Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"I'm sorry too, Dmitri. I'm very sorry...All right! You're sorrier than I am! But I am sorry as well. I am as sorry as you are Dmitri..."

Ranking the Presidents, Part Nine: The Near Greats

See also:
part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven , part eight

So far (revised):

42. James Buchanan
41. Warren Harding

40. William Henry Harrison
39. Franklin Pierce
38. George W. Bush
37. Andrew Johnson
36. Millard Fillmore

35. John Tyler
34. James A. Garfield
33. Zachary Taylor
32. Ulysses S. Grant
31. Richard Nixon
30. Herbert Hoover
29. Benjamin Harrison
28. Jimmy Carter
27. Chester A. Arthur
26. Rutherford B. Hayes
25. Gerald Ford
24. Martin Van Buren
23. Calvin Coolidge
22. John Quincy Adams
21. William Howard Taft
20. Ronald Reagan
19. Bill Clinton

18. George Bush
17. William McKinley
16. Grover Cleveland
15. John Adams
14. Dwight Eisenhower
13. John F. Kennedy
12. James K. Polk
11. James Madison
10. James Monroe

OK...I've got five guys that fall into the near-great category, with the remaining four making up the rarefied "great" group.

9. Andrew Jackson (1829 - 1837)

High Points/Accomplishments:
(1) Did a great job during the nullification crisis in enforcing federal laws (ominously and effectively warning South Carolinians contemplating non-compliance and possible secession that "disunion by armed force is treason. Are you ready to incur its guilt? If you are, on the heads of the instigators of the act be the dreadful consequences; on their heads be dishonor, but on yours may fall the punishment.")

(2) Probably the first truly strong executive, Jackson vetoed more bills (12) than the previous six Presidents combined.

(3) Though it was arguably completely extra-legal, Jackson's "kitchen cabinet" (which was comprised of his friends, held meetings in the White House kitchen, and more or less replaced the actual cabinet) was shit cool.

(4) Survived an assassination attempt when his assailant's gun (a derringer) misfired...and then his replacement gun (again, a derringer--not great advertising for them) also misfired. At trial it was discovered that both guns were working properly, meaning there was roughly a 1 in 350 chance of it misfiring. For it to happen twice in a row puts the odds of Jackson not being shot at least once at about 1 in 125,000. Wild, no?

Low Points:
(1) Trail of Tears (totally indefensible).

(2) He's generally held to be responsible for introducing the maxim "to the victor go the spoils" in U.S. politics, replacing many government officials with his cronies. (Contemporary studies reveal that Jackson only replaced about 15% of the federal work force, but that was more than enough to create a major stir in D.C.) (2) The more I read about Jackson, the harder for me it is to avoid the conclusion that he was--at least partially--insane. (Maybe it was all the dueling? I can't say for certain.) Witness his war against the Bank of the United States (which he viewed--no doubt rightly--as an elitist, east coast biased institution). So, anyway, Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Bank (which was totally within his purview), which, in effect, sealed the bank's fate. However, not content to let the bank die a slow death, Jackson went out and actively sought to destroy it by withdrawing $11 million in funds ($225 million today) and depositing it in various state banks. I dunno, that's always struck me as kind of hardcore.

(3) Appointed colossal asshole Roger Taney, author of the majority decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford--aka the single worst Supreme Court decision in American history--to the bench.

Fun Facts:
(1) Involved in (to my mind) one of the sadder events in American history: The Battle of New Orleans. For those that don't remember/don't really care about their War of 1812 history (file me in the latter category): basically what happened was that, in late 1814, the British and the Americans hammered out a Treaty (of Ghent) to end hostilities. The treaty was signed on December 24th. Just over two weeks later, before word of the treaty had arrived in the U.S., General Jackson and his men absolutely routed the red coats, killing 300 with persistent rifle fire (and injuring roughly seven times more than that) ...which is perhaps not surprising, given that the opposite side was openly brandishing white flags, procuring signed copies of the treaty, with lawyers in tow (I'm kidding of course--they obviously didn't know it was over either).

(2) As you probably know, in 1806, Jackson challenged Charles Dickinson (a lawyer) to a duel for disparaging comments Dickinson had made about Jackson's wife (it's a long and drawn out tale, but for our purposes, all you need to know is that when Jackson married his wife, he thought she was divorced when, in actuality, she had only filed for divorce). Dickinson got off the first shot, nailing Jackson in the chest. Thinking the duel was over (what with Jackson about to die and all), Dickinson started to walk away (or perhaps began some sort of celebratory dance--the history books are silent on this point), but Jackson--amazingly, still standing up straight despite unimaginable pain--proclaimed that the duel was not over. DeGregorio continues (p.110):

At the insistence of Jackson's second, Dickinson returned to his mark. Although it was commonplace for a man in Jackson's position to spare his opponent by firing into the air.

To which I say: wait, wait, wait...so, even though Dickinson had shot (and nearly fatally wounded) Jackson, Jackson was still supposed to take the high road? The hell? I must confess, I don't think I'll ever fully understand the Southern Code of Gentility.

Related fun fact: Craig Simpson, history professor extraordinaire at Western, acts out this duel every year in his U.S. history courses. On two occasions, I even participated, playing Jackson both times. Professor Simpson, ever the good sport, always insisted he be Dickinson. What a guy.

(3) There's a great story involving Jackson and his then-VP John C. Calhoun (a staunch states'-rights advocate who would eventually resign--along with Spiro Agnew, the only VP to do so--over his disagreement with the administration's handling of the nullification crisis) at a White House dinner celebrating Jefferson's birthday in 1830. Asked to make a toast, AJ stood up and said:
"Our Federal Union--it must be preserved!"
Not to be outdone, Calhoun jumped up and offered the following counter-toast:
"The Union--next to our liberty, the most dear!"
At this point, Jackson shot Calhoun through the heart, mortally wounding him.

(4) The Peggy Eaton Affair. If you're wondering why AJ eschewed his actual cabinet, look no further than this bizarre saga. The gist of it being that Peggy Timberlake was rumored to be having an affair with John Eaton (a close friend of Jackson's and his Secretary of War) when her husband (a naval engineer) died at sea. Rather unsubtly, Eaton and Timberlake were wed two months later, adding much fuel to the fire. As a result, Washington society--dickishly--ostracized the new Mrs. Eaton. Heading this campaign was VP John C. Calhoun's wife. Jackson, who went through something similar with his wife (see Fun Fact #2) was furious, and demanded that all cabinet members and their wives treat Eaton with courtesy. Save for SecState Martin Van Buren (a widower), all refused. Eaton eventually resigned, but the damage to Jackson's relationship with his cabinet had already been done. Anyway, all of this seems like a rather large overreaction when you consider that this was an era where people routinely married their first cousins, but whatever...

(5) In what can only be described as the most satisfying election victory this side of Bartlett-Ritchie, Jackson soundly defeated Henry Clay (the man largely responsible for throwing the 1824 election to JQA--the first of the three so-called "corrupt bargains" in U.S. history) in 1832, winning 219 out of possible 286 electoral votes.

In Writing: Oddly, no, even though Jackson is a riveting figure. When I do, I'll likely go with Schlesinger's The Age of Jackson series.

In Popular Culture: Man, I dunno...The Jackson statue in D.C. is pretty sweet. Also, he was played by Charlton Heston in 1953's The President's Lady (about AJ's early years), which sounds...about right.

Test of Time:
He's actually dropped a bit (Schlesinger's '62 poll has him 6th out of 31--now he only cracks the top ten about half the time), but I think he'll always be remembered fondly, largely for being the first POTUS to show some balls in dealing with Congress.

8. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963 - 1969): and, I won't lie, it kind of breaks my heart he isn't higher (though, for the record, this is full five places higher than he usually finishes--average ranking in the last ten polls dating to 1982 is 13.7). No President has (and, I'm willing to bet, will ever have) higher highs and lower lows than my man LBJ.

High Points/Accomplishments:
The War on Poverty (including school reform, a volunteer peace corps, the job corps, and the Economic Opportunity Act); Medicare and Medicaid; Environmental Protection; The Highway Safety Act; The Fair Packaging and Labelling Act (more important than you think, actually); and, oh yeah, the most impressive civil rights reform in one hundred years, which included: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (barring discrimination in public places), the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (outlawing discriminatory--read: blatantly racist--tests implemented at the polls to disenfranchise black voters), and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (barring discrimination in the sale and rental of housing--actually, it's eerily similar to a JFK bill--which set out to accomplish the exact same thing five years earlier...except it actually worked. Jesus, I sounded like Sarah Palin there.) Enough? Is the Great Fucking Society not enough for you? (I know, I know...the other thing:)

Low Points: sigh...obviously (obviously, obviously) Vietnam. There's no way of getting around it: it was a fucking disaster, predominantly because of the catastrophic loss of life (58,000 on the American side, untold millions of Vietnamese), but also (at the risk of seeming a little bit insensitive, though it's definitely not my intention) because it derailed the greatest domestic program since the New Deal. I could try to mount a half-hearted defense on LBJ's behalf, noting that Congress totally abdicated responsibility when they gave him carte blanche in the wake of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, or that he started small there initially (amazingly, only 3,500 marines...but a whopping 550,000 less than three years later) and never wanted to escalate things, or that America's involvement in Southeast Asia tormented him for the rest of his years, but, no, it's on him. It's on him. And it's why he can never be considered a great President.

Fun Facts: (1) Somewhat hilariously, was known as "Landslide Lyndon" for several years as a result of his 87 vote win (out of about a million cast) in his 1948 Senate run.

(2) Say what you want about him, but we should all be thankful that he beat the terrifying Barry Goldwater (he of the famed "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" quote; the guy who routinely talked about a "limited nuclear war"; and the reason this ad was run) in 1964. Trust me, we might not be here if we didn't (or, at the very least, I might be living Fallout 3 instead of playing it.)

(3) Hobbies included scaring the living hell out of guests to his Texas Ranch by driving his jeep around at 90 mph and just generally tormenting people. (LBJ patented at least two disturbing intimidation tactics: first, he would talk to someone he was trying to influence in his swimming pool, slowly drifting said person, unbeknownst to them, out into the deep end--where they had to tread water--while he was stationed firmly in the shallow end. Second, he make interns take meetings with him while he was on the toilet. I think he was just being a dick with that one.)

(4) First sitting President to meet the Pope. (Thankfully, no swimming involved.)

(5) Arguably the coolest portrait of them all. That is all.

In Writing: I know I've shilled for him a few different times now here, but, again, let me stress: you will never find a better multi-volume biography (politician or otherwise) than Robert Caro's The Years of Lyndon Johnson (three so far, with Caro working on #4). If you don't have them, borrow volume one (The Path to Power) from the library. If you do have them (Jesse), start reading them already!

In Popular Culture:
(1) From "Bart the Fink":

Bart: Mom, I just saw Krusty!
Marge: Yes, dear, in your mind.
Bart: No, on the street.
Marge: On the street in your mind.
Bart: Why won't you believe me?
Marge: Sweetheart, sometimes when people die, you just want them to be alive so badly you see them everywhere. I went through the same thing when Lyndon Johnson died.

(2) This stretches the definition of "popular" beyond recognition, but, when I was a grad student and just before the 2004 election, Misha set up an interview with me to talk about U.S. politics for his radio program. The interview was set for a Sunday morning and, predictably, I went out and got absolutely demolished the night before, with the result being that I was still probably legally drunk by the time Misha and I got to talking. I recall me being quite profane and the whole conversation descending into a NSFW laugh riot. Anyway, at one point (as Misha reminds me), I let loose with an expletive-laden rant about how LBJ was ten times the President RR ever was. A heavily edited version of said interview eventually aired on 106.9, though I didn't catch it.

(3) In an early season Seinfeld ep, Jerry claims that LBJ is ugliest world leader ever, narrowly edging out Charles de Gaulle.

(4) Plays a minor role in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

(5) If you're interested in a really good look at LBJ and Vietnam, check out HBO's The Path to War, which aired a few years ago (there should be a torrent out there somewhere). Michael Gambon (yes, Dumbledore in HP3) plays Johnson and Alec Baldwin is Robert McNamara. Really, really good history.

Test of Time: Part of me thinks he'll eventually get his due, part of me thinks he's screwed forever because of Vietnam. Comparisons to Bush II (which, interestingly, are barely even appropriate since, by most objective standard, Vietnam was approximately 100 times worse than the Iraq situation) are obviously never good. We'll see.

7. George Washington (1789 - 1797): never quite understood (and I'm being serious) America's love affair with GW. Really, I don't.

High Points/Accomplishments: Remember that fake quote I used from Jefferson (c/o of America: The Book) in my JQA write-up? Basically, the gist of it was that it was borderline impossible not to invent something back in the 1700s. Well...that applies double to the GW administration. Anyway, high points: the conventions he followed led the establishment of what we now know as the cabinet; he didn't get greedy--stepping down after two terms even though he easily could've stayed on longer; and kept the U.S. out of war during the tumult in France.

He also helped pass the Bill of Rights in 1791, which comprised the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including #2 (thanks for that!). Also, in 1795, aided in the ratification of the 11th Amendment, which forbade a person from one state suing another state (um...ok. Was that a major issue in the 18th century?)

Low Points:
Nothing, really. (Well, ok...though this one isn't, strictly speaking, POTUS-related, but he did own slaves. Like, a lot of them. Like 150+.)

Fun Facts:
(1) Note: technically, anything GW did in office was a presidential first. No, I'm not going to list them.

(2) Privately remarked that he didn't expect the Constitution to last twenty years.

(3) Did you know that Washington's Farewell Address (the one warning against political parties) was never actually delivered orally? Apparently, Washington was a terrible public speaker (and could only do it at all from a prepared text) and thus he had no interest in doing one more big speech. Consequently, it was published in a Philadelphia paper without being spoken.

In Writing:
He plays a semi-prominent role in David McCullough's 1776, but for a full-scale bio, I'd recommend, James Flexner's George Washington: The Indispensable Man.

In Popular Culture:
(1) old (racist?) joke my dad told me:

Q: What do George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln have in common?
A: They're the last three white guys to have those last names.
[Pause for laughter]

(2) America: The Book, under "Founding Father Fact and Fiction" (p.26):

The Legend: The young George Washington chops down a cherry tree, then famously confesses, "I cannot tell a lie. I did it."
What really happened: believe it or not, this myth is actually true. Washington was famously honest, even to the point of rudeness, as evidenced by his remark to Betsy Ross when she presented her first, more "avant-garde" design for the American flag: "I cannot tell a lie, Betsy: is that a flag or did your sewing kit throw up?"
(3) Famously played by Ralph Wiggum in the President's Day Pageant.

(4) First guy on the list to appear on Mount Rushmore.

(5) Has a national capital, a giant phallus, a state (btw, it's the only state named after an American--care to hazard a guess on the six other states named for people?), and three universities (George Washingon University, Washington and Lee, and Washington University in St. Louis) named after him, and has been played in films by both the fake mayor of NYC (Spin City's Barry Bostwick), the annoying cop on House (David Morse), and Frasier Crane. Suck it, Adams.

Test of Time:
Gee...what do you think? America will legalize same-sex marriage between a man and his pet turtle (and then allow that couple to adopt) before they turn on GW. In the twelve major polls listed by Wikipedia, GW has never finished outside the top four, is in the top three eight of those times, and finished first twice. That this ranking is completely divorce from reality apparently troubles no one, so I won't dwell on it. He's a rock star. Always will be.

6. Thomas Jefferson (1801 - 1809): frankly, I find TJ to be absolutely maddening, but I think #6 is just right for him (originally, he was 5th).

High Points/Accomplishments:
(1) The Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition that followed. Abolished the slave trade in 1807 (as in: the official importation of African slaves was no longer legal, which isn't the same as saying, say, "slavery is illegal" or "no slaves made their way into the U.S. between 1808 and 1865"). And...you know what? Not much else. For someone that's lauded as one of the greatest Presidents ever (in the last ten major polls dating back to 1982, he's finished 4th, 5th, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 4th, 7th, 4th, 5th, 4th, for an average rank of 4.3), he really didn't do a whole heck of a lot. You could point to the Tripolitan War from 1801-1805 (where Jefferson waged a war against Barbary pirates because he was tired of the U.S. Navy being forced to pay tribute) as a high point, but then you'd need to note that the U.S. continues to pay tribute to three other Barbary nations for ten more years--making the war, by my count, only 25% successful.

(2) OK...and this:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Sometimes I'll forget how awesome this is...and then I'll stumble on some interminable Senate speech (or, like, any inaugural address from 1809 to 1857) and I remember all over again.
Bonus 1,000 cool points.

Low Points: (1) First President to claim executive privilege, which is a bit of a downer.

(2) Furious that the American ships were routinely boarded and looted (one presumes, purely for shits and gigs) by the French and British during the Napoleonic Wars, TJ--in a massive overreaction--passed the Embargo Act in December, 1807, which stipulated that no U.S. ship was permitted to sail to foreign ports and no foreign ship would be allowed to unload cargo at American ports. Apparently not possessing even a rudimentary understanding of world geography, Jefferson somehow believed that this policy would cripple France and Britain, forcing them to come begging to the US to resume trade, in exchange for neutrality at sea. Anyway, as you might imagine, France and GB got by just fine during the embargo since they were free to trade with any number of the dozens of countries nearby while American merchants went broke. After fourteen months, Jefferson partially lifted the embargo, but historians agree this cost the country about $10 million in lost customs revenue.

Fun Facts: (1) did you know his affair with Sally Hemming (his slave) lasted for thirty-eight years? Me neither.

(2) His White House wine bill for his eight years in office was $10,000 (about $130,000 today...I'll be honest, I was hoping it'd be a lot more).

(3) As you might've heard, every Democratic President in the past 100 years has been totally gaybones for Jefferson. Of particular note is JFK's remark to an assortment of bright minds to a White House dinner: "you gentlemen are the finest group of genius and talent to sit at this table since Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Anyway, it's all very tiresome...

In Writing:
Slowing working my way through American Sphinx (1998) by Joseph J. Ellis, which has been a bit of a struggle (it's a bit dry so far).

In Popular Culture:
(1) Some more gems from Jefferson's forward to America: The Book (x -xi):

When America (The Book) first approached me about penning the foreword to their tome, I was surprised. Firstly, the foreword is not my bailiwick, but rather the Declaration. Forgive my conceit, but if one is looking to introduce a grand composition with a pithy and clear pronouncemnt, my declaratives are second to none. "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..." Google it if ye doubt the claim! Also of some concern, I have been dead for...oh, lord, has it really been 178 years? My goodness, time certainly flies when you are no longer consigned to your earthly vessel.

Notwithstanding, Irv over at Warner Books sent me some galleys, and I have to say...funny. Not John Winthrop's A Comparative Treatise on the Most Unusual of Distinctions 'Twixt the Fairer of Species and Her Masculine Counterpart Funny...but funny. Of course, Sally was less enthused. "You are the author of the Declaration of Indepedence. A scholar. A statesman. This is beneath you. It's not even network." But truth be told, I was itching to get back to the quill and paper, and declaration work is not as steady as it used to be. Sally may not like it, but as we used to say in the back parlours of 18th-century Paris, "tough titties."

Not that we weren't awesome. We wrote the Constitution in the time it takes you nimrods to figure out which is the aye button and which is the nay. But we weren't gods. We were men. We had flaws. Adams was an unbearable prick and squealed girlishly whenever he saw a bug. And Ben Franklin? If crack existed in our day, that boozed-up snuff machine would weigh 80 pounds and live outside the Port Authority. And I had slaves. Damn, I can't believe I had slaves!

p.s. oh, and is it true Halle Berry is once again single? If so, I'd be forever in your debt if you put in a good word for T.J. Oh how I loves the mochachina.

Test of Time: A top five guy (everywhere but here...and a 1999 CSPAN poll placing him 7th). The love affair with Jefferson, it's safe to say, will never end. And, if that causes people to view his presidency somewhat more favourably than it actually was, so be it. He's done enough that I'll give him a pass here.

5. Harry S. Truman (1945 - 1953)

High Points/Accomplishments:
(1) dropping the bomb (to the extent that it succeeded in ending the war). Granted, this depends on: whether or not you accept that this was an appropriate response to what many view as the "total war" waged by Japan; if you believe that it would have cost 250,000 American lives to invade mainland Japan (the low estimate Truman was given), 1,000,000 lives (the high estimate), somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 (estimates provided by historians), or if you believe the fundamental immorality of the act outweighs the human calculus.

(2) Had a real Muderer's Row of a cabinet (at various points: George Marshall, Henry Morgenthay, Fred Vinson, Henry Stimson, James V. Forrestal, Robert A. Lovett, Thomas Clark, Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, and Henry A. Wallace).

(3) Recognized Israel;

(4) helped create the UN;

(5) approved the Marshall Plan (arguably the greatest charitable act in U.S. history);

(6) Reined MacArthur in during the Korean War when he (MacArthur) went insane and publicly stated that the Army should expand its operation into China, then--awesomely--fired Mac.

(7) The Fair Deal (slum clearance, increasing the minimum wage, expanding social security). Doesn't have the same ring as "New Deal" (actually, it sounds an awful lot like an inferior sequel trying to cash in on the box office success of its predecessor), but it did the trick;

(8) The Truman Doctrine (a policy to support free people resisting or threatened by repressive forces) was firm without being balls-out aggressive (which is kind of refreshing).

Low Points:
(1) I always go back and forth on this one, so: the bomb. Yes, it did help end the war (see previous category), but this is mitigated by the fact that: (a) a lot of people died as a result, (b) I'm not so sure the U.S. couldn't have accomplished the same thing by threatening to drop the bomb, (c) I'm not so sure the U.S. couldn't have accomplished the same thing by dropping the bomb in the ocean, or, at the very least, in a less densely populated area, (d) Ultimately, I'm not sure if anything was actually gained as a result of dropping the bombs, since the once thing the Japanese insisted upon and the U.S. refused to cede pre-A-bomb--mainly, that the Emperor be kept in place--was eventually granted to Japan. So...

(2) Was prone to being just a little bit rash at times (see, for instance, his ill-fated--and totally illegal--attempt to seize the steel mills during a 1952 strike). (3) Sort rolled over on the whole Red Scare thing, kowtowing to McCarthy with the creation of Loyalty Oaths for all government officials. (4) NSC-68. Near hysterical in its portrayal of the communist threat, this document became, in effect, the blueprint for the Cold War

Fun Facts:
(1) The "S." in his middle name stands for nothing at all.

(2) Aside from cabinet meetings, as VP, Truman met with FDR exactly twice.

(3) Aside from during "the social season" (brief research on my part could not uncover what, exactly, this refers to), First Lady Bess Truman didn't live in the White House (which she found stifling due to the lack of privacy), instead making camp in the family home in Independence, Missouri.

In Writing: Again, repeating myself, but David McCullough's Truman is a wonderful, wonderful book. It's impossible not to fall a little in love with Truman upon completion.

In Popular Culture:
(1) Truman's predicted defeat at the hands of Thomas Dewey in 1948 is parodied in "Lisa's Substitute," with Martin brandishing a newspaper reading "Simpson Defeats Prince." (Note: America: The Book asserts that the Chicago Tribune never retracted the erroneous headline, instead writing articles as if Dewey were President for the next four years.)

(2) Also according to The Simpsons: Truman authorized the printing of the trillion dollar bill.

(3) Played by Gary Sinise in a TV movie.

(4) His daughter, Margaret Truman, wrote mysteries under the pen name P.J. McGregor set in and around Washington, D.C. (like Eric Wilson, except not involving the West Edmonton Mall). Bonus fun fact: it's a long-standing rumor that these (I'm guessing, since I only heard about them ten minutes ago) wildly unpopular books were ghost-written by Donald Bain (aka, the guy who writes the Murder, She Wrote books...and did you know there were MSW books? There are! 32 of them, in fact! An impressive/troubling nine in the past three years, actually.)

Test of Time: Left the White House with the lowest approval rating in history (statement only valid until January 19, 2009), but history has been quite kind to HST. In those same ten polls I referenced for Jefferson, Truman finished 8th twice, 7th seven times, and 5th once. Expect this trend to continue.

Four to go. Feel free to speculate on their placement...

Next: #4 - #1


Anonymous said...

the indian remove act and the resulting trail of tears should have caused Jackson to be ranked much, much lower on this list

maritimexpat said...

I was able to guess L'il Rhodie, Georgia, Virginia, and Louisiana right off, but had to look at a map to remember Maryland and West Virginia (which I'm to understand is the same as Virginia).

Hal Incandenza said...

Out of curiosity: whom do you believe Rhode Island to be named after?

Question Mark said...

Fun Lyndon fact.....his Spanish whores called him El BJ. (Jack Handey)

Jesse said...

New York?

Jesse said...

Oh, so Kennedy saves the Western World in the 13 Days Crisis, lays the rhetorical foundation for all the good LBJ did, but you reward LBJ?

Fernando said...

Wilson made the top 4?! I'm not be on presidents so its kinda surprising. As a D.C. suburb resident, i would dock him spots just for the crappy, traffic infested brigde lol.

4. Wilson
3. T.R.
2. Lincoln
1. FDR

Jesse said...

Lincoln has to be number 1. Or I'll eat my hat.

Hal Incandenza said...

Anonymous: this is probably true....and it underscores what has been the hardest part about compiling this list: how to treat good Presidents that have done reprehensible things, debatable (Truman and the bomb) or otherwise (LBJ and Vietnam, Jackson and the Trail of Tears, FDR and the detention of Japanese-Americans). Essentially, I've tried to take these acts into consideration, but I haven't let them torpedo otherwise impressive records (the lone exception is probably Nixon, who actually did several good things as POTUS, but loses lots of points for attempting to subvert the democratic process). So, is the Trail of Tears a massive blight on AJ's record? Absolutely. But I don't want it to wholly obscure some of his more laudable accomplishments. Depending on your perspective, this may or may not be satisfying.

Jesse and Fernando: good guesses. Beyond that, I'll say nothing.

Jesse: but anyone can talk a big game. I've never really bought into the whole, "JFK was going to do so much in term two." (1) I'm not 100% certain he wins in '64, and (2) your record is your record. He barely did anything for civil rights in his first thirty months, so how can we be so certain that the next sixty-six months would've been any different?

Shuk: lol

Everyone (re: trivia): Georgia, Virginia, Louisiana, Maryland, and the two Virginias are right (and Washington); NY and RI are not. But there are actually two more--making nine in total--since I forgot to include Louisiana the first time through. Guesses?

Anonymous said...

alright thats an understandable defense for jackson. I must say i agree with giving LBJ the credit, JFK was all talk while dragging his heels, LBJ took the action

Jesse said...

Of course he wins in '64. His Daddy was still rich, wasn't he? And, more importantly, you don't think he could take Goldwater? Please.

Obviously, you can't give him points for what he promised. I was thinking more about the promise and hope he gave (and continues to give) America as an inspiration. I think it would make more sense to dock your lover LBJ for all his pre-Civil Rights Act racism than it would to reward might-have-beens. But making people believe in something is, well, something.

I'm still pretty sure New York was named after the Grand Old Duke of, but I'm going to try the Carolinas?

I thought Rhode Island too... it wasn't named after the Rhodesia guy? Y'know, the monster?