Saturday, August 23, 2008


Speaking of the presidency (which I was just doing below in my August 14th post entitled “IT’S SIX OF OBAMA, HALF A DOZEN OF McCAIN”), I’ve decided to retain this theme for at least one more installment here.

Just the other day, I pulled out an old back issue of The New American magazine (May 26, 1997; Vol. 13, No. 11) and read the interesting column on page 28 under the heading of “Ranking Presidents.” Here’s what TNA printed:

The New York Times Magazine for December 15, 1996 reported the results of a poll of modern historians who were asked to rank our presidents. Writing in the Free Market newsletter for March 1997, Robert Higgs, research director for the Independent Institute and editor of the Independent Review, notes that “all but one of the presidents ranked as Great or Near Great had an intimate association with war, either in office or by reputation before taking office.” In contrast, “of the eleven presidents ranked as Below Average or Failure, all but one (Nixon) managed to keep the nation at peace during their terms in office…”

Higgs believes that the best President during the past century may have been Grover Cleveland, who served from 1893-’97. Higgs comments: “He kept the country at peace. He respected the Constitution, acknowledging that the national government has only a limited mission to perform and shaping his policies accordingly. He fought to lower tariffs, preserved the gold standard in its time of crisis, and restored order forcibly when hoodlums disturbed the peace on a wide front during the great railroad strike of 1894.”

George Washington also ranks high with Higgs (as he did with the historians), in part because he “prescribed the sensible foreign policy, later slandered as ‘isolationism,’ that served our nation well for more than a century.” Of the presidents since Cleveland, Higgs ranks Calvin Coolidge highest, noting, “He sponsored sharp tax cuts and greatly reduced the national debt.”

Higgs reserves the other end of the spectrum for “Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Truman, and Lyndon Johnson,” whom he believes belong at the bottom “for their statist economic policies as well as their supremely catastrophic war policies.” Scandal and corruption are reprehensible to be sure, and have tainted most administrations to some degree, but such factors “pale by comparison to the damage presidential policy decisions have wreaked.”

The Constitution, Higgs writes, suffered damage during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Administration “that none of his successors has repaired and most have made worse. Certainly since 1932 – and, one might argue, since 1896 – no President has been true to his oath of office.”

Higgs recalls that the “people who ratified the original Constitution never intended the Presidency to be a powerful office spawning ‘great men,’ ” since the “Presidency was intended to be a largely ceremonial position whose occupant would confine himself to enforcing federal laws.” But over time, “abruptly during Lincoln’s Presidency and progressively during the twentieth century, presidents seized more and more power.”

Higgs concludes with the observation that “American liberty will never be reestablished so long as elites and masses alike look to the President to perform supernatural feats and therefore tolerate his virtually unlimited exercise of power. Until we can restore limited, constitutional government in this country, God save us from great presidents.” (Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, AL. 36849) -- Robert W. Lee

I’m sure that Mayberry’s barber, Floyd Lawson, would have been pleased to learn that Higgs had relatively positive things to say about Floyd’s favorite President, Calvin Coolidge.

Here are a couple of other interesting facts about President Grover Cleveland that went unmentioned in the TNA article:

Cleveland is notable for having been the only President in U.S. history to have served two terms in office nonconsecutively: he was both our 22nd and 24th President, serving from 1885 to 1889, and again from 1893 to 1897. Interestingly, Cleveland was also the only President to marry while in office – he was sworn in as a bachelor (i.e., a very smart man!) in 1885, but married his 21-year old bride a year later.

And did you know that the Baby Ruth candy bar was not named after the famous homer-hitting baseball player Babe Ruth, but was actually named after President Grover Cleveland’s daughter Ruth, who unfortunately passed away in her early teens? I learned that sweet fact last May 15th from the 2008 “Fact Or Crap Calendar.”
[*Thanks again, Aard!]

Unlike Barber Floyd’s choice, Calvin Coolidge is not my favorite President. My own favorite is Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson. Although he was certainly a flawed man in some significant ways, and his administration made some egregious errors, I love Jackson for the monumentally ferocious and extremely important stand he took against America’s central bank. For that alone, every American owed Jackson a great debt of gratitude. It’s too bad that We, the American People, weren’t intelligent enough to honor Jackson’s tremendous victory by ensuring that a central bank was never installed in this country again. In the Federal Reserve System, we have exactly the very disease that “Old Hickory” fought so hard to destroy and heal our country from.
To put in my six cents (what with inflation an’ all) in regards to the worst President of all-time, without hesitation, I bestow that dubious honor on Woodrow Wilson. This country has never recovered and never will recover from the disastrous long-term (i.e., “permanent”) effects of “The Wilson Wreckage.” Picking up right where Wilson left off, I reserve the number two spot on my Bad Presidents list for FDR (“Frankly, Destructive Revolution”). After that, it’s anybody’s guess where Carter, Clinton and “W” fit in, but they unquestionably occupy high positions on this low list.

OK, so maybe we really haven’t had a decent president in over one hundred years. That doesn’t mean that our NEXT “Fearless Leader” (there’s another Rocky & Bullwinkle reference for ya) won’t adhere to the principles of our Founding Fathers. There’s no reason for us to be pessimistic and automatically dismiss the idea that Barack Obama or John McCain will reinstitute Constitutional principles like smaller federal government, sound economic structure, noninterventionist foreign policy and a respect for states’ rights and personal liberty. There’s every reason to be optimistic about the possibility of turning this country around and reversing our downward social, moral and economic trajectory. We can improve things, I just know we can. I’ve got it, kids! Let’s put on a show! (Oh, wait, that’s all this 2008 election process is, isn’t it?)

Ya know, all we really need is for “B.O.” or “John McNeocon” to take their oath of office seriously (i.e., to really mean it when they swear to uphold the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic); all we really need is for our future president to eschew his egopolitical leanings in favor of Constitutional Republican statesman-like qualities, and all will be well. If B.O. or McNeocon have less elitist proclivities than we suspect [Cough!-Cough!] and possess more honesty and genuine interest in The American Way than we believe, then we kids are going to be alright.

Yeah, and if dogs wallowed in troughs they’d be pigs. And if pigs had wings they’d be flies. And if flies could vote they’d be U.S. citizens. And if U.S. citizens voted for Obama or McCain they’d be dirty dogs. And if dirty dogs wallowed in troughs . . . Awww, it’s a vicious cycle. Let’s just admit it: we’re screwed like Steven Spielberg in the deep waters of divorce court versus Amy “Jaws” Irving. No matter what, our next president will - at the very least - cost us an arm and a leg.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

[Mo’ Presidential Yak below…]


  1. Ya know I was thinking about this post since I read it a couple of days ago. Thomas E. Woods Jr. made essentially this same point in his book "33 Questions about American History Your not supposed To Ask." Ya you can pretty much just reverse the order of the historians and come up with the truth.

  2. If the professional historians tend to get it wrong, perhaps the question we ought to be asking is: Whose money makes professionals of these historians? You don't suppose America's perception is being manipulated by moneyed men with secret agendas, do ya? Nah! That could never happen HERE! Not here in the good ol' U.S.A.!

    ~ STMcC
    <"As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly."
    ~ Proverbs 26:11>


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