Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Greatest Men?

A 2008 History News Network "unscientific and informal" poll among professional historians found that 98 percent believed that the George W. Bush presidency was a failure, and that 61 percent believed it to be the worst in history. Although there is little evidence now to suggest history will be much kinder than this, it may be a little early to make such a judgment. So, just how will history paint the George W. Bush administration?
“As far as history goes and all of these quotes about people trying to guess what the history of the Bush administration is going to be, you know, I take great comfort in knowing that they don’t know what they are talking about, because history takes a long time for us to reach.”— George W. Bush, Fox News Sunday, Feb 10, 2008
Considering there have been 43 United States presidents who’ve come from a broad spectrum of backgrounds from peanut farmers to scholars to military heroes, these men served their country with pride and dignity. Most of them have succeeded in the dignity part anyway. Accomplishments of this relatively small number of men are significant. They are the men who made this country into the leader of the free world and have kept it in that position for many years. Presidents like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Ulysses S. Grant and John F. Kennedy are a few of the many great presidents that helped bring the United States to its political and economical position.

Ranking the presidents in an order of importance or greatness is one that leads to much subjective reasoning. Individual political slants will taint any objective efforts. In fact, looking at many of the polls taken and the participants of these polls, an obvious liberal slant is exposed. One such example is the poll Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. presented in the New York Times Magazine for December 15, 1996. The participants of this poll were thirty historians plus politicos Mario M. Cuomo and Paul Simon. It helps to know that the historians (and two politicians) doing the ranking are nearly all left-liberals.

The results of this poll matched up pretty well with a number of earlier polls particularly considering the ranking of presidents regarded as Great or Near Great. The three great ones were Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, and Truman ranked as among the Near Great. The failures listed Pierce, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Grant, Harding, Hoover, and Nixon. Nixon rested smack at the bottom of the list.

One of the respondents asked, “How can one evaluate such an idiosyncratic President [as Nixon], so brilliant and so morally lacking?” James MacGregor Burns certainly wore his liberal tinted glasses that day.

By what standard are we then to rank a president against his peers? Certainly, we look at a person’s job description when we consider how well they’ve performed their jobs. So, it would be best to consider the Constitution as the best place to look for the criteria of a great president. In four short paragraphs, Article II, sections 2-4 enumerate the powers of the president. It comprises but four paragraphs, most of which deal with appointments and minor duties.
Section 2. The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment. He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments. The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

Section 3. He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

Section 4. The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
A brief and straightforward description of the President’s duties, it seems the framers and those who ratified the Constitution never intended the presidency to be a powerful office. The president’s duties are to act as commander in chief of the army and navy, but Congress alone can commit the nation to war. The president is to faithfully execute the laws that only congress can enact within the scope of its limited powers.

Looking at the polls again, it seems many have ranked past presidents based on a near sacrosanct view of political power and an idolization of those who wield it most lavishly in the service of left-leaning causes. Just look at how presidents Lincoln, Wilson and FD Roosevelt are ranked. Truman left office in near disgrace because of the Korean conflict is now admired for his use of nuclear weapons and his efforts to preserve the New Deal.

Alas, I am also content to admit my political slant when judging a president’s greatness. I seek little in the man who leads this country. I seek a man who will uphold the constitution and enforce federal laws.

I suggest the historians will ultimately put a decidedly liberal slant on George W. Bush’s administration. I suggest they will look at what Mr. President has done and in time rank him higher than they do Richard M. Nixon who remains at the bottom of the list. George W. Bush has taken more power to himself than any of his peers. He has definitely compromised the constitution and many of our liberties in the name of security. It all started after the attacks in 2001 and continued through to the administration's reaction to the financial markets just a few weeks ago. I cannot accept anything that man says without considering what he and his administration has done, blatantly disregarding many aspects of the constitution. Our government is on track to fundamental change – less than perfect change. This is not good. All these changes have been made with the promise of more security. Secure the markets by spending $700,000,000,000 of my children's children's money to buy up companies, taking private companies, using my tax money to buy stock. The government holds a controlling share of AIG. The government now owns Freddy and Fannie. Many other organizations both banks and insurance companies are now partially owned by the government. In truth, these policies smell more like liberal principles than they do conservative ideals.

Who would I rank high on my list of great presidents? It is a difficult task. George Washington was a great man. He stepped down after two terms, which established a precedent that lasted until FDR. George Washington’s sensible foreign policy served the country for well over a century.

President Coolidge sponsored sharp tax cuts and made significant strides at reducing the national debt. Of Calvin Coolidge, H.L. Mencken suggested, “there were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.” Besides how can you begrudge the only president to have been born on the Fourth of July?

I’m looking for a return to a limited, constitutional government, one that does not rely on a great president.
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