handedly saved an American jelly bean company. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1994, but suspected of having it during his presidency, if his answers to the Iran-Contra investigation are any guideline.
George H. W. Bush – 1989-1993 (R)
Started a war in Panama and another in Iraq, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that his son could announce “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. Pardoned many of the Iran-Contra conspirators. Launched the careers of Dana Carvey and Bill Clinton.
He refused to take charge when Reagan was shot, throwing the federal government into turmoil during a crisis. Barely took charge even after being elected.
Bill Clinton – 1993-2001 (D)
Taught the world how to deal with allegations of affairs with mistresses. Future SC Gov. Sanford voted to impeach him for it, arguing that he broke a promise to his wife more important than the one to his country. Launched the careers of Ken Star and Monica Lewinsky, in rather different ways.
Brokered historic Arab-Israeli peace at Camp David in 2000. Despite shooting down plenty of Iraqi planes in no-fly zones, never managed to cure Republicans in Congress of their constant criticism that we should just re-invade and finish what H. W. Bush didn’t (it would take Dubya to finally cure the Republicans of THAT wish).
Had more “gates” named after him than any president (Whitewatergate, Travelgate, Troopergate). Tried to both encourage and stifle the Internet (clipper chip). Greatly helped the career of David Letterman.
George W. Bush – 2001-2009 (R)
Took office and promptly went on vacation. Responding to the worst attacks on American soil, started two wars, one of which actually managed to fight the people that were tangentially related to the ones that attacked us. Nominated an Arabian Horse judge to head FEMA, then famously praised him after his mismanagement led to thousands of deaths after Hurricane Katrina.
Finally invaded Iraq after his dad refused to go deeply into that country, and announced “Mission Accomplished” before the real fighting ever began. Never seemed to doubt it, either. Actively repressed science in government and supported archaic religious fundamental positions, ironically doing more harm to Christianity in the eyes of the world than any president in recent memory.
Ran for president as a “uniter, not a divider”, then proceeded to act as a divider. Criticized Clinton for nation-building, then tried to build up Iraq. Defeated the husband of a ketchup magnate for re-election in 2004. Launched the career of Jon Stewart.
Supported massive tax breaks for the wealthy, ran up the federal debt more than anyone since Reagan, supported massive deregulation. Not to be outdone by the worst response to a natural disaster in recent times, his policies also implemented the worst response to an economic calamity since Woodrow Wilson. Finished office with the worst popularity ratings in history and tried to reignite the Cold War after staring into Putin’s soul and finding it just as divine as Brownie’s.
Barack Obama – 2009-? (D)
Defeated Tina Fey and the ghost of Barry Goldwater to win the presidency. He’s trying Carter’s “honesty and long-range planning” approach to not just energy, but health care, education, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as well. Good luck with that.
I’ll get the hammer and nails.