Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Presidents' Day Specials

Cheesecake by Eli's of Chicago for the 2013 Inaugural.
In honor of Presidents' Day (which I always think of as Nixon's Birthday, since it was instituted during his reign, and is a generic and moveable feast like the birthday of the sovereign of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which has been celebrated on the first, second, [jump]
or occasionally third Saturday in June since 1907, regardless of the actual monarch's actual birthday, and thus conveys the somewhat godlike or at any rate metaphysical qualities conferred by the presidency as Nixon saw it), old BooMan has been soliciting listicles of the Worst Presidents Ever over at the Frogpond.

Some electronic glitch prevented me from posting mine, and by the time I was back in communication with the Pond I was all busy with other stuff, but because mine is not focused on (a) "Presidential Historian" questions of how tough or dominant the particular presidents were or (b) how much they agreed with me but, in particular for the list of the worst, how criminal they were, I feel it has something unusual to offer. I omit the immensely evil Andrew Jackson, destroyer of Native Americans, scourge of rational financial policy, and giant representative of the slave power, because his wickedness seems so democratic and of his time; and Lyndon Johnson for the obvious reason that he was one of our two or three greatest presidents at the same time as being one of the worst. Proslavery mediocrities like Tyler and Pierce were mediocrities.

The list, then, from bad to worse, goes like this:

  • Harding (most criminal without wishing anybody any harm)
  • Polk (admired by conventional minds because he was "strong", fighting the hideous and unprovoked Mexican War as a way of strengthening the slave power, as opposed to the innocent imperialist McKinley who was merely pretty bad and Theodore Roosevelt who, like Johnson, was colossally mixed)
  • Reagan (his attempt to dismantle the New Deal was merely keeping a campaign promise, and failed in any case, but the criminality of his election, at this point I think unarguable, and the closely related criminality of the Iran-Contra schemes put him on the list)
  • Nixon (though a kind of liberal by today's standard, at least when he was president as opposed to during the rest of his life, he was mainly a crook and an  extraordinarily dangerous one who claim close to destroying the government); and
  • G.W. Bush (he may well have been unaware of the full horror of the criminality of his own regime, but only because he didn't care one way or another, and got a hardon from what he did understand of it; he cheated his way into office more thoroughly than Reagan or Nixon, and under his administration the government really was destroyed, although I'm enough of an idiot to continue hoping that under Obama it can be restored)

George Washington cake from Gumdrops and Truffles, via The Cooking Channel.
Thomas Jefferson's election in 1800, by the way, was pretty dubious in its own right. NTodd provides a wonderful rundown of the machinations that the New York Federalist Alexander Hamilton employed in getting the Virginia Republican selected over New York Republican Aaron Burr (because he totally disagreed on policy issues with both of them but really hated Burr); but notes, what I had never understood before, that Jefferson would not have had a chance over the incumbent John Adams if not for the Three-Fifths Compromise in the Constitution, which gave the Southern slave-holding states a good 12 more congressional seats, and therefore electors in the presidential contest, than they would have had under a system where the number of electors corresponded to the number of voters. Noting that Adams would have beaten Jefferson in a fair fight in spite of the judgment of "Presidential Historians" that he was an inferior president reminds us that Jimmy Carter would have beaten Reagan, too, if not for the dirty October Surprise, and his legacy after eight years might have looked quite different than it did after only four.

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