February 20, 2006
A Top Ten List...
...That only the White House press corps could love!
So who had the worst blunder? President James Buchanan, for failing to avert the Civil War, according to a survey of presidential historians organized by the University of Louisville's McConnell Center....
Scholars who participated said Buchanan didn't do enough to oppose efforts by Southern states to secede from the Union before the Civil War.
That might be a big harsh; many argue that the war was inevitable, part of the implicate order of the Constitution, which had to avoid dealing with the problem in order to get the New England states and the Southern states on the same document together (or even in the same room together). But I'm sure the presidential scholars know more about Buchanan and his failings than I.
Here are the blunders, in order:
- James Buchanan, for failing to prevent the Civil War;
- Andrew Johnson, for allowing Reconstruction to go the way it did;
- Lyndon Johnson, for escalating the Vietnam War;
- Woodrow Wilson, for the Treaty of Versailles;
- Richard Nixon, for Watergate;
- James Madison, for the War of 1812;
- Thomas Jefferson, for the Embargo Act of 1807;
- John Kennedy, for the Bay of Pigs;
- Ronald Reagan, for the Iran-Contra affair;
- Bill Clinton, for the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Clearly, the criterion they used was that the mistake had to be egregious, and it had to have very severe negative consequences for the nation... or in the Clinton case, at least for the presidency. This is why, e.g., Roosevelt's attempt to pack the Supreme Court didn't make the cut: however bad an idea it was, it didn't work, and there were no significant negative consquences either for the country or FDR.
I certainly don't agree with all of these -- in particular, the last two: Reagan's decision to sell arms, not to Ayatollah Khomeini's faction but to Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's, and use the money to keep the Contras going in Nicaragua, eventually resulted in two things: the Contras survived long enough to force elections, in which the Sandinista Stalinists were ousted (they did a big land grab on the way out, further discrediting them); and Rafsanjani's group survived as a (slightly) more moderate faction after Khomeini's death.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ballot-stuffing victory over Rafsanjani dissipated any benefit from Rafsanjani surviving; but that still leaves the survival of the Contras as a palpable benefit. At worst, Reagan's decision was an attempted bank-shot that sank one ball but not the other. And if Rafsanjani had been a little stronger, he might have ended up Supreme Rule instead of Ayatollah Ali Khameni in 1989, which would have been a much better thing. Reagan took a shot, and it was partially successful.
And as far as Clinton's inclusion, I really think that's stretching it. His presidency was so inconsequential that I don't think it would have been possible for him to make the top-ten blunders list, just as he couldn't have made the top-ten brilliant decisions list. Under Clinton, we simply spent eight years hiding from the world and partying like it was 1999. He is of no account.
I can't help thinking Clinton was included only because the lefties wanted Reagan there, and Reagan was included only because the moderates were worried it would otherwise look too partisan. (Notice I didn't include a slot here for the conservatives; remember, we are talking about academe!)
I have no serious problem with the rest of the choices, which have the advantage of actually being part of history, rather than recent news events.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 20, 2006, at the time of 10:19 PM
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The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman
Richard Nixon, for Watergate;
Not to my mind, what gripes me the most about Nixon is declaring that an ally since the end of World War 2 and an original signatory to the UN Charter was no longer an independent Nation, Oh and giving their seat on the Security Council to the PRC acknowledging that Taiwan was a Part of China as long as the mainland did not try to do anything about it.
Sound like a stalbe Geo-Political situation to you?
Everyone accepted that East and West Germany and North and South Korea were separate Nations we should have held to the same standard with Taiwan which has a population of some 20 Million and the 17th or so strongest economy in the world.
The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman at February 20, 2006 10:45 PM
The following hissed in response by: John Sobieski
Well, looking at the threat that Islam now confronts the US, I think Clinton's actions after the 1993 WTC bombing were pathetic. He had an opportunity to realign our policies, embark on an 'real' education of our politicians on the ideology of Islam and it's 'true' history and curb Muslim immigration. By real and true, I mean authors like Spencer, Ye'or, Trifkovic, etc and the history of Islam I know - 1400 years of jihad, wax and wane, but everpresent, everthreatening; sometimes in a few regions of the world, or like now, where Islam threatens the entire world).
Oh I read today that Karen Hughes has read 'a lot' of John Esposito to learn about Islam. God help us.
The above hissed in response by: John Sobieski at February 21, 2006 3:13 PM
The following hissed in response by: bigger
In the top ten presidential blunderers category, I think they fail to allow for circumstances far, far beyond the control of the people involved. For Buchanan, whether or not he _could_ have done anything to prevent secession despite having from the November elections to the March inauguration of the time to work on it, is arguable. He had spent his entire presidency trying to prevent a civil war, something that most southerners and a lot of northerners wanted.
For the First Johnson, he had no power. He was impeached by Congress for firing one of Lincoln's cabinet members after he became president. He was not removed by only one vote. Congress, controlled by the Radical Republicans, was in total charge. Only the terms Grant negotiated with Lee (clearly with Lincoln's connaivance) prevented Congress from having mass hangings, expulsions (an ethnic cleansing of Scotch Irish from the South) and worse. Read the newspapers from the time and compare them with today's ultralefty blogs in terms of hate.
Madison's failure in getting us 'into' the War of 1812 ignores politics on both sides of the Atlantic. The British had been acting as if they had been at war with us for years anyway. The reason the war broke out as it did was a lack of modern telecommunications tools -- Britain had just won the war and decided to change its policies toward America when they learned they were at war with us (part of the reason was that Virginian expansionists wanted Canada, and the impressment issue gave them cover.)
Where is Jimmuh C. on the list? His failure to bomb Teheran while America Was Held Hostage taught the islamofascists they could get away with almost anything. And Clinton's real failing wasn't his tasteless choice of 'sex' with Lewinsky but his entire approach to foreign policy.
The above hissed in response by: bigger at February 21, 2006 6:39 PM
The following hissed in response by: stackja1945
FDR waited for Pearl Harbor because he could not convince the US people that Germany and Japan were a threat.
The above hissed in response by: stackja1945 at February 22, 2006 12:03 AM
The following hissed in response by: Hal
"Hiding from the world" might be a bit unfair. Clinto did help stop Milosovich from slaughtering people in Eastern Europe.
Granted, that might be about all he did that was noteworthy, but it's better than nothing, right?
The above hissed in response by: Hal at February 22, 2006 9:02 AM
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