These are some thoughts drafted for a discussion of the myths of the presidents, a gathering at the place I "work." I have focused on the office itself because if so many presidents screw up then it seems plausible to consider that there might be something wrong with the office itself, as well as with its occupants.
To focus on individual presidents in order to break some of the myths about them is a worthwhile endeavor. However, we should also spend some time talking about the office itself and some of the myths about it because our faith in this office would make an interesting study in what might be called “social delusions.”
Bottom line: What many political scientists call “the modern presidency” has been responsible for some our greatest political missteps. In fact, some of these missteps are so serious that they might be labeled “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Here are just a few example:
Truman’s decision to incinerate parts of Japan with nuclear weapons.
Truman’s, Ike’s, JFK’s, LBJ’s, and Richard Nixon’s culpability for the Viet Nam War which killed 58,000 plus Americans and millions of Vietnamese. [Oh, the lies that were told to us by our leaders.]
JFK’s invasion of Cuba and his repeated attempts to assassinate Castro.
Nixon’s Watergate attempt to subvert the democratic process.
Reagan’s “little wars” in Nicaragua and Genada.
Reagan’s stationing of Marines in Beirut, leading to the deaths of 220 Marines and 299 soldiers all told.
Clinton’s “zippergate” and the subsequent bombing he did to distract us from his domestic troubles.
The failure to prevent 9/11.
“Shrub’s” “war on Terror” including his invasion of Iraq in search of non-existent WMDs, whose non-existence was probably known at the time. [More lies!]
And “coming soon”: Obama’s Afghan Adventure? I suspect so.
So who is to blame for this state of affairs? Two sources at least, the Founding
Fathers and the Progressives.
A. The Founding Fathers: You don’t like this? Well, check two sources for confirmation.
1. The Anti-Federalists: some saw all of this coming, especially the ravages of war, of presidential wars. Some also saw what is euphemistically called today “life inside the beltway,” that is, a life of comedy and corruption.
2. Our earliest “great” presidents, Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson all knew the presidency was dangerous and sought to rein it in.
B. The Progressives, as they are called by some. Some examples meant to be brief.
1. Thomas Jefferson v. Teddy Roosevelt:
TJ: “a little revolution every so often is a good thing.”
TR: “a little war every so often is a good thing.” Why? To prove our manliness, forgetting that manliness is always accompanied by hubris.
2. Woodrow Wilson and the savior mentality. “The war to end all wars.” Not so much. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Plato
3. FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society: both needed war to prop them up.
The Progressives believed in a “transformational politics,” with the president
leading the way, say into a Great Society, into the 21st century, into a war to eradicate evil in the world, but always riding the waves of history regardless of the destruction this involves – or the lies.
Such an office! You could be forgiven for entertaining the thought that we would be better off without it.