Here’s another one.
Regular readers here know I’m a sucker for Presidential history, even when I’m not the one expounding on it. I’m also a sucker for posts that I would otherwise have to write myself., and I was outlining a very similar post to this when Steve-O-in-NJ kindly produced this Comment of the Day. For of there is one thing my life-time love affair with the Presidency and the men who have had the audacity to try, always with mixed success, to fulfill its crushing challenges, has taught me, it is that these were all weird men, each in their own unique ways. You have to be weird to seek this job, or survive it. The argument that Donald Trump’s undeniable weirdness is somehow deserving of less tolerance than any of the other Presidents is bigotry mixed with ignorance. Leadership is itself abnormal, and has infinite guises.
Welcome to Steve-O-in-NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, Lies, Dunces, Fools, Villains, Hypocrites And Big Liars In The Resistance’s Plan E, “The President Is Disabled!” [Part 3]
Washington was an inch away from leading an army personally to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. Andrew Jackson had a notorious temper (all his life), fought duels (though not while in office), and said he was going to hang the first South Carolinian who defied Federal law to the first tree he could find if bloodshed resulted from that defiance. LBJ gave interviews while on the toilet, more than once. Jimmy Carter talked about having consulted with his young daughter regarding policy matters and claimed to have seen a UFO. Calvin Coolidge brushed off a reporter who had made a bet that she could get more than two words out o him by saying “you lose.” Grover Cleveland had half his jaw cut out due to cancer and told the press he had two bad teeth extracted. He also married a woman who was young enough to be his daughter. Lincoln of course battled what we’d probably now recognize as clinical depression.
The two biggest offenders for presidential disability were Woodrow Wilson, who was actually completely disabled by a stroke and hid it, in effect making the nation an oligarchy ruled by his wife and closest advisors, and JFK, who hid the fact that he had Addison’s disease (why that didn’t keep him out of the Navy I don’t know), probably PTSD, and crippling back pain that sometimes left him unable to stand without drugs. I also wonder if it would be out of line to diagnose Clinton with satyriasis, given his behavior.
My main point is that some of the arguably best presidents like Washington and Jackson, others who were at least popular like Cleveland and Clinton, and some that official history is reluctant to examine too closely like JFK (although that is starting to change) all had issues of risky or extreme actions, bizarre behavior, or concealing disability from the public, and no one now calls any of them unfit for office, nor was that charge ever leveled to my knowledge at any of them with any level of seriousness. As far as I know no Republican leader has ever leveled the charge of mental or other unfitness at any Democratic president with any seriousness, although Clinton’s sexcapades, Carter’s incompetence and errors, LBJ’s open crudeness and weirdness, and JFK’s litany of problems presented the opportunity several times.
In all fairness, even the charge that Reagan was senile only started to be spoken of openly when he was almost out of office, and only gained traction when he was 6 years out of office and made the admission that he was deteriorating from Alzheimer’s disease. All four of the White House physicians during his tenure and his personal physician deny that he was suffering from the disease during his time in office. James Baker, his chief of staff, denies it. His other staff members, friends, and aides deny it. The only evidence that could point to the conclusion that he was senile in office consists of two incidents: one mistaken greeting of a cabinet member with “Hello, Mr. Mayor,” during a reception for mayors not long after John Hinckley’s attempt to kill Reagan, and one interview with Lesley Stahl in 1986 where he seemed to be all over the place, but regained his alertness. That’s it.
Yet somehow it seems to have now become established fact on the left that he was in fact senile in office, and those who choose not to believe it are just in denial. Tell me, what’s more likely: that Reagan, recovering from gunshot wounds and major surgery, along with the mental trauma that goes with that, made a mistake during a meet and greet where he shook a hundred hands and more, and later, at 75 and after six years of the stress of being president on top of that, that he stumbled during yet another interview, or that all that time he was senile and it just peeked through those two times? Are you really going to say you believe that not one, but four or five medical doctors are all lying or incompetent, and that Reagan’s entire staff, including James Baker, were either too loyal or too cowed to tell the truth? Do you really think that among a staff that numbered 200 at any given time and probably saw 400 or 500 people pass through it during Reagan’s tenure that someone wouldn’t have eventually talked? BTW, Ron Reagan recanted in 2011 and said he did not believe his dad’s lapses were due to Alzheimer’s or dementia. Never mind, though, for the left it’s become an article of faith that Reagan was senile: Baker was just being a loyal soldier protecting his general, the doctors were all either trying to protect a patient from a devastating diagnosis or too worried about the consequences to tell the truth, staff members were all bribed, threatened with either pension consequences or outlight violence, or gaslighted (you didn’t really see that), and Ron Reagan was probably pulled aside by his brother and told to recant or else. I just pulled all of this up in about 10 minutes using public sites like Wikipedia. Still, if you’re determined to believe something, no evidence will lead you away from it.
The irony is that the same people who will insist that Reagan was senile despite the dearth of evidence are the same people who not only will tell you that Trump is clearly insane based on his blunt, brash, arrogant style and tendency to shoot from the hip, and the same people who will tell you that Hillary was just fine, despite the fact that she was the same age as Reagan when he was sworn in and fainted in public with no stressful event beforehand. All those stories about her needing to nap during the day and being scattered while she was Secretary of State are, of course, just disgruntled former employees or people looking for their 15 minutes of fame.
George W. Bush said recently that “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.” He was absolutely right, but I’d take it a step farther. Too often we assume everything those we agree with say and do is true and comes from the best of intentions, while assuming that everything those we don’t agree with say and do is a lie and comes from the worst of intentions. Too often we are willing to believe that our own side’s mistakes or errors are just mistakes or errors or due to circumstances our side couldn’t prevent, while believing that the other side’s mistakes or errors are either deliberate wrongs or clear proof of incompetence. Too often we build up the heroes of our own side as unassailable while tearing down the other side’s heroes as wrong, incompetent, or simply not that important. There are no eyes so blind as those who refuse to see, no ears so deaf as those that refuse to hear, and no minds so foolish as those who refuse to understand.
The question that should be weighing on everyone’s mind is: do we really want to put those who will not see, hear or understand anything that doesn’t agree with their view of how things should be in charge of this country? It’s just that approach that toppled the Temple of Diana, consigned the Library of Alexandria to the flames (a little bit at a time), saw Simon de Montfort’s knights slaughter their own people to make sure they got the others, let the Turks erase the Armenian nation from Asia, led Russia, Italy, Germany and Japan to somewhere we don’t need to talk about, and got bin Laden to the place from where he persuaded 19 men from decent lives who were not desperate that they should plow airliners into buildings.