A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 3): When The Going Got Tough


The Presidents really get interesting now, as a political leadership culture in the U.S. matures, the stakes of failure become greater, and technology, labor upheaval, expanding big business and greater influence on world affairs transforms the Presidency into truly the toughest job on earth.

Grover Cleveland


Another one of my favorites, Cleveland was known for telling the truth ( he as called “Grover the Good”), but he participated in one of the most elaborate deceptions in Presidential history.

As explained in historian Matthew Algeo’s 2011 book, “The President Is a Sick Man,”  President Cleveland noticed an odd bump on the roof of his mouth in the summer of 1893, shortly after he took office for the second time. (Cleveland is the only President with split terms, the hapless Republican Benjamin Harrison winning an electoral college victory that gave him four years as the bland filling in a Cleveland sandwich.) The bump was diagnosed as a life-threatening malignant tumor, and the remedy was removal. Cleveland believed that news of his diagnosis would send Wall Street and the country  into a panic at a time when the economy was sliding into a depression anyway, and agreed to an ambitious and dangerous plan to have the surgery done in secret. The plan was for the President to announce he was taking a friend’s yacht on a four-day fishing trip from New York to his summer home in Cape Cod. Unknown to the press and the public was that the yacht had been transformed into a floating operating room, and a team of six surgeons were assembled and waiting.

The 90 minute procedure employed ether as the anesthesia, and the doctors removed the tumor, five teeth and a large part of the President’s upper left jawbone, all at sea. They also managed to extract the tumor through the President’s mouth while leaving no visible scar and without altering Cleveland’s walrus mustache. Talking on NPR in 2011, historian said,

“I talked to a couple of oral surgeons researching the book, and they still marvel at this operation: that they were able to do this on a moving boat; that they did it very quickly. A similar operation today would take several hours; they did it in 90 minutes.”

But the operation was a success. An artificial partial upper jaw made of rubber was installed to replace the missing bone, and Cleveland, who had the constitution of a moose, reappeared after four days looking hardy and most incredible of all, able to speak as clearly as ever. How did he heal so fast? Why wasn’t his speech effected? He endures doctors cutting out a large chuck of his mouth using 19th century surgical techniques and is back on the job in less than a week? No wonder nobody suspected the truth.

Then, two months later, Philadelphia Press reporter E.J. Edwards published a story about the surgery, thanks to one of the doctors anonymously breaching doctor-patient confidentiality. Cleveland, who in his first campaign for the White House had dealt with Republican accusations that he had fathered an illegitimate child by publicly admitting it, flatly denied Edwards’ story, and his aides  launched a campaign to discredit the reporter. Grover the Good never lies, thought the public, so Edwards ended up where Brian Williams is now. His career and credibility were ruined.

Nobody outside of the participants knew about the operation and the President’s fake jaw until twenty-four years later, after all the other principals were dead except three witnesses.  One of the surgeons decided to  publish an article to prove that E.J. Edwards had been telling the truth after all.

This is a great ethics problem. Was it ethical for Cleveland to keep his health issues from the public? In this case, yes, I’d say so. Was it unethical for the doctor to break his ethical duty? Of course. Was Edwards ethical to report the story? Sure.

The tough question is: Was Cleveland ethical to deny the story and undermine the reporter’s credibility? I think it was a valid utilitarian move, and barely ethical: it was better for the nation to distrust one reporter than the President, especially when his secret was one he responsibly withheld, and his doctor unethically revealed.

Benjamin Harrison

The grandson of William Henry Harrison was afraid that he’d be electrocuted by the newly installed electric lights in the White House, so instead of turning them off himself, he had the servants do it. Ethically, this is like having your official taster risk getting poisoned in your place.

That’s all I need to know about Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President.

William McKinley

There’s a statue on the Antietam Battlefield in Maryland, scene of the bloodiest single day of the Civil War. It is the only Civil War statue dedicated to a commissary sergeant, and the soldier honored is William McKinley, who risking his life repeatedly as he brought hot coffee and food to the Union Army throughout the battle, while so many bullets were being fired that the air itself was described as “gray.”

McKinley was an effective and well-loved leader. He was also one of the nicer guys to inhabit the White House. His wife, Ida, had been emotionally and mentally damaged by a series of personal tragedies, and was also epileptic. McKinley was extraordinarily loving and solicitous of her happiness and well-being, accepting, for example, each of the hundreds of pairs of slippers Ida compulsively knitted for him as if it was the first, and just what he needed. The President insisted that she sit with him at state dinners, and if she slipped into a seizure, as she frequently did, McKinley would calmly cover her head with a large napkin until her contortions passed, then lift it off as if nothing had happened.

When he was shot twice by an assassin, the President’s  first thoughts were of Ida. “My wife, be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her …oh, be careful,” he said to the aide who rushed to assist him.

Theodore Roosevelt


The most unusual, dynamic, likable, eccentric and American of our Presidents, the irrepressible Teddy, has too much lore and jaw-dropping tales connected with him to do his legacy justice here. Has any President rebounded from a tragedy like the deaths of his mother and wife on the same night—Valentine’s Day—in the same house? Can any match TR’s crazy/courageous stunt of continuing to give a campaign speech after being shot in the chest by a would-be assassin? (The bullet was deflected by the thickly folded speech itself in Teddy’s breast pocket, giving the ultimate showman the chance to dramatically unfold the bloody thing in front of his amazed audience).

I can’t pick one, so I’ll use this opportunity to excerpt Roosevelt’s most famous speech, his so-called “Man in the Arena” address in 1910, really titled “Citizenship In A Republic” and delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France. I’ve criticized the way this speech is often used by others, essentially to stifle legitimate criticism by saying, “What have you done that gives you standing to find fault with me?” That’s a lazy cop-out, especially for someone in public service, and is too close to other similar tactics, like arguing that only military veterans can make decisions involving war and peace.

The speech, however, is relevant to every one of the men listed in this series of posts, and it is the essence of Teddy Roosevelt.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride of slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not exactly what they actually are. The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be a cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder. Well for these men if they succeed; well also, though not so well, if they fail, given only that they have nobly ventured, and have put forth all their heart and strength. It is war-worn Hotspur, spent with hard fighting, he of the many errors and valiant end, over whose memory we love to linger, not over the memory of the young lord who “but for the vile guns would have been a valiant soldier.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

According to Indiana Senator James Watson, our fattest President “…simply did not and could not function in alert fashion… Often while I was talking to him after a meal, his head would fall over on his breast and he would go sound asleep for 10 or 15 minutes. He would waken and resume the conversation, only to repeat the performance in the course of half an hour or so.” President Taft was also seen snoozing at operas, funerals, and—especially—church services.”

Today, doctors believe that Taft suffered from Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA, especially since the symptoms abated after he lost 70 pounds following the Presidency. From “Taft and Pickwick: Sleep Apnea in the White House” by John G. Sotos, MD:

Taft had three major risk factors for OSA :he was male, severely obese, and had a “short. . . generous” neck. His size-54 pajamas had a neck size of 19 inches. His body habitus exhibited central obesity…

Taft had two signs of OSA: excessive daytime somnolence and snoring. He may also have been polycythemic: his face was described as “ruddy” and “florid.” Systemic hypertension is a known complication of OSA,  albeit common in the general population. Most importantly, Taft’s somnolence correlated with his weight. Taft’s remarkable weight loss after the presidency produced an equally remarkable improvement in his somnolence, blood pressure and, likely, survival.

In October 1910, President Taft was 53 years old, weighed 330 pounds, and snored. With these data, the model of Viner et al. predicts a 97% chance that Taft had sleep apnea…The nature of Taft’s sleeping difficulty in 1913 is unclear. Although OSA may masquerade as insomnia, heart failure is another possibility, given Taft’s “weak heart” and “panting for breath at every step.”

…Any combination of hypertension, obesity, and OSA could have caused heart failure. The reasons for his transiently decreased somnolence in June 1909 are unclear; there are reports of exercise without weight loss improving sleep apnea.

OHS has been known as the “Pickwickian syndrome” since 1956. Before (and after) the noso-logic separation of OSA from OHS in 1965,69,70 it was common to call any sleepy obese patient “Pickwickian.” Biographers have entertained whether Taft had Pickwickian syndrome, but more strongly hold that a psychological need to escape anxiety and strife caused his sleepiness. This seems unlikely because Taft’s somnolence was initially distressing, was involuntary,  correlated better with his weight than his happiness, and was so profound that other psychopathology would likely have been manifest.

Thus, I conclude that OSA is the most probable explanation for Taft’s hypersomnolence. Except for periods associated with successful dieting (1906 to mid-1908, and perhaps briefly in 1909), he was likely afflicted from approximately 1900, when he started gaining weight in the Philippines, into 1913, when he started his post-presidency weight loss. He appears to have become symptomatic at approximately 300 lb. Based on Taft’s history of falling asleep during tasks requiring active attention, such as card playing and signing documents, he would be classified as having severe OSA syndrome.

Woodrow Wilson 

To me the most amazing thing about Woodrow Wilson is how long the liberal historian establishment led by Kennedy hagiographer Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. managed to have him rated as one of the greatest American Presidents. (I believe his is the closest match for Barack Obama, though it’s still not all that close.) Wilson was smart, credentialed and a progressive, and had a lot of wonderful theories and aspirations, but good intentions pave the road to Hell, as they say, and Woodrow’s Presidency is a cautionary tale.

He promised to keep us out of the Great War, and then right after being elected on the promise, got us into it. His administration then prosecuted scores of radicals and anti-war dissenters, sentencing them to long jail terms for violations of the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act. Once the war was won, Wilson had grand plans for a new international organization to prevent future wars, and allowed himself to be out-maneuvered by vengeful European leaders to agree to a punitive, brutal treaty in Versailles that seeded a worse war, all so his baby would be birthed. Then he didn’t have the political skills to get the treaty and its League of Nations approved by Congress. This precipitated a crippling stroke, and he allowed his wife and doctor to secretly run the country rather than allow his Vice President to take over.

And yet none of this touches the real disgrace of Wilson’s tenure.

Woodrow Wilson was a white supremacist, racist to the bone. He believed that interracial marriage would “degrade the white nations.” He showed “Birth of a Nation” at the White House and pronounced it his favorite film, and his policies brought Jim Crow traditions back to Washington, D.C., after they had been effectively banned by Roosevelt and Taft. The Postal Service and the Treasury Department were beginning to integrate, so Wilson put an end to that, as he stocked his cabinet with Southern racists like himself. At parties, Wilson amused his guests by singing songs that mocked blacks and telling minstrel show jokes in dialect.

He was a progressive for whites only. As President of Princeton, Wilson worked to curb elitism by trying to get rid of the rich kid eating clubs, but when a poor black student at a Virginia Baptist college wrote to make his case for admission, Wilson answered “that it is altogether inadvisable for a colored man to enter Princeton.”

Wilson was a study in contrasts, to be sure. He was, it is believed, dyslexic, yet is the only President to earn a doctorate. Despite his scholarly appearance, he was reportedly quite a ladies man, and his letters to his two wives when he was wooing them border on pornographic. He was apparently pretty good at singing those minstrel songs, too.

Yup…one of the greats.

Warren G. Harding

Harding is the anti-Wilson. Historians have built the case that he was an amiable, incompetent, over-sexed boob, but his real crime was that he was a real conservative following three progressives. To most of today’s historians, progressive policies equal good, so this makes Harding a bad President, indeed one of the very worst. The record does not back up that assessment.

In his brief tenure (about 2 and a half years, from March 1921 to August 1923, when he died of a heart attack), Harding accomplished a lot. Unfortunately, again thanks to the skewed emphasis of Wilson-worshiping historians, his substantive achievements have been overshadowed by his sexual escapades (Harding affairs bad, JFK affairs…cute!), and the Teapot Dome Scandal, which occurred under his trusting nose and which was uncovered after his death. No doubt about it: that scandal, which was perpetrated by some of Harding’s most trusted associates (Grant deja vu), is a black mark against him. But as historians show in their upcoming book rehabilitating Harding, there was more to his Presidency than illicit sex in the closet and scandal.

Harding’s fiscal policies brought the country out of the economic depression that resulted from the nation’s unnecessary participation in World War I, as the national debt climbed from $1 billion in 1914 to $24 billion in 1920.  The country was already experiencing rising unemployment, and then all the soldiers came home, looking for work. There was deflation, bankruptcies and business closures. Race riots broke out in cities where African-Americans lived in near whites communities.

Once elected, Harding took his campaign pledge to restore America to  “normalcy” seriously.  He cut government spending and reduced federal income tax rates. The government spent  during the war as if “it counted the Treasury inexhaustible,” he told Congress, and added that if that pattern continued, it would result in “inevitable disaster.” Harding established the nation’s first Budget Bureau (the forerunner of today’s Office of Management and Budget) in the Treasury Department as a spending monitoring tool. His polices saw federal spending drop from $6.3 billion in 1920 to $5 billion in 1921 and $3.3 billion in 1922. He championed the Revenue Act of 1921, which eliminated a wartime, anti-business “excess-profits” tax, lowered the top marginal income tax rate from 73 to 58 percent, decreased surtaxes on incomes above $5,000, and increased exemptions for families.

As a result of the economic measures he implemented, unemployment fell from 15.6 percent to 9 percent. The construction, clothing, food, and automobile sectors boomed. From 1921 to 1923, U.S. manufacturing increased by 54 percent. It is fair to say that Harding was doing more than banging White House maids in the closet.

Harding also had guts. He bucked popular opinion and vetoed a World War I veterans bonus that had been promised by Congress, arguing that the national interest came first, and that the state of the economy required that the payment be delayed. No longer could deficit spending, he argued, be used to finance government programs for which the government did not have the funds. Imagine a President saying that today. What an idiot!

Harding also was determined to reverse Wilson’s racist policies, and to lead the nation to full acceptance of civil rights for all. He his support behind a federal anti-lynching law (FDR wouldn’t back such a measure later, for fear of alienating Southern Democrats). Democrats in the House and Senate sent the measure to defeat, as they did Harding’s proposal for the establishment of a biracial commission that would have investigated lynching and such abuses of electoral law as literacy tests and other schemes to disenfranchise black voters. Harding ordered his Cabinet to appoint black Republicans to key positions. He announced his intention to appoint “leading Negro citizens from the several states to more important official positions than were heretofore accorded to them, ” and appointed five African-Americans to jobs in the State Department; three in Treasury, one in the Justice Department, four in Interior, and one each in the Navy, Post Office, and Commerce Department. This was not enough to satisfy the black leaders who had endorsed him during the campaign, but it was a major improvement and a significant step forward out of Wilson’s racist vision for society.

In October of 1921,President Harding gave his “Birmingham speech,” in which he called for equal educational opportunity and an end to the disenfranchisement of black voters. Reporters wrote that white section of the audience listened in stony silence, while black Americans, standing in a roped-off segregated section, cheered.

Harding did not oppose segregation, but his support for civil rights still represented tremendous cultural progress.

Harding freed the political prisoners incarcerated by the Wilson, including Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs, a political prisoner by any definition. He even invited Debs to come to the White House before returning home, and to celebrate his freedom on Christmas Eve with the Hardings. He wrote, “We cannot punish men in America for the exercise of their freedom in political and religious belief.”

There’s an intriguing possibility that Harding had African-American ancestry. He was teased as a child because of such rumors, and some historians have written that there may have been truth to them. The Harding family was accepted by neither white or black communities in Blooming Grove, Ohio, and this made an impression on Warren, who as an adult sought membership in every fraternal and community organization he could find. The contacts he made in these groups ultimately formed the foundation of his political career.

So perhaps Warren G. Harding was the first black President…and the best one so far.

Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge is another figure whose reality was at odds with his popular image. For example, “Silent Cal” gave almost as many radio addresses as Franklin Roosevelt. He was also a cut-up: he liked to ring for White House servants and hide in the closet before they arrived.

Coolidge’s most important contribution to our political culture came before he was President, when as Governor of Massachusetts he was faced with the Boston Police Strike of 1919. 75% of the police force left work, and violent mobs of looters terrorized Boston for two nights. Coolidge called in the entire state militia, condemned  the strikers as traitors, and declared,“There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.”

Herbert Hoover


Herbert Hoover was a great man in the wrong place, at the wrong time, as a Depression he didn’t make and couldn’t stop made him a national villain, which is an injustice and a tragedy: it would be hard to be less of a villain than Herbert Hoover:

  • Herbert Hoover rose to public prominence during World War I as the Chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, a non-profit, multi-national, non-governmental organization that provided food for more than 9,000,000 Belgian and French civilians trapped behind the front lines.
  • In 1923, Herbert Hoover founded the American Child Health Association, an organization dedicated to raising public awareness of child health problems throughout the United States. Mr. Hoover served as the president of the ACHA until 1928.
  • After World War II, Hoover initiated a school meals program in the American and British occupation zones of Germany,  beginning on April 14, 1947. The program served 3,500,000 children aged six through 18. The program provided a total of 40,000 tons of American food, and was called the Hooverspeisung (Hoover meals).
  • He chaired two Commissions on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, one under President Truman and the other under President Eisenhower. The Hoover Commissions studied the organization and methods of operation of the Executive branch of the Federal Government, and recommended changes to promote economy, efficiency, and improved service.
  • Hoover served as Chairman of the Boys’ Clubs of America from 1936 until his death in 1964.
  • Herbert Hoover was nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize – in 1921, 1933, 1941, 1946 and 1964.

Oh, and by the way, he was a President, too.


 Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here
 Part 4 is here
And the final installment is on the way…

49 thoughts on “A Presidents Day Celebration (PART 3): When The Going Got Tough

  1. I agree with you fully that Wilson was a terrible president. His decision to bombard and occupy Veracruz and send General Pershing to Mexico on a fruitless chase to destroy Villa poisoned U.S-Mexico relations for years. It is really too bad that TR made his ill fated expedition down the River of Doubt and ruined his health. He would have made a great presidential candidate against Wilson in 1920 and probably would have won the election.

    • Or, as the Ken Burns documentary reminded me, not impulsively announced on the eve of his election that he wouldn’t seek another term. But Teddy had to be Teddy. I love that about him.

      In 1920 a lawn chair would have made a great candidate against Woodrow. You mean 1916.

  2. I note that President Herbert Hoover wrote *The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson* and established the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. Charles Curtis, his Vice President was 1/2 Native American and opened the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. My take on Hoover was that he was unfairly blamed for The Great Depression. Of course the Bonus March and Hoover’s decision to send Douglas MacArthur who used tanks to disperse the veterans made him look heartless and doomed his presidency.

  3. The next installment should be interesting.
    FDR is still a controversial figure.

    Personally, I disagree with the thesis that the US’s involvement in WWI was “un-necessary”. It was inevitable. Too much of the US economy depended on the loans to the Entente being repaid.

    Then there was the little matter of the Zimmerman telegram… and the sabotage by German operatives, with significant loss of life. Not exactly on the scale of Pearl Harbor, but nothing that could be ignored, especially if it continued after France fell. Why should they stop?

    • Talk about rushing into a war without knowing what you’re fighting for! Just in the basis of chaos theory alone, I’d take my chances that we’d be better off, and the world too, without all the bad stuff that came out of the Great War…like Hitler and WW II. All hindsight bias, though.

      • Then again, even post-Bismarck Germany shared a lot of the same pathologies as post-Meiji Japan (given that Meiji Japan copied a lot from Bismarck-era Germany), so we might have seen a nasty European war anyways even if the original Great War never happened.

      • Not to mention the messy unrestricted submarine warfare and the rape of Belgium (which was real, although not as bad as some claimed it to be). The real failure wasn’t entering the war, or even the handling of the war. Any reasonably competent army can win a war, and the US Army had competent leadership AND competent allies in France and the UK. It also didn’t hurt that by the time we got there the messy fight at Verdun had already killed most of the competent German platoon, company, and battalion commanders.

        This was a classic case of winning the war and losing the peace, coupled with going in with the wrong vision, as I’ve already set forth at length elsewhere. Wilson let himself be blinded by his own vision, and his failure to clear his eyes set the stage for the rise of fascism.

      • A couple of good books I’ve read that were about, or included, WWI: 1918, The Last Act, by Barrie Pitt (the last year of the war), and Why Nations Go To War, by John Stoessinger. Also check out The March of Folly, by Barbara W. Tuchman. The last one, if you by chance haven’t read it, is, as the name suggests, about “…the pursuit of governments of policies contrary to their own interests, despite the availability of feasible alternatives”. All suggest that these tragedies occurred because the chief characters simply didn’t have the courage, patience, empathy, self-discipline,or level-headed perceptiveness needed to keep their nations from burning..

          • Wow. The ACA would be a perfect addendum to the book. That, or maybe the entire administration and everything they do, or America’s doubling-down on failure and stupidity in 2012.

          • Something told me that suggesting you all read this book was a dingus move; that it was the Jack Marshall equivalent of Common Sense, The Federalist Papers, or The Dialogues of Plato (books that you probably read when you were 7, in other words). Thankfully, I don’t embarrass easily.

              • No, no, I wasn’t saying you suggested that at all. I know you better than that. I was just being self-deprecating. I sometimes forget that it’s hard to convey inflection and intent in this medium, and get sloppy with my delivery. By the way; was that guy Jj a plant, or a screen name of yours we don’t know about? That guy is almost a caricature. I find ideologues over about 30-35 or so to be, I guess creepy is the word I’m looking for. Even I have a great deal of disdain and criticism to level at the majority of the Republican party, especially lately. In fact, I ended up finally choosing sides after my ideologue sister wanted me to submit a paper I wrote about the PATRIOT act, FISA, and all that, not long after the PATRIOT act came on line, and she challenged me to do further research into politics (I had little interest up until then, I hate to admit). I remember the first creepy thing she said to me was that FOX news should be closed down. Needless to say, I ended up drawing different conclusions that she had hoped I would.

  4. Your praise of Hoover reminded me of a downside that showed up in his career, which was to a certain extent established in court. Accordingly I googled for it and found this, which includes this even handed discussion of the affair:-

    The most contentious of Hoover’s Chinese adventures—it eventuated in a major law suit in England—involved his role in the efforts of European investors to obtain management and control of the Kaiping coal mines, an episode of sinuous complexity that Nash sorts out with characteristic clarity (and sometimes numbing detail). Hoover was not a direct defendant in the suit, but he was deeply involved in this dubious attempt to wrest control of Chinese natural resources from Chinese hands. Years later, when political opponents attempted to use the incident against Hoover, he went to considerable lengths to excuse and obscure his participation in the scheme. As Nash shows, this was not the only time that Hoover rewrote the historical record to suit his own purposes.

  5. Thanks for that piece on Warren Harding, Jack. Until fairly recently, I had blindly accepted the standard spiel about him being a hopeless incompetent and corrupt besides. It’s a great lesson that one should never merely accept such a verdict without a little personal inspection. Both Harding and Coolidge dealt with an economic recession by cutting taxes and the size of government. In both cases, their efforts succeeded brilliantly. That is, by the way, in stark contrast to FDR’s policy… which didn’t. Harding’s biggest failure was in misplaced trust in some of his subordinates. Welcome to a big club, Warren!

    • In actual fact, Steve, one should never accept ANYTHING without a little personal research. Admittedly, there are some things that just aren’t important enough to warrant the time and effort, but on those things that seem important to a person, do not take anybody’s word for it…especially if he/she is passing him/her-self off as an expert.

  6. “Based on Taft’s history of falling asleep during tasks requiring active attention, such as card playing and signing documents, he would be classified as having severe OSA syndrome.”

    Gads! And those are the President’s 2 most important Constitutionally mandated duties!!!

  7. Your take on Wilson is interesting because I was taught (in the 1980s) that he was a horrible and ineffective President for all the reasons you stated. Was your generation taught the reverse?

    • What do you mean MY generation, whippersnapper?

      I’m looking at two prominent books on the Presidency from the Sixties. One ranks Wilson as Great (and TR as “Near Great) and the other has him as the 5th best President (after Lincoln, Washington, FDR and Jefferson).

    • Yeah, I recall a documentary, I think I saw it in Junior High School (you’d call it Middle School. I graduated in 1963) that extolled the virtues of Old Woody, including the claim that we were the only reason the ‘Allies” won WWI. Totally ignored the Spanish Flu and the staggering cost of the war.

    • My own textbooks never went that strong, but yeah, my teachers didn’t have much complements for him either. From a brief skimming of presidential rankings, Wilson is still ranked highly among scholars, but not so much among the general populace, which I suspect to be in part due to said scholars being closer to Jack’s generation than mine or Beth’s (and partly due to the general populace not knowing much about pre-FDR presidents to begin with).

      • Shouldn’t scholars, whatever their age, be more informed about these things? a 2014 survey of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents & Executive Politics had Wilson at #10, and ahead of Reagan. That’s ridiculous, even if you aren’t a Ronnie fan.

        • A 1998 book ranking the presidents had Reagan FAR down the list and Carter ahead of him, probably due to very flawed methodology.

            • Carter got a very high rating for character and integrity, which skewed things. By the same token, Reagan got a very low character and integrity mark. If I remember correctly, the presidents were to be ranked 1-42 (Clinton-era) on leadership ability, appointments, achievements and crisis management, political skill, and character and integrity. The survey was submitted to academics only. Carter was ranked I believe #5 for character and integrity, and Reagan I think was ranked #40, with only Harding and Nixon below him, so that skewed things. Frankly I think William Henry Harrison and James Garfield should not have been included because of their brief tenures.

              • What exactly about Reagan was considered poor character? Carter was (and is) peevish, petty, arrogant and nasty. Presumably all conservatives pay a “compassion tax” in such rankings. Andrew Jackson went around shooting people—I’d call that a character issue. FDR was a stone-cold sociopath. Jefferson may have had the weakest character of any of these guys.

                • Reagan also got a very low mark for his choice of appointments. According to the article, he was characterized as a con man a popular sleepyhead, and an emperor with no clothes, but the most recurrent condemnation of him refer either to Iran Contra or to the deficit and that is why he is ranked low on character. The write up on Carter does not explain why he is ranked so highly in terms of character, only that the poll participants ranked him as the highest in character and integrity since Lincoln who was actually number one in character and integrity. Andrew Jackson actually ranks 18th in the character and integrity column. FDR ranks 15th and character and integrity, and Jefferson ranks 7th. The write ups on each president are not very clear as to exactly how the participants in the pole arrived at their rankings. Frankly, I consider this particular book, entitled “Rating the Presidents,” to be bad scholarship. Oh, just to round out one of the topics we’ve been talking about in this thread, Woodrow Wilson is ranked 6th overall and eights in terms of character and integrity.

                    • It tells me the survey was done by liberal college professors who were lazy in their research and smug in their opinions. It also tells me that the write-ups left out some key things, like Wilson’s virulent racism and Carter’s arrogance.

                    • And are unwilling to give up the grudge and admit that RR deserves much of the credit for winning the cold war. Drives the anti-conservatives crazy, but he was right, and they were wrong, and that alone elevates him way, way over Clinton, Carter and Wilson. Iran Contra was about 1 tenth of the scandals that these same people are rationalizing in the current administration…it’s about like the Bowe Bergdahl fiasco.

                    • Most likely most of the academics and college professors who responded to the survey were in school during the Vietnam years, first launched their academic careers around Watergate, watched with dismay as Carter’s administration crumbled, then spent twelve years grumbling under Reagan and Bush the Elder, and were hopeful to see the rise of their own generation with Clinton (the book was published before the whole Monica affair and the impeachment).

                      You are right that Reagan’s success drives the anti-conservatives crazy. My one-time best friend, who was a brilliant Latin and Greek scholar, came from a liberal family, and at 18 was already calling Reagan a “senile old man” and directing other insults (usually with rapier wit) against him. He was particularly offended by Reagan’s supposed slight against people with AIDS and thought that automatically made him the devil incarnate (my friend was probably gay, but never told me or anyone else, in Catholic college in the late 80s that was probably a wise move). To this day he still hates him, although he did not express that hatred when he died like a few people I could name.

                    • I think it will also show that he bears a great deal of credit in getting the people of the Baltics and Eastern Europe a second chance at freedom (some didn’t choose to take it, but that’s on them).

                    • I also think Putin is the kind of charismatic flash-in-the-pan that happens every so often in a people used to tyranny but newly-free. I won’t be around to see it, but it will be interesting to see what happens after he passes from the stage.

                    • Putin is a charismatic guy. But he’s just a speed bump slowing down the Russian collapse. He’s doing his best to preserve the Russian system in hopes a miracle occurs that can re inflate it before it has to go through a major paradigm shift.

                      His adventures in the Ukraine, part of his attempt to pretend that Russia is still a power, will only prove to speed up the collapse. How much cultural energy has he blown trying to let the little southeastern rebels blow some frustrations over their lives?

                  • I see less emphasis on ending the Cold War and more emphasis on accelerating the inevitable breakup of the soviet Union and pushing the frontier of direct Russian hegemony ~400 miles to the East

                    Naturally a Cold War would restart once the Russian core woke up from its shock (which took about 20 years).

      • That’s a good point — I’m far removed from high school. It may have been my teachers and/or my textbooks that conveyed this to me.

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