Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidential rankings

There are exactly 64 Americans who think that Jimmy Carter was anything but a disaster as a president. Unfortunately, those 64 Americans are historians who happen to have a vote in C-Span's ranking of presidents. Ahead of Calvin Coolidge, who had 3 percent or less unemployment and led an era of prosperity and industrial development. It's not his fault that Hoover Smoot-Hawley'ed the economy into a depression and the New Deal, averting a revolution aside, prolonged it. We we all know why that is (wink, wink).

But the one that always gets my goat is Woodrow Wilson, number nine on the list. Everything George W. Bush is accused of doing, Wilson actually did. Loyalty oaths. Red scares. Political prisoners. Crushing dissent. Historians point to his progressive "reforms" but a lot of those aren't lookin' too great at the moment. He championed Prohibition, which led to an unthinkable crime wave and established organized crime in this country. He took a vibrant railroad industry and gave us Amtrak. Most of all he was the most virulent racist of any 20th Century president. And unlike most presidents, it wasn't passive. He ran blacks out of the civil service, which was one place where they could consistently get jobs. His term was an era of horrible race riots.

In foreign policy, he gets credit for making American ideals a centerpiece of American foreign policy. But that doesn't mean he was effective in executing it. He bargained away 13 of his 14 points and couldn't deliver on the 14th, the League of Nations. Which is fine, because the League of Nations would have been the same as the United Nations, a big powerless debating society. With American participation, it would have met Nazi aggression the same way that it did, with stern letters and meaningless votes. His forays into the Mexican Revolution were arguably unnecessary and definitely ineffective.

As to World War I, there are no real feats of great leadership. We were not in it long enough.

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