JFK the worst president of the 20th century? Maybe…

July 19, 2011

So argues Thomas Ricks, a lifelong Massachusetts Democrat, in a short article at Foreign Policy:

“As I studied the Vietnam war over the last 14 months, I began to think that John F. Kennedy probably was the worst American president of the previous century.

In retrospect, he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco. He came into office and okayed the Bay of Pigs invasion. Then he went to a Vienna summit conference and got his clock cleaned by Khrushchev. That led to, among other things, the Cuban missile crisis and a whiff of nuclear apocalypse.

Looming over it all is the American descent into Vietnam. The assassination of Vietnam’s President Diem on Kennedy’s watch may have been one of the two biggest mistakes of the war there. (The other was the decision to wage a war of attrition on the unexamined assumption that Hanoi would buckle under the pain.) I don’t buy the theory promulgated by Robert McNamara and others that Kennedy would have kept U.S. troops out. Sure, Kennedy wanted out of Vietnam — just like Lyndon Johnson wanted out a few years later: “We’ll scale down our presence after victory is secure.” And much more than Johnson, Kennedy was influenced by General Maxwell Taylor, who I suspect had been looking for a “small war” mission for the Army for several years. Indochina looked like a peachy place for that — warmer than Korea, and farther from Russia.”

It’s an interesting argument. Clearly Kennedy has been overrated to the point of canonization by Democrats who see a Golden Age in his administration that was lost to assassination. Along with the foreign policy problems Ricks mentions, many of Kennedy’s major domestic initiatives were stalled in Congress, only to be pushed through because of LBJ’s skillful politics in the wake of Kennedy’s murder.

On the other hand, JFK’s reputation has had a bit of a revival on the Right, at least by comparison with those Democrats who came after him: he did set us on the course to the Moon; he was a Cold Warrior vis-a-vis the Soviet Union (albeit an inept one); and he pushed through major tax cuts that lead to the early 60s boom.

But the worst of the 20th century? It think Ricks is using a bit of hyperbole to to force a reconsideration of Kennedy, for I can posit a few candidates for “worst:”

  • Woodrow Wilson, for his imposition of segregation in the federal government, his needless violations of civil rights during and after World War 1, and his general disdain for the Constitution.
  • Herbert Hoover/FDR. Peas in a pod, controversial only because Hoover is a demon and FDR a demigod in the liberal theology. Yet, far from being a laissez-faire do-nothing whose evil had to be undone by the New Deal, Hoover was a big-government interventionist whose work laid the foundations for FDR’s programs, and those programs lengthened the Great Depression by seven years. Considering the misery of the Depression, that should put both men up there on the “worst” scale. There’s also the matter of the Japanese internment of World War II, a candidate for the greatest civil rights crime of the 20th century, rivaling slavery and the ethnic cleansing of the Indian tribes in the 19th. Let’s give FDR the lion’s share of this.
  • LBJ: His “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” massively and unconstitutionally expanded the federal government, harmed African-Americans, and put us well on the road to the entitlement crisis we face today. And let’s not forget badly, horribly mishandling the war in Vietnam.
  • Nixon: Criminality in Watergate, wage and price controls, and weakness with the Soviets via detente. The latter made the Soviets feel they could make a final push to gain superiority over us, which for a time they may have achieved.
  • Carter: Need I say more?

So, while Ricks has a point about Kennedy’s weaknesses, there are others arguably as bad or worse. If forced to make a choice, for now I’d choose LBJ; Carter was weaker, but Johnson’s entitlement binge is doing us much greater long-term damage. And while FDR expanded the government and mishandled the Depression badly, he at least won his war.

Whom would you choose?

LINK: Doug Mataconis votes for Woodrow Wilson.

via Big Peace

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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The most naive president in US History

April 12, 2010

The Telegraph’s Nile Gardiner give ten reasons why he believes Barack Obama surpasses even Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson as the most naive American president, ever. Here’s the first:

1. Obama believes unilateral disarmament will achieve a nuclear-free world

The Obama administration may dream of a day when the world is free of nuclear weapons, but its lofty vision bears no relation to the realities of the modern world. Even the president of France believes that President Obama needs to live in the real world, not a virtual one, which is a rather damning indictment of US leadership. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that Washington’s decision to cut its nuclear arsenal will encourage the likes of Iran and North Korea to disarm, and history has shown that a unilateral policy of disarmament will not prompt tyrannical regimes to change their behaviour.

Far from it. Self-abasement will only encourage international thugs.

Have a look at the rest. I find it hard to disagree with any of them.


Obama’s fascist SOTU speech

February 8, 2010

When modern Americans think of fascism, in our mind’s eye we picture it in its most brutal, almost cartoonish form: jackbooted Nazis in black uniforms crushing all before them, or Mussolini haranguing his fascisti:

"I promise to lead us into total disaster!"

But fascism is more than just cool uniforms (You have to admit, the Nazis did have a sense of evil sartorial style.) and a boot to the throat, though thuggishness is in its nature. It’s also a philosophy that claims to get “beyond politics” by bringing everyone together in unity behind a leader who personifies the nation and knows its will better than the average man or woman. It promises to care for the individual from cradle to grave, in the process transforming a free citizen into a dependent, and the individual with rights into part of a group that has rights superseding the individual’s. If all of this rings a bell, it should: the brutal European fascisms we fought against in the middle of the last century (and their related communist totalitarianisms) share intellectual roots with American progressivism, what is called in today’s US politics “liberalism.” (More correctly, “conservatives” in America are largely classical liberals, and “liberals” are progressives.)  Jonah Goldberg has written a brilliant, eye-opening book on the topic, Liberal Fascism, that I can’t recommend highly enough.

To come round to President Obama’s State of the Union address, Ben Shapiro (who has some strange ideas about overrated directors) penned an article for Human Events that looks at the speech as something squarely in the tradition of liberal fascism – Obama’s Philosophically Fascist State of the Union Address:

There sure is something different about President Obama. Usually, the State of the Union address is a laundry list of proposals spiced with sycophantic applause and dipped in an admixture of boredom and bravado. It is rarely a statement of basic philosophy.

Not for President Obama.

President Obama’s State of the Union address was the greatest American rhetorical embrace of fascist trope since the days of Woodrow Wilson. I am not suggesting Obama is a Nazi; he isn’t. I am not suggesting that he is a jackbooted thug; he isn’t (even if we could be forgiven for mistaking Rahm Emanuel for one).

President Obama is, however, a man who embodies all the personal characteristics of a fascist leader, right down to the arrogant chin-up head tilt he utilizes when waiting for applause. He sees democracy as a filthy process that can be cured only by the centralized power of bureaucrats. He sees his presidency as a Hegelian synthesis marking the end of political conflict. He sees himself as embodiment of the collective will. No president should speak in these terms — not in a representative republic. Obama does it habitually.

Click through for the rest. The author’s occasional snark aside, I think he pretty much nails it.

(via neo-neocon)