Thursday, September 25, 2008


Sis forwarded an e-mail with information about John McCain’s time as a POW. I admire the man’s courage under fire. The man was a great fighter pilot. It doesn’t mean he’d make a great president. Actually, I’m not sure that what makes a great fighter pilot, necessarily makes a great president. The e-mail compared McCain to George Washington. I replied that we would have to agree to disagree on this one.

We’ve had three generals that made the transition to political greatness, or near greatness, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, (I do definitely question some of his policies) and Dwight Eisenhower.

Washington was what I’d have to call an Independent, in fact he warned against dividing into parties, Jackson was a Democrat and Eisenhower finally came to office as a Republican. Broad spectrum, that.

George Washington was also the losinginest successful general in the history of the army that he literally created from nothing. Granted he had a little (lot of) help from generals and troops from Prussia, Poland and most importantly, France. You can call ‘em Freedom Fries if you want, but without support from France we might still be carrying British passports. And, France’s support for our revolution probably helped bring on the revolution in France and another twenty years of war in Europe.

There’s an uneasy parallel here. The French economy was already shaky when they took on a war they didn’t have to fight, by supporting the American Revolution. Sigh. Start heading in one direction with an entry and just see where you end up.

Andrew Jackson is most famous for a battle that was fought after the peace treaty was signed. He’s also defied the Supreme Court ruling in support of the Cherokee and is infamous for their expulsion from their lands in the south and the Trail of Tears that lead to the Indian Territory in the west. He was the first president who was neither a Virginian or a New England lawyer. He had a famous temper, fought more than one duel, helped to create what became the Democratic Party and threatened to hang “nullifiers.”  Given the opportunity I think he would have made good on that threat.

Dwight Eisenhower was a Kansas farm boy. His parents were pacifists, but he went to West Point. He came up with a better way to solve a calculus problem and took the reprimand for not paying attention in class. In fact it seems he was about as obedient as he needed to be at as cadet. Since class standing included demerits his class standing doesn’t reflect how he did academically.

 He trained tank troops but WWI was over before he could be sent overseas. His commander in the Canal Zone was a military history junkie who put his exec through what amounted to graduate studies in history and tactics. He worked with George Patton to create the tactics for the new cavalry. Patton predicted that one day he’d be taking orders from Eisenhower. He was right.

Eisenhower commanded the American invasions of North Africa and Italy. He sacked generals who couldn’t get the job done even if they were friends or old class mates. He spearheaded the invasion of Normandy but of more importance he also successfully navigated the personal minefields of the likes of McArthur, Montgomery, Churchill, Patton and “Uncle Joe” (Truman’s label) Stalin.

He and Harry Truman also pretty much took an instant dislike to each other. Eisenhower didn’t much care for career politicians and Truman couldn’t stand career military officers. It was a match made a little lower than heaven.

During his two terms we saw, among other things, Social Security expanded, the beginnings of the interstate highway system, the beginnings of desegregation and the intensification of the cold war. The 101st Airborne was deployed twice by his orders. The first time they went to France. The second time they went to Little Rock.

Trouble is, I can also name at least one general that was a stand out on the battle field and a total disaster as a president. Ulysses S. Grant was the bulldog that led the Union to a final battlefield victory over the Confederacy. Yes, I said battlefield. We’re still working on the actual social victory. The fact that anyone gives a damn about the skin color of the Democratic candidate speaks to that. Unfortunately Grant’s abilities on the battlefield didn’t transfer to the White House. His two terms as president were a byword for corruption and cronyism that was unmatched until the Harding administration. And Harding was the bench mark for how low you could go until………..enter the “current occupant.”

I don’t think John McCain is quite the equal of the first three and I don’t want to find out if he belongs with the last group.

And, talk about irony; political success aside, Grant fought to preserve the union. The husband of the Republican candidate for Veep belongs or has belonged to a party working for Alaskan secession  and she has sought the support of that party in the past.

1 comment:

James said...

I do not disagree with the majority of your comments and I commend your grasp of American history, but since Senator McCain is a former fighter pilot and not a general or high ranking commanding officer, I feel you have left a few Presidents off your list.

It is impossible to determine the success of William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and James Garfield because they all died in office before serving any substantial amount of time as President. Harrison, the 9th President was a successful Indian fighter in the Indiana Territory and a General in the War of 1812. He died 30 days after taking office from pneumonia. Taylor, the 12th President and General in the Mexican-American War served for a little over a year before his death. One could argue that Taylor would have been successful as president because he stood against the expansion of slavery and organized the Department of the Interior, which had been authorized under the Polk administration. Garfield, the 20th President and General during the Civil War was assassinated and died six months after taking office. Here too, one could argue that Garfield would have been successful because of his handling of the Conkling affair.

Rutherford B. Hayes - 19th President and General during the Civil War did not make much of an impression as President. His domestic policies alternated between good and bad including military intervention into the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and signing a bill that allowed female lawyers to argue cases before the United States Supreme Court for the first time. Hayes can not be considered in the same company as Washington.

Benjamin Harrison - the 23rd President was a General during the Civil War. He has more fame as President than he does as a Brigadier General. His administration was responsible for the Sherman Antitrust Act and the McKinley Tariffs. Like Hayes, these policies alternated between good and bad. In either case, he was no Washington.

I liken a possible McCain presidency to either that of Hayes or Benjamin Harrison.

Theodore Roosevelt - 26th President and Colonel of a volunteer calvary in the Spanish-American War. IMHO, Roosevelt is by far the only President with prior military experience that can be placed in the company of George Washington. Roosevelt's policies broke up monopolies, regulated railroad freight rates, secured the purity and safety of America's food and drugs, secured the Panama Canal, ended the Russo-Japanese War, and founded the National Park system. Roosevelt's omission from your list is a grave tragedy.

John F. Kennedy - 35th President and Lieutenant in the Navy. Although Kennedy was popular in his time, his presidency was less than stellar. Some could argue that this was because Kennedy's life was cut short by his assassination, but I disagree. Kennedy ran on pledges of helping end poverty and civil rights injustices, yet he failed to act on either when given the opportunity. Only after Kennedy's assassination did his promises become fulfilled and that was because of the power of President Johnson. Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missle Crisis show how inexperience can create major problems. Unfortunately, I liken a possible Obama presidency to the Kennedy administration.

Gerald Ford - 38th President and Navy Lieutenant Commander. Ford's presidency is non-existent in history as he accomplished almost nothing of any significance. Ford will best be remembered for his pardon of Nixon, the economic recession of 1975 and his stumbling missteps.

Jimmy Carter - 39th President and Navy Lieutenant. Carter has had greater success since leaving office as a diplomat and peace ambassador. Carter's presidency was plagued by his inability to understand the working of the federal government. As an outsider, Carter took too long to find cooperation with congress. His administration was marred by inflation and economic fallout from the energy crisis. His foreign policies faired somewhat better with the Camp David Accords, SALT Treaty, and the Panama Canal Treaty. His foreign policy failures include the Iranian hostage crisis and Russian Wheat Embargo that crushed American farmers.

We could debate George W. Bush's effectiveness as President, but realisitically, one cannot truly evaluate the policies of a president as good or bad for some ten to twenty years after they leave office. Only then are the true effects of a policy evident.