Let’s begin with a brief Q&A with America.
Q: Let’s say you’re sick with a potentially deadly disease. Who do you want for a doctor?
A: The smartest, most experienced and highly qualified expert in the field.
Q: You’re looking to invest your life savings. Who do you trust to handle your money?
A: The brightest, most agile financial mind I can find.
Q: You’ve been selected to participate in a “private citizens in space” program. Who do you want in charge of building the rocket?
A: The most brilliant and reliable engineers in the nation.
So far, so good. One more.
Q: You live in a time of unimaginable complexity and danger. Who do want to be the leader of the free world?
A: Somebody I can have a beer with. You know, a regular guy, a Joe Sixpack.
It’s said that people tend to get the leaders they deserve, and I can’t imagine better proof than the United States. At present we’re watching as a new president attempts to arm-tackle an array of national political and economic crises of evil supervillain jailbreak proportions, and at this early stage it’s far from clear that he’s Rushmore-bound.
- He may or may not get health care reform passed, and if he does it may or may not be as comprehensive as the programs pursued by previous arch-progressives Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower.
- He may or may not bog us down in a vastly expanded quagmire in Afghanistan, although at present only an idiot would bet on him meeting his campaign promises regarding getting the heck out of Iraq.
- He may or may not decide to honor the pledges he made to the gay community.
- He may or may not spearhead a green revolution that saves the species from itself.
- And his economic policies may boost us to new, unprecedented levels of universal prosperity. Or they may plummet us nards-first into a meat grinder of a global recession so epic it will make the Great Depression look like a weekend in the Hamptons.
So the jury is still out on Mr. Obama. But… While past performance is no guarantee of future results, there’s also that thing about those who don’t understand history being doomed to repeat it. And America’s history of electing dolts, buffoons, scoundrels, knaves, low-jackers, pig-fuckers, gomers, dog-whistlers, Kloset Klansmen, recidivists and sheep pimps to the Highest Elected Office in the Land does not make one optimistic about the prospects for Barackapalooza. I’d love to be wrong, but let’s be honest. An indicator that can pick a loser 100% of the time is every bit as valuable to the shrewd investor as one that always picks the winner, and the Electoral College is as reliable a Finger of Doom as the world has ever seen.
Let’s review, shall we?
George W. Bush: Worst president ever? Dumbest president ever? Hard to say for certain, although put me down for “hell, yes.” The nation apparently elected a string of semi-housebroken wombats in the 1800s, and contemporary polling feels obliged, in the name of “balance,” to humor the estimations of conservative “scholars” who rate him the sixth-best ever. For my money, that opinion alone is sufficient for the credentialing institution to revoke the PhD, but such is the price we pay for the privilege of living in an society that not only tolerates fools gladly, it gives them television shows.
Bill Clinton: In so many ways, Clinton was the archetypal president of our age. He was the distilled, undiluted essence of the modern political animal. He was like everything in Washington, only moreso. And I don’t mean that in the good way.
Bubba may not be the man who invented the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, but he was damned sure the one who established it as the only wing that mattered. The irony, of course, was that he was reviled by the GOP. I’ve always wondered if the source of that rage was that Clinton was a better Republican than they were.
In addition, he cheapened the office at every turn: whether renting out the Lincoln Bedroom to the highest bidder, pardoning Marc Rich or “hiking the Appalachian Trail” like mink freebasing Viagra, it seemed as though his every action left us feeling the need for a shower. From the poor house to the penthouse to the whore house, we’ve never seen anything like him. God willing, we never will again.
George HW Bush: It’s still hard to fathom how this mealy-mouthed little wimp stumbled into the White House. All the Democrats had to do in 1988 was find a candidate with a pulse. Instead, they trotted out Mike Dukakis, a man with all the charisma and passion of an accountant on a phenobarbital drip.
Bush the Elder was the latest incarnation of an established and thoroughly corrupt dynasty, and between him and his fuckwit kids there is no better argument, could be no better argument, in favor of a 100% inheritance tax. If they’d had to earn anything on their own merit their only entree into a country club would be as assistant assistant assistant greenskeepers reporting to Carl Spackler at Bushwood.
Ronald Reagan: Wow. Where to start. Back in the 1960s Marshall McLuhan, in writing about where television was taking the culture, predicted Reagan in terms so accurate that you’d think you were reading a history instead of a precognition. The only thing missing was the name and home address. The failing in McLuhan’s analysis, if there was one, was this: as cynical as he was, the reality turned out to be even worse than he feared.
Ronnie was as anti-intellectual a leader as we could have imagined prior to Dubya. A man who somehow managed to remain immensely popular despite the fact that most Americans disagreed with his policies. One of the most corrupt collections of advisors, staffers and appointees in history. And the man who represented the grand triumph of years and years of scheming by wealthy conservatives bent on by god rolling the rich-poor gap back to feudal levels. An intellectually void, amoral cesspool of a human being who will nonetheless go down as one of our “great” presidents.
Jimmy Carter: Carter has the distinction of being one of the very few politicians that Hunter Thompson ever said anything nice about, and his record since leaving the White House has made clear what an outstanding statesman and humanitarian Carter really is. History will not mark him down as the most adept practitioner of the presidential arts, however, and for those who bemoan the erosion of the line between church and state, let’s remember just how very publicly Baptist Jimmy was. Now, thanks in part to him, we’ll never get the smell of the fundamentalists out of the furniture. (Which reminds me – Phish is playing four dates at Red Rocks, so those of us who live in downtown Denver are hoping the wind isn’t blowing straight west-to-east for the next few days.)
Gerald Ford: Nice enough guy, seemed like. For a politician and all. But he wasn’t ever elected.
Richard Nixon: Please tell me we don’t really need to talk about this one.
Lyndon Johnson: Ever heard of Vietnam? It’s hard to recall the last time somebody took an idea so bad and managed to make it even worse. He does get credit for important civil rights legislation, at least.
Still, in the final analysis he was a president from Texas with a lust for illicit, unwinnable wars. If that reminds you of somebody else, don’t blame me. I’m just reporting the facts.
John F. Kennedy: He invaded Cuba, and once the troops started landing he changed his mind. He nearly got us into a hot nukular shooting war. Then there was that Vietnam thing – he and LBJ can share this honor. Marilyn Monroe was either a plus or a minus, depending on where you stand with respect to the marital infidelity issue.
Ultimately, though, the only thing that saved his legacy was death. Had he lived to serve out his term(s) he’d be judged today based on his record, which falls somewhat short of the legend.
So, when was the last time America elected a president it could be proud of? By today’s standards Ike isn’t looking bad at all, and his two predecessors, FDR and Truman, also score high marks.
If you look at that chart in the link above, it seems like maybe the country’s ability to elect somebody half decent runs in cycles.
Let’s hope that’s the case, and that the wheel is turning back in our direction. Because damn, America is due.