Monday, February 15, 2010

Great Presidents Behaving Badly...And Bad Presidents Behaving Good

On this President's Day I thought I'd turn things around a little bit and cite some good things that some of our worst presidents did and some of the worst things some of our best presidents did.

Using my list of Top Five Best and Wost U.S. Presidents from earlier this weekend, below are some fun facts you may not have known...

Great Presidents Behaving Badly

George Washington. He was a slave owner his entire adult life, including his time as President. He even tried to get an exemption from a new law in Pennsylvania abolishing slavery in the state by saying that he only lived in the state because Philadelphia was the capital of the nation (which it was in the 1790s). Washington did eventually emancipate all his slaves, but only after his death as part of his will.

Thomas Jefferson. As president, he pushed for and signed a law banning trade between the United States and other nations called The Embargo Act. This led to a major economic downturn. Jefferson also signed a law outlawing black Americans from carrying the U.S. mail. He was no fan of women participating in government, saying, "The appointment of a woman to office is an innovation for which the public is not prepared, nor am I." Famously, Jefferson is also accused of carrying on an affair with one of his slaves while President.

Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, Lincoln suspended the right habeus corpus -enabling the government to hold anyone prisoner for unlimited time for any or no reason. Most agree this was a dubious decision at best, but even some of those critics understand the context that the Civil War played in Lincoln's thinking.

Teddy Roosevelt. He signed into law a policy that established the Untied States' "right" to intervene in other countries affairs - especially smaller nations near the United States - to keep them stable. That little maneuver was, in my opinion, less about the concern for the well being of people in places like Panama, Cuba or Guatemala and more about ensuring a stable and "business-friendly" countries for U.S. businesses seeking to make money there. All too often, this has meant U.S. support for dictators who accommodate business while enriching themselves on loans from our government and kickbacks from companies while ignoring their impoverished citizenry - ensuring unrest and violence in the region during the 20th century.

Franklin Roosevelt. While president, it is widely believed that FDR carried on an extra-marital affair with his secretary. Caving in to war rage and racism felt of much of the country following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, he signed Executive Order 9066 - imprisoning all first generation Japanese immigrants and their American citizen children. Also, the Pearl Harbor attack happened on his watch. Some say he knew the attack was likely, but did not command the military to stop it because he knew the only way to get into the war...and therefore address the more sinister threat to the world that the Hitler-led Nazi Germany represented...was by an attack. Finally, fearing his hard won economic reforms of his first would not pass muster with the Supreme Court in his second term Roosevelt championed a bill that would enable the president to appoint additional Supreme Court Justices. Following a series of about faces, resignations and even one death among the Supreme Court justices the motivation for the bill abated and it ultimately was voted down. But, it all shows that FDR was willing to do some very controversial things to get his New Deal passed and permanent.

Bad Presidents Behaving Good

James Buchanan. I've looked into this guy, and I have to say...there really isn't anything good I could find that he enacted, championed or did during his one term in office. He was inactive, sympathetic to the South and slave owners rights, uninterested in expanding civil rights or education to the masses and, well, I just can't find anything good on him. So there you go. James Buchanan - first class duchebag.

Ulysses S. Grant. He ordered the military to suppress activities of the Ku Klux Klan in the typically violent post-Civil War south. He won passage of the 15th Ammendment to the United States Constitution that prohibits governments in the United States (Federal, state, local, etc.) from denying anyone (men) the right to vote based on race, color or previously having been a slave. He established Yellowstone as the first U.S. National Park.

Herbert Hoover. He enabled law enforcement to prosecute gangsters such as Al Capone on tax evasion charges. He initiated major Federal dam building projects to generate energy for the growing country. The largest one is now called The Hoover Dam. He set aside 3 million acres of land for the U.S. National Parks system. He created an anti-trust unit of the Justice Department. He canceled private oil company leases on public lands.

Richard Nixon. Nixon presided over the largest period of desegregation of U.S. schools in the country's history. He supported the Equal Rights Ammendment to the Constitution. He signed into law the Equal Employment Opportunity Act outlawing workplace discrimination. He proposed healthcare reform to extend universal, affordable health coverage to all Americans. Like previous and subsequent Presidents, he was unsuccessful in getting his measures passed in Congress and signed into law. He opened dialog with communist China, taking the first initial steps that paved the way for a now more open and free-market China.

George W. Bush. So complete were his blunders domestically, economically, environmentally and overseas that it is difficult for me to find good things to say about Bush's tenure as president. We're talkin' James Buchanan territory here. I will try and be kind to say that he did effectively rally Americans' spirits in the post-9/11 attack timeframe.

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