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Monday, January 28, 2008

Our Fathers

In most of the recent discussions I've heard about this most annoying of primary seasons, the tone continues to be playground politics:
"I'm voting for the black one, even though he refuses to be specific about anything, because I'm black."
"Well, I'm voting for the woman, even though her entire message changes every five minutes with the polls, because I'm a woman."
"Well, I'm voting for the smily white southern dude, even though he seems to have discovered his blue-collarness five minutes ago-bringing him to question the staggering wage inequity, gutted industrial base and shamefully bad health care system in this country-because I'm a white, smily southern dude myself, and-not that I'm racist or sexist or anything-the other two seem to be saying nothing of any actual substance."

Well, the last one was a little nuanced, perhaps pointing out my own bias in this one. But I'm one of those spoilsports who always are asking that stupid question; When are we going to get around to talking about why this person should or should not be President? Not what they "are", but in what way are they competent to lead?

Fun thing is, the Republicans are doing it too, except the question is much simpler to answer: I'm voting for (crazy fuck nut) because I'm (the same type of crazy fuck nut) too.

Bill Clinton is doing a wonderful job of shitting away the last of the comparative good will he is viewed with, these days. I, like a lot of people who ostensibly should have been pleased with him as a president, spent most of his administration boiling mad about the truly awful shit he did. But these days, whenever we Libbles (as opposed to 'servatives) get together, there is plenty of wistful sighing because At least Bill was nowhere near as bad as the monster we got now.
Which is true, but no reason to turn a blind eye to the bad things he did, and maybe be honest with ourselves; a lot of what's going on now couldn't have happened without him paving the way.
In any case, he sounds like a racist shitbag every time I hear him. It's not playing well. I don't care for Hillary, but this sort of thing will make The Man With No Message president. Or worse: McCain.

So what do we have in the way of a ranking for bad presidencies? Well, I'm noticing that the original Book of Lists seems to no longer be in my posession, and the book came out in 1977, so in their list on this subject, they missed out on a number of true baddies, yet to come.
I think they hit all the classics, though. James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Herbert Hoover (ah, but don't they really mean Coolidge?), Nixon of course.

But what's my list, in order of badness? Well...

1. George Walker Bush (2001-present)
Well, there's plenty of objections to ranking him first. For one, the sitting president is always the least popular president. History will tell, right?
Furthermore, what can I say that hasn't already been said? By me, on this blog, and everyone else who's ever commented on the subject, we've covered it pretty well, over these last seven years. But lest we forget:

This is the guy who completed the work-begun well before him, granted-of utterly dismantling the Constitution, gutting what remained of the Bill of Rights, decided that the Geneva Convention didn't matter. On his watch, we became that nation that tortures people and makes jokes about it.
His administration has created an international gulag of prisons with no serious oversight, weakened services for Veterans, managed to actually make the Middle East less stable, for fuck's sake.

Even if the army of spooks that surround the guy didn't pay off a bunch of Saudis to crash a bunch of planes and kill several thousand Americans, they at very least were warned several times that it was going to happen, and did nothing to stop it.
The federal election system is utterly undone now, and any effort to fix it, or even point out what's wrong is never to be uttered in public. The federal courts are packed with right-wing ideologues. The economy is in a ditch deeper than any it's ever seen, and unlike every other President I can say that about, Bush didn't inherit this one.

And he and his minions did more to make religion a major issue in American politics than-Oh, man...This list just begins the discussion, so let's just stop there. Space concerns.

2. Ronald Wilson Reagan (1981-89)
It's another administration where the central question is, oh, where to begin?
Well, they did a fine job of ending the notion that government is there to do good things. Matter of fact, they actively promulgated the notion that government itself is bad, and therefore so is regulation of any sort.

They re-introduced open race hatred as a political tactic, and they continued the C.I.A.'s (Vietnam era) drug-smuggling operation as a means to fund death squads in Central America, while funneling arms to despotic regimes in the Middle East.
It was determined that the environment no longer mattered, and that the best policy toward the Soviet Union was continued one-upsmanship that repeatedly left us on the brink of nuclear war.

He made it clear, once and for all, that Americans don't want ideas of any sort, they want bullshit. This has been true for a long time, but he made it policy.

3. Richard Milhous Nixon (1969-74)
The most openly criminal administration since Harding (who Nixon admired, actually) or Grant.
It is well known that Nixon's money was actually mob money, but oftentide washed in the cleansing blood of the lamb (Howard Hughes, actually), and it is also well known that the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. had long-standing ties with said mob, finding it easier to do business with them than that other thing.

Where this gets interesting is that Nixon's never well-hidden personal sense of insecurity and failure was with him (and by proxy, us) always, and this made him do funny things.
So, this corrupt, middling politician and deeply insecure little boy-man is pretty run-of-the-mill as far as men go: unfortunately, this one-after a series of precipitously timed assassinations-became president.

He sent his toady Kissinger to derail the Paris peace accords (which would have ended the Vietnam war a good seven or eight years earlier), just to fuck over Johnson, and get the Democrats out of the White House. Then, he ramped up the bombings and increased the troop levels.
Later, after spending several decades ridiculing all who recommended that we develop some sort of normalized relations with mainland China, he sent Kissinger to do just that, and is still given credit as having "opened up China".

When he was told that he couldn't invade Cambodia, he proceeded to 'secretly' bomb the living shit out of it anyway, because he could. He was the first President to wiretap private citizens, simply because they did not agree with him, and when he realized that all his crimes would eventually come back to haunt him, he used some of that good, good mob money to develop a secret intelligence unit within the West Wing.
They were from that awful melange of ex-C.I.A. spooks and Cuban right-wing nutfucks that had been following Mr. Nixon around for his entire career. It is good, I think, that they were all deeply incompetent. And the only thing that prevented the Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox from not getting the entire story later, when the questions were being asked, was Nixon firing him.
(Oh, and the entire story? That all these people were part of the conspiracy that killed Kennedy.)

Actually, my favorite story of all involves Nixon's wish for a wired nation. Via coaxial cable, all of us could shop, watch the news, communicate-whatever, from private computers that would be in every home. The only trade off? The government would easily be able to track everything you did.
And so, this early version of the Internet never got off the ground-impeachment prevented it-and they all laughed at Nixon for it. Just like always.

4. Harry S. Truman (1945-53)
In many ways, this one (seen here in his Masonic regalia) was every bit the little guy overtaken by large events that he is always portrayed as. He was a loyal foot soldier for the machine of Mr. Tom Pendergast in Kansas City (and when the old crook died, the now-President Truman went to his funeral), and learned well how to keep his mouth shut. Eventually, he was rewarded with the Vice-Presidency, since Roosevelt knew he was dying, and knew that he'd better put somebody in there with a folksy manner, and no ideas of his own.

Dropping the atomic bomb? Eh, history is still out on that one. Drafting the striking railroad workers into the army and then forcing them back to work? Shitty, yes, but on a far more benign scale than many presidents.

No, his inclusion here (and such high ranking) is for one thing only: the National Security Act.
This is the act that has kept the country I live in on a continual wartime footing for as long as I've been alive, and for most of the time my parents have been alive. It keeps this country in a perpetual state of emergency, during which the President (regardless of which one) is granted extraordinary powers. It has led to the creation of secretive intelligence-gathering bureaus that seem to have always been more trouble than they're worth, more likely than not to fuck up the big stuff, and less interested in American safety than they are in just fucking shit up.

It means that most of our economy is military in origin, the conventional thinking being that war always makes for better economies. Maybe; but not 'wars' that last sixty-plus years. You'll note that there's been plenty of recessions, inflation, stagflation and all the other things that economies do in the time since 1947.
This has utterly fucked us, it spelled the final death of the republic and the entry into empire; spreading our asses thinly across the globe, cultivating paranoia as a way of life, making our leaders feel that they can do anything, at home or abroad.

As always, the nice little man did this because he was told to by various people he felt he could trust.

Hm. Buchanan? His dithering bullshit pretty much saw to it that the Civil War happened. Clinton? Can't thank him enough for NAFTA, though that was probably going to happen anyway. He did just as much damage to civil rights as any other president though; turning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms into a fightin' wing of the government to be used for personal vendettas...Suborning perjury certainly made us look like a classy bunch. Welfare 'Reform', The Defense of Marriage Act ...Hell, he did everything the Republicans had been trying to do for years. No wonder they hated him...Ford?

Well, his is a long and varied career of cleaning up messes anyway, so it figures that he'd be the one to seriously look us all in the eye after Watergate and tell us that we would be too hurt by a lengthy investigation into exactly how badly the Constitution was damaged/ignored by Nixon. That our long national nightmare was over; the bad man has gone away, now go back to sleep.
Since the C.I.A. in particular came out of that one looking very stupid, Ford decided he was going to clean up The Agency by bringing in an outsider: George Herbert Walker Bush, who by all accounts was anything but an outsider.
But to be fair, he did fire Rumsfeld and Cheney.LBJ belongs in here, even though I feel that he may have been lied to even more deeply than any of these people. But for the same reason as Truman: he left a legacy that is awful.
His was truly the beginning of the Imperial Presidency: ever since the Gulf of Tonkin and the rewriting of the War Powers Act, pretty much whenever a President wants a war, he asks Congress-if at all-mostly as a formality.
All of his plans for finally trying to make America a more level playing field for all of its citizens? Underfunded by the War, I'm afraid. A war that he knew was a waste of time, a war he ultimately came to know could not be won, and yet he did nothing to stop it.
Until he did try, but then Nixon's people fucked him over in Paris (or was it Vienna?), you know the drill...




Blogger Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

The only list harder to compile would be the best presidents. Shouldn't Grant and Harding be included in the bad list? Hoover was not winner, but blaming him for the Great Depression is a bit more than he deserved.

3:47 PM  
Blogger disco boy said...

once again, a concise understanding of the mountain of crap this nation's up against.

if i tried to write the same list, it'd go on for days. which is why i don't even bother.

8:56 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

I strongly considered Hoover because he had many chances to deal with the crisis he'd inherited, and seems to have responded stupidly.

Grant and Harding didn't make the list (they'd be in the top ten, though) because this list was about who did the most lasting damage.

Aw shit D.B., going on overlong is no reason not to write, really.

7:52 AM  

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