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Balloon debate

Richard M. Nixon or George W. Bush?

Let the debate begin!

(I am keeping a low profile this week because I am working on a book.)

94 Comments

1:

Jimmy Carter!

Though if we're restricting it to those two republicans, I have to say 6 of one, half a dozen of the other. At least Nixon improved relations with China though.

2:

"Dick Nixon before he dicks you". Love that quote. Is there anything similar for W?

3:

having lived through both presidencies, Nixon hands down. Certainly there was hubris there, but Nixon himself was a bright man who understood the world and how it worked. You cannot say the same for W.

4:

W is bushed after he has ambushed you.

5:

shm @2: The current variant is "Dick Cheney before he dicks you". My personal favorite "witty" saying about Bush is "Bush is a fucking idiot". It's about as clever as the man it's refering to.

6:

Hunter S. Thompson thought Nixon was preferable.

7:

W hands down, Nixon despite his almost pure evil wouldn't have gotten the GOP nomination this century.

At least Nixon founded the EPA and opened relations with China.

Andrew G.
As for Jimmy Carter this speech alone takes him out of consideration.

8:

monopole @ 7: Yes, I'm very glad Carter managed to solve the energy problem back in 77. If not for him, we might still be reliant on foreign oil and facing high energy prices today...

9:

Nixon may have opened China, but W. got them to finance buying everyone in America a DVD player.

10:

Nixon may have been a crook but he was an effective president. He actually did stuff that improved the world, at least from the American point of view. That is a claim that W would be hard pressed to match.

11:

I'm with #3 on this one. I've heard Nixon's career described as the greatest tragedy in US 20th century politics, with 'tragedy' in its English class meaning: a hero with many excellent qualities who was undone by his tragic flaws.

Nixon was intelligent, no doubt about it. Among other things he was an excellent lawyer, a talented amateur pianist, physically brave and a highly skilled poker player.

He was unscrupulous, but that's pretty much par for the course for politicians anywhere. Aside from paranoia, his big problem was that he thought that because he was very smart, he could get away with anything. This caused him difficulties before Watergate, but Watergate was the icing on the cake.

GWB, on the other hand... he was and is unqualified for the job of president. Torture = ok, war of aggression = ok, financial irresponsibility = ok, reducing civil liberties = ok, abuse of power = ok, et numerous cetera.

If ever someone does the 'anti-Rushmore', a titanic statue showing the four worst US presidents, it will show GWB, Buchanan, Harding, and Andrew Johnson. At least in my opinion.

12:

Nixon managed to get at least a stalemate in Vietnam while he was president, wasn't particularly responsible for ruining the economy, inherited rather than started a wars, and did not rack up enormous debt. He was obviously better than Bush. His main problem was that he wasn't as good at managing the media, so they brought him down. Bush would have gotten away with Watergate, and did get away with much worse - like starting an aggressive war under false pretenses.

A more interesting question is - Buchanan (1856-1860) or Bush? Buchanan was the only president whose suckitude approached that of Bush.

13:

I'd take Nixon in a heartbeat!

What people forget is how the center has drifted. Nixon was way to the left of Clinton, much less Dubya.

With Nixon, we might have universal health care by now.

Yes, a creep, but you got more value for your creepiness. Dubya's combination of creepiness with Keystone Kops style bungling is really hard to take.

14:

Is there doubt? Nixon was no more criminal than Bush, and far, far more competent.

Nixon only brought down himself. Bush seems to be doing his best to bring down the entire damn country.

15:

shm @2: Of the famous Dicks I would rather choose one with the first name of Philip for president, but with 90% less drugs than he did. Of course, we'd be talking about an alternate history adventure in this case.

16:

My feeling is that everything Nixon did or tried to do underhandedly, Bush/Cheney has done in the open, proclaiming their disdain for the principals of the constitution, the law, and common decency.

In a better world, both administrations would have ended with the offenders in prison. BSW

17:

My armchair analysis is that Nixon is a classic case of someone eaten up by their resentment. Something that happens even to good people when life deals them dirty one too many times. I see Nixon as being given the shaft in very obvious ways that are simply not up for debate. Worse, he didn't deserve his rough treatment, and the people who so egregiously abused him did not suffer a particle for their thuggish behaviour.

But worst of all, no one around him really seemed to care that he was hard done by, even though they would readily admit that such was the case. That sort of thing will really eat at a person. That's the sort of person who, after carrying around a set of very legitimate grievances for a very long time, finally crosses the line because people 'owe him one.' I'm not commenting on whether or not this was actually the case, by the way, I'm just saying that this is how his life appeared to him. Yeah, there's probably a few good stories in there.

Bush? There is _nothing_ complicated about him, or redeeming in any significant way. His is the story of a nasty, bad-tempered git of a rich man who's had everything handed to him. But, unlike Nixon, the man brings nothing to the table. He's the obnoxious dude from your high school, the one with the rich connected parents who comes without an invitation to the party you're throwing while you're parents are gone. Rather than drink the brewskis provided, he'll break into Dad's liquor cabinet and deplete the stock in ways that simply can't be disguised. He'll break things to the applause of his sycophantic buds, pull down the shower curtain, pee all around the toilet and on the hallway carpet, and leave deep ruts in the front yard while whooping loudly as he peels away. He might take a swing at your neighbor's mailbox with the DEKE paddle he keeps in his car. And he'll leave the mess behind for you to clean up, along with explanations to your parents.

And - after all that - he'll be offended if he detects that you don't particularly care for his presence.

_That's_ the kind of guy G W is. No, there's really no comparison between the two.

18:

@2 - "More Trees, Less Bush"

19:

Nixon gave birth to W. Without Nixon's vile southern strategy, paranoia, opportunism and viciousness W. (and Cheney) would not have been possible. Nixon is the ur-wingnut. Every liberal program was pushed on him by Congress, he only went along to get the votes. He promised twice to get the country out of Vietnam and never did it (forced, again, by Congress under Ford). He appointed one of the most politically compliant fed chairmans, McCheseny (Greenspan, of course, now holds that title), who inflated the currency giving rise to stagflation. This revisionist sympathy for Nixon is a result of him spending his remaining years shining and buffing his legacy.

Nixon was not a "closet" liberal, Nixon may have inherited Vietnam, but he made it his own, he did a pretty nice job destroying the economy and set race relations back 50 years which the US still has not recovered from. And he is responsible for turning the Republican party into the disaster of a party that it is today.

Nixon has far more to answer to history for than W. He got this whole thing started, wrote the playbook they have been following ever since. Nixon is responsible for what he did and for what W. has done.


20:

Oops -- That would be Fed Chairman Burns, not McChesney

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_F._Burns

21:

Josh @15: Regarding alternate history politicians: there's a Howard Waldrop short story called Ike at the Mike where in 1968, the noted jazz musician "Ike" Eisenhower performs with his band at a White House reception. In the audience is a young senator E. Aron Presley.

http://www.uchronia.net/bib.cgi/label.html?id=waldikeatm

22:

Let's do a little compare and contrast for greatest disasters.

Nixon continued and expanded the war in Vietnam, killing thousands of American soldiers and millions of the locals.
Bush invaded Iraq for what was clearly no damn reason, killing thousands of American soldiers and millions of the locals.

Nixon had a team of black bag operatives break into the campaign HQ of an opponent who was losing the election anyway.
Bush packed the Justice Department, the federal courts, and numerous other agencies with underqualified political hacks, in a clear violation of all ethical hiring practices.

Now for the accomplishments.
Nixon: Detente, normalizing relations with China, founding the EPA, unilaterally renouncing the development of biological weapons, and probably some other stuff.
Bush: I've heard his anti-AIDS initiatives in Africa have been decent, if you ignore the parts about cutting funding to groups who have anything to do with abortion.

I'm not even going to get into the rest of the Bush term because I don't want to start crying, but I'd really appreciate it if anyone has anything that Bush has done that hasn't been a complete disaster. I'll take mere failure at this point.

23:

ScentOfViolets @ 17
he [Nixon] didn't deserve his rough treatment,

I rather doubt Alger Hiss or Harry Gold, or the Rosenbergs would agree with that statement. Nor would most of the people whose names were on Nixon's fecal roster, whose private lives are, for no good national security reason, displayed in large files in the FBI records vaults. Nixon was a thug with a flair for fascism he learned while becoming the most ruthless member of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. He publically denounced McCarthy, not for his atacks on the Constitution and civil liberties, but because he tried to capitalize on those attacks to gain personal power (a hypocritical position, since that's exactly what Nixon did with HUAC).

So, no, just because Bush is the worst President we've ever had, don't think that Nixon was anything like a good man, even by comparison. That's sort of like saying that because Stalin was responsible for the deaths of millions, that Krushchev was a good guy because he was only responsible for the deaths of thousands.

24:

Nixon: a reasonably competent (though venal) man who was perhaps out of his depth in the Whitehouse.

Bush: not even shallow. No "depth" to be out of.

25:

IIRC Watergate was the precursor to Bush - the idea that the president is above the law. Bush publishes his interpretations of Congressional acts, i.e. his own laws, and Cheney has sought to avoid any oversight whatsoever (he's part of the senate when he suites, and part of the executive when he suites)...

26:

Obviously you push Dubya from the balloon and leave Nixon.

Partly because, well, Dubya spiralling to his death would feel partly deserved given his torture of others. Mainly however its because Nixon is dead already and so isn't about to give anyone any more trouble...

27:

Hydrogen-filled balloon, I hope.

28:

Balloon debate seems the wrong format for this question - it kind of presupposes that you want to keep one of them.

Unless there was some pressing need otherwise, I'd put Nixon over the side and W's head in the fire.

29:

Pete: the balloon debate is an experiment to see if it is possible to host a discussion about American politics that doesn't cause one or both of the parties to start pointing the finger and shrieking about (liberal|conservative) bias.

It's also a Rorschach test. And an attempt to keep me amused while I continue to extrude 5000 words/day on the current novel (whih leaves precious little spare time for blogging).

30:

Line them up in front of each other, to get the maximum value from your one bullet.

31:

Richard M. Nixon or George W. Bush?

In the right font, an M upside down is a W. Has anyone tried putting the two of them next to each other pointing in opposite directions?

32:

I think they're trying that at CERN

33:

If it's gas balloon, I sabotage the valve then throw out W. Nixon's clever enough to realise what's going to happen - the finesse would be wasted on Bush.

Does anyone have a cure for senility that only works for a day? I'd like to offer it to Thatcher.

34:

Chris: so that she can witness her works in ruin?

35:

There are leaders for their time, and I would view both Reagan and Thatcher through that prism.

The tragedy of W. is that roughly 50% of the US population, yours truly included, really bought, at one point, that it's the brand that matters, that it didn't matter if the guy in charge was a moron -- there would be great advisers around him, after all. We should have known better. The eventual cost to the brand, to America, and to the world, is incalculable, and way beyond the various proposed recapitalization costs.

36:

Chris Williams @ 33:

If there were such a cure, I'd invent time travel just so I could go back and give it to Reagon and bring him to the present to show him the results of senility in office. And I'd make damn sure his hearing aid was turned on.

As for the balloon experiment, I'd leave them both alive long enough to see Nixon figure out what was going on and try to save himself by throwing W over the side before I ignited the fuel tank and blew them both to a hell that's better than either deserves.

Incidentally, if anyone thinks me partisan because of my bitterness against all these Republicans, well, I've get special reason to hate LB Johnson, the quintessential Democratic politician. Bad presidential weather we've been having the last 40 years or so.

37:

Chuck Bush out, because he actually still has power, but when you do so, try and do it over one of Sarah Palin's rallies and aim so that it takes her out as well.

39:

Ooh! Someone mentioned the "T" word! Wash your mouth out!

Does anyome else think that G W Bush is a US version of Mark Thatcher?

40:

Let the balloon go high enough for them to get hypoxic, and have them duke it out.

sticker on my car: "Bush lied, people died" --still are.

41:

With that choice, can i just shoot myself?

42:

Bruce @ 23: If you reread what I wrote, you'll see that I ascribed Nixon's behaviour to earlier perceived and unaddressed slights. Not that he was a good man, or a misunderstood man. Was Macbeth a good man? No. But like Nixon, he was destroyed by his inner flaws, not by his enemies. Sorry to say, but a lot of people who have been abused - rightly or wrongly, but especially wrongly - tend to think of it as payback time once they get a little temporal power. Not to put right what once went wrong. In fact, as a percentage, they're probably more numerous than those who have been abused earlier who take steps to make sure that what they endured does not happen to others.

W, otoh, has no such narrative behind him. Granted, it's hard to do much research into his background from disinterested sources, but the one thing that emerges again and again is a wanton cruelness, the stories about blowing up frogs with firecrackers, for example (isn't that one almost supposed to be a diagnostic in DSMIV?) No, as far as I can tell, simply invoking spite and malice as intrinsic to his character is enough to explain most of W.

Let me say one last time so that you don't miss it: I do _not_ think this excuses either man for the wrongs they did to others.

43:

I don't want to have sex with either of them!...Or did I misunderstand the question?

44:

Nixon, if only for federal revenue sharing.

45:

Goodness. 5k a day? How do you avoid CTS?

46:

I wasn't around for Nixon, but from the (very) little I know of Nixon's presidency, the number and degree of catastophes under his watch has to be dwarfed by Dubya's.

47:

At least some of Nixon's appointees seemed to be competent and honest.
I'm not sure I can say that for Bush.

48:

I have to believe that many, if not most, of the commenters here were not alive during Nixon's presidency. I was. I loathed the man, and even though one is faced with a Hobson's choice, the clear winner here is Nixon.

Bush has created a legacy which is unprecedented in its awfulness to his successor. There is no president in our history who has screwed up as badly, and as completely, as Bush. And, he does have a fair number of competitors. The closest in all of American history would be Buchanan, Lincoln's predecessor.

So, much as I hated the man before and after his presidency, Nixon was smarter and definitely more competent than Bush.

Rick York

49:

Monopole -

Regarding Jimmy Carter solving the energy crisis in 77 - he had the guts to stand up on his hind legs and tell the American electorate what it didn't want to hear - that our lifestyle was insupportable in the long run, so long as we were addicted to foreign oil. He then ran against Mr Happy, who told the electorate we could have more for everybody, that we could increase government spending on defense, lower taxes and balance the budget, all at the same time. He also said that we needed to get government regulation off our backs, and that it would solve all our problems. Carter then lost in a landslide, and the electorate went on its happy way.

28 years later, we're even more addicted to oil, and our economy is in shambles because of the deregulation sponsored by Mr Happy and Mrs Grumpy in the UK. We have war without end attempting to secure the Persian Gulf and protect ourselves from terrorists that our money is indirectly financing through our addiction to oil.

Don't blame Cassandra - blame the people who didn't listen to her.

For an excellent examination of the current situation, I recommend Andrew Bacevich's Limits of Power.

50:

Bush isn't the worst president in American history. That honor has to fall to the leaders prior to the Civil War - Buchanon, Pierce and Fillmore.

I would nominate for worst since the Civil War, tho'

51:

Peter @ 49 & 50:

I think Monopole@7 may have actually been trying to give Jimmy Carter his due credit, in which case I'd have to agree with both of you. Bluntly, Jimmy told the American people the hard truth that they didn't want to hear, and so they voted for the cheerleader with the Big Boy haircut who told them to stick their heads in the sand.

52:

Those who see Bush as the worst are in many cases suffering from "presentism". I would expect science fiction readers (and authors?) to be less likely to make this mistake, but it is natural.

If you just want to count up dead bodies -- Nixon was worse in total and on a per year basis (Nixon only prez for 5 yrs, Bush 7+ and counting). There's a reason why there are almost 60,000 American names on that monument in DC and a little less than half occurred during Nixon's ownership of the Vietnam war (and yes, from Jan 1969 Nixon owned the war in the same way Obama will likely own the Iraq war come Jan 2009 -- Obama's "exit when things are stable" sounds suspiciously like Nixon's promise of "peace with honor"). When it comes to non-American deaths in the wars Nixon also has Bush beat in the dead body department -- probably by a million or two.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_war_casualties

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War_casualties

Nixon also was critical in supporting the coup in Chile and is directly responsible for maintaining various and sundry dictators in Latin America who killed and disappeared numerous of their own citizens -- oh yeah, Nixon (and Kissinger) was great at "diplomacy".

Domestically? Bush is thoroughly responsible for the non-response at Katrina. And under Nixon numerous race riots rocked the country as he told whites (esp. in the South) they were the silent majority and had no responsibility for what was going on.

Civil liberties? Nobody beats Nixon's Hoover in the audacity of violation of civil liberties and agent provocateur killings inspired by that monster. The reason we have any hope of knowing what happened under Bush is because his admin is to some degree constrained by the reaction to making sure there would never be another Hoover. The justice department? As far as blatant criminality AG Mitchell managing Nixon's secret slush fund of illegal campaign contributions to pay off the Watergate burglars is on a par with anything Gonzales did. It may be hard for people to grasp this -- but Cheney and Rove actually have been constrained to work in the shadows in a way that the Nixon admin was much more open.

Pound for pound its hard to make a choice. From the point of view of history -- the long view, the science fiction view of looking back from the future -- I think Nixon is the one I would send a time traveler back to gently nudge him into a different career.

Change Nixon, you change history, the type of Stalinist fundamentalism doesn't warp the Republican party. Change Bush, nothing much happens (they just find a different pretty face -- Jeb, whatever). For this same reason I don't think there's much of a case for calling Buchanan, Pierce Fillmore, etc... the worst presidents ever -- the civil war was coming down the track in a way that makes them irrelevant.

53:

Nixon. No, wait. Bush. No, Nixon. No, Bush. Ah, sod it, I give up; what's the answer?

54:

"Bush: I've heard his anti-AIDS initiatives in Africa have been decent, if you ignore the parts about cutting funding to groups who have anything to do with abortion."

I heard an extensive interview on this on the radio a couple months ago with an African aids NGO person. She said that Bush's AIDS treatment program has been very good and quite effective, while his prevention program has been very bad and terribly ineffective. Guess in which case his ideology conflicts with the science?

55:

While Nixon may have been a more competent President, I'm not sure that's a good thing considering what he used it for. Gas rationing and price/wage controls aren't something I can approve of. I also dislike what he did with NASA, saddling us with the Shuttle and shutting down the Apollo program -- we're just now undoing that with plans to basically go back to Apollo but with better computers.

OTOH, Bush's amazing ability to bungle everything good he proposed sets him apart.

Which is worse -- someone competent who does bad things on purpose, or an incompetent bungler who messes up anything good he tries to do?

56:

One thing I've wondered is what a Nixon presidency would have looked like if he had won the 1960 election? Small vote changes in Illinois and Texas would have given him victory.

57:

Nixon or Bush...
At least one of them was actually elected to the presidency...
-I'm a Norwegian, and the politicians her are not angels, but they can actually read and write.

Looking at things from a European perspective, I can tell you that NO ONE PERSON has done more to make the rest of the world hate the USA than George W. Bush.

-Nixon atleast accnowledged that the USA was part of the world, and not in its own reality.

58:

PJ Evans @47:

I'm not sure I can say that for Bush>>

Interesting thing about Bush's Presidency. Most US Presidents initially appoint members of their "team" to cabinet when they get into office. After a series of embarrassing gaffs, they come to realize that their highly partisan team is not suitable for governance as governance requires a very different set of skills than those required to get elected. They then turn to people with policy skills in the appropriate area.

I kept waiting for W to realize this, but instead of appointing competent people as time went on he fired what few competent people he had (Paul O'Neil and Colin Powell).

59:

Andrew @56

IMHO the 1960 loss had a big part in making Nixon such a bitter vicious prez in 1968. A 1960 Nixon prez wouldn't have had the JFK-inspired inferiority complex and visceral anger at the then dominant main-stream Eisenhower Republican establishment. And it wouldn't have been a win based on an appeal to southerners racial resentment.

Here's a Nixon TV ad from 1960 where he calls for rights for blacks as necessary to help the US compete with the USSR (scroll down to the bottom -- 4th Rep commercial from the left)
http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1960

Here's an ad from 1968 where Nixon says he will bring law and order (1st Rep commercial, dog whistle to the south is that he will keep "those people" in their place in addition to being against youthful radicals).
http://www.livingroomcandidate.org/commercials/1968

As you say the 1960 election was very close. So close that if I recall correctly Nixon seriously considered going the Bush v. Gore recount route. But Eisenhower (among others, but most gallingly for Nixon) made it clear he did not trust a Nixon presidency (Eisenhower know the man too well, part of the reason for Ike's taping system was to protect him against people like Nixon) and if it came down to an electoral dispute -- Ike (like Grant in 1876) would be the respected military leader who would throw his weight against Nixon, for JFK.

Nixon had lot's to be angry and bitter about before becoming president in 1968 and the loss in 1960 was no small part of it (Nixon also blamed the fed for his loss in 1960 -- see wiki entry on Burns above @20 -- why he was adamant about appointing a compliant Fed chairman, Burns -- who inflated the US into stagflation).

So, Nixon probably would've been a different prez in 1960, likely not giving rise to the wingnut version of the Rep party.

The party that really took off once they found out genial front men (Reagan, Bush) worked best, with the nasty folks behind the curtain running the show.

60:

Peter Clark@50; Millard Fillmore was one of my ancestors, and I agree with your inclusion. I just used Buchanan because he was Lincoln's immediate predecessor.

Even the family agrees that Fillmore's only distinction was putting the first bathtub in the White House, although that may be apocryphal. He did have some other accomplishments but definitely not as president.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millard_Fillmore

Rick York

61:

Ole A.Imsen @57

The Nixon/Kissinger folks did acknowledge the rest of the world... as their fiefdom (the world split between US and USSR spheres of influence, so the US saw the west as their playground). What Nixon did in Latin America (supporting coups and training death squads) actually happens less today. As noted above (@50) Nixon killed many more people in south east asia than have been killed in Iraq/Afghanistan.

Hard to believe. Doesn't mean Bush is in any way good -- just that if you're trying to make a historical comparison you gotta deal with what Nixon actually did.

The 1970's saw the rise of more organized radical opposition in Europe to the US than anything happening today.

62:

Totally off topic, but is the Charles Stross referred to in this (http://crookedtimber.org/2008/10/13/krugman-wins-economics-nobel/#comments) our host?
Sorry if I sound surprised, Charlie, particularly given that Krugman has apparently written upon SFnal concepts in the past - and it's not like some recent Nobel Peace Prize winner taking Niven & Pournelle as subjects for a serious geopolitical round table ('We brought the Soviet Union to its knees. With our minds. In my living room.') - not farcical at all is what I meant - but is there some other antediluvian economist Charles Stross of whom I've never heard?

63:

Krugman's a big SF fan. In his own intellectual autobiography he cites Asimov's Foundation as a formative inspiration. Wanted to be a psychohistorian and decided econ was the closest thing for now.

http://www.princeton.edu/~pkrugman/incidents.html

64:

follows Lars link and you get a link to Krugman's piece: "The Theory of Interstellar Trade" (circa 1978 and it shows in the font)

65:

Just wanted to throw in when you go back far enough you find worse Presidents than Bush or Nixon. Buchanan was a disaster -- though I suppose we could give him some credit for being our first gay president.

66:

@65: I wasn't aware that Buchanan had been outed. He was the only president who was a life-long bachelor, but that doesn't say anything in and of itself.

As for a Nixon presidency starting in 1961: it would certainly have been different than the one the world got starting in 1969. But there was still the matter of Lee Harvey Oswald's itchy trigger finger. Perhaps we'd be seeing commemorative Nixon quarters, the Richard M. Nixon Space Centre and New York's RMN airport.

67:

With the exception of the failure to withdraw from Vietnam, the creation of the flawed "war on drugs" ideology to deal with drug-related crime, the disregard for the law, and the pathetic inability to cover it up (Executive privelege???? I would've just burned the tapes...), Nixon was a pretty good president.

Bush, on the other hand... in a recent interview, he said he considers his greatest achievement to be the No Child Left Behind Act. As a relatively young person (18), I can personally tell you the general reaction to this from parents, teachers, and most of all students:
No.
It harms teachers, punishes genius in favor of mediocrity, leaves the disabled in the dust, and attempts to remove any characteristic of interest or student involvement from our educational system.

Oh, and then there's that war. But I figured everyone would talk about that one.

There're both pretty bad, but in my opinion the worst was Martin van Buren. This was the guy who came up with the modern American campaign plan of appealing to the lowest common denominator, when he was campaign manager for Andrew Jackson and got that Indian-massacring hothead (who somehow ended up on the $20 bill) in office by accusing the current president of an imaginary conspiracy to put his secretary of state in office.

Fun stuff. Maybe we should have mandatory personality tests for potential presidential candidates...

68:

I don't think this is an answerable question just yet. Nixon's reign is a closed case and the long-term outcomes of his policies are a part of the historical record. In contrast, ****'s rule is an open case and the long-term outcomes of his decisions are unknown. Indeed an unknown number of his policies cannot be evaluated because they are secret either in whole or in part.

It's not possible to completely evaluate if Nixon or **** made worse leaders until ****'s books are closed and the light of day has been shone into the darkest corners of the **** administration. Things like the institutionalization of torture, pervasive surveillance, politicization of the justice system to prosecute Democrats, shifting domestic politics so far into wingnut land the that someone like Sarah Palin can run on a major party ticket, courting blowback by launching an unprovoked aggressive war, refreezing relations with Russia, abandoning Kyoto, and abandoning all pretext of regulating the financial sector tend to be the kinds of gifts that keep on giving well into the future regardless of the competence of subsequent leaders. **** can't be fully evaluated until it is at least roughly known how these factors will play out in the intermediate term.

**** will be ought to be judged much more harshly if, for example, his administration's tacit decision to keep the housing bubble going has set in motion an unstoppable chain reaction that brings about the end of the US$ as the world's reserve currency. This, however, is not something that can be known for a few years yet.

69:

ScentOfViolets: Sorry I misunderstood you. I have trouble comparing Nixon to MacBeth, though. The Thane knew what he was doing was wrong, he was just too weak to withstand his wife's persuasion. Tricky Dick, on the other hand, didn't seem to realize that what he did was wrong; it was the price we all had to pay for his ambition.

At least in terms of foreign policy, Nixon's greatest crime may have been giving Kissinger the reins and letting him drive. If Nixon had had a reasonably sane person in place of K's delusions of gray eminence, maybe the Vietnam War wouldn't have gone on so long or killed so many.

Kile: Fun stuff. Maybe we should have mandatory personality tests for potential presidential candidates...

Yeah, if our presidents had personalities we'd be a lot better off.

70:

I think Bush is getting a raw deal here... no let me explain.

Famous people's reputation goes through a historical arc.
They start off unknown outside their colleagues in the same line of business.
They come to the attention of the public and eventually (for politicians) come to power.
They start off well, being compared favourably with the previous incumbent.
After a while the gloss becomes tarnished.
They leave public life, or die (much the same thing really).
Someone publishes an early biography which tells everybody what a rotten bastard they were in reality.
Somewhat later a more balanced view is produced which balances the good they achieved against their character flaws.
After a 100 years or so a balanced historical view emerges which focuses on what was done and not done, and the character flaws (which so obsessed people at the time) are reduced to a few comments and footnotes.

... which is why Tricky Dicky is part way to being historically rehabilitated and Bush has yet to tread that far on the arc.

Of course you could argue that Bush started out public life with no redeeming features and few worthwhile achievements and got worse as time went on... Its no good, even trying to be fair, I don't think history will treat Bush kindly. He should be the one to go over the side of the balloon, but he is such a lightweight I'm not sure you'll get much lift.

Best heave Tricky over too.

71:

I'm confused.

Surely either of them is more than capable of creating more than enough hot air to keep the balloon aloft indefinitely, thereby negating the debate.

However, in the spirit of the question, can we just choose to expel both, for the sake of equality, and to improve all our chances of staying aloft?

72:

Alternatively, you could jump out of the balloon yourself.

73:

Disclaimer: as a British subject, I am contributing as an interested outsider. That said, I really don't see how anyone could possibly compete with Dubya. Many of the classic "bad" presidents were "King Log" - they didn't do much of anything. In the view of some, that actually made them very good presidents. Dubya has (1) launched a vigorous attack on the Constitution; (2) laid a promising foundation for a future fascist dictatorship; (3) started a series of perpetual wars in Asia; (4) failed to protect the US against the worst terrorist attack in its history; (5) failed to protect New Orleans against drowning; (6) massively increase the USA's indebtedness; and now, to round things off nicely as he leaves, (6) he is presiding over the Second Great Crash - which we hope doesn't lead to the Second Great Depression. Jully good show, sir!

74:

James Buchanan, though technically a member of the Wigs party, his monumental failure as President is considered by many historians to be the worst. Indeed, the Wigs party folded after his presidency and became the Republican party.

75:

would all the people chiming in about how terrible Buchanan is please give a reason why they think that (other than reading some poll putting him at the bottom).

not that I have a brief for JB, but it would seem you need a reason (and just being the prez elected before the civil war is not a reason)

I agree w/ Welsh @73, these complaints against Buchanan, Pierce, Fillmore are not very meaningful unless you say what you think makes them that bad. (but, I disagree w/Welsh re: Nixon v. Bush).

Pre-civil war the US was a different type of republic with relatively strong states and Congress (some argue the war of 1812 was propelled by the speaker of the house, Clay, rather than Madison, the president in the antebellum era was a much weaker, therefore less relevant and less culpable individual).

76:

to answer the actual question asked, if I'm in the balloon they're both going over

if I'm not in the balloon and it's W. w/ Nixon's stinking corpse, I say let'm fly so W. can see his future up close

if it's a balloon that allows me to pre-emptively abort only one of them -- it's gotta be Nixon because, historically, if Nixon goes, then so does Bush's legacy

77:

"Buchanan condemned slavery in the abstract, while supporting it in fact. He was firmly convinced that the Constitution sanctioned slavery wherever it existed. Slavery was 'one of those moral evils from which it is impossible for us to escape without the introduction of evils infinitely greater,' he asserted in a speech to Congress, in 1826. 'There are portions of this Union in which, if you emancipate your slaves, they will become your masters.' He proclaimed his willingness to 'bundle on my knapsack' and race to the South’s defense, if it should ever become necessary. That was almost precisely what he would do for the rest of his political life. He vigorously defended the Fugitive Slave Law, which required that Northerners regardless of their beliefs collaborate in the recapture of runaway slaves anywhere in the country, while condemning the 'fanatical folly' of Northern abolitionists. Says historian Jean Harvey Baker, of Goucher College, 'He was totally opposed to abolitionism, and pro-Southern. He wanted to protect the Union as it was, run by a Southern minority. He just didn’t give a damn about slavery.'"

78:

Xeno @77

How does that make Buchanan different from every other president in the pre-Civil War era?

The bargain of slavery was the dirty deal agreed to from the beginning of the American republic.

Every US president before Buchanan enforced the fugitive slave laws, every president accepted slavery, Buchanan was not unique in any way on that score

so, I still ask, what did Buchanan do that was uniquely bad (you could say all pre-civil war presidents were "the worst" because they endorsed slavery, but then Buchanan is not unique)?

79:

Buchanan sat on his hands between Lincoln's election and inauguration and allowed the secessionists to grab wholesale lots of federal Military installations. In particular, the Norfolk Navy Yard: I believe it was Bruce Catton who concluded that most of the heavy artillery used by the Confederacy in the war came from Norfolk. The Harpers Ferry Arsenal is another. The Rebels grabbed it early and fought hard to keep it. Decisive early action might not have kept Virginia from going with the rebels, but the amount of military hardware - which the Confederacy was not able to produce early in the war - grabbed by the rebels would have been greatly reduced.

80:

Here is a curve ball: While things were still shaking out in late 1861/early 1862 Robert E. Lee was a garrison commander in Texas. He had made it quite clear that any attempt to seize his command buy Texas militia would be met with force. Suppose the Texans try anyway. Or suppose a more proactive Buchanan orders Lee to move against the Texans. Hard to see how he gets command in Virginia after that. With Johnston wounded and Lee unavailable in 1862, who stops McClellan from taking Richmond in 1862? P. G. T.Beauregard? Maaaybe.

81:

Bush.

Two words.

Global warming.

82:

@81
Don't forget about the "Clear Skies initiative" (increase amount companies can pollute) or the "Healthy Forests Initiative" (increase amount companies can log).

83:

Arrr, Brain disease in my @80 post, that should have been "While things were still shaking out in late 1860/early 1861..."

84:

@ 79, 80

I dunno, inaction is a pretty thin reed on which to hang "worst president ever"

I think JB get's such a bad wrap in all the polls because he was prez before the civil war -- sort of a correlation without causation fallacy, I think. News flash -- the civil war was result of -- surprise -- the south taking up arms. they have no one to blame but themselves, no one forced it on them. JB certainly didn't cause the civil war, nor did Lincoln. the south chose to bring the consequences on themselves

i'd certainly say Nixon and Bush were far worse for all the reasons given by everyone upthread

85:

Okay, moderator here: no more civil war debate on this thread, unless it contains discussion of the effects of issuing bills of attainder on the slide towards war, the role of the Long Parliament, or the tactical disposition of the Battle of Edgehill.

Get the message?

86:

So is it OK to talk about the role of the Lord Protector?

(*Ducks*)

Back to the original question - If I were in the balloon as well my vote to be to sling Bush out irrespective of which was the worse president.

I would expect Nixon to be a much more interesting conversationalist - he was at least smart. Crooked, but smart!

87:

Point taken. The Royalists probably should have gone with the eight-rank infantry deployment array proposed by Lord Lindsey, rather than the more complicated Swedish formation actually used by Lord Forth.

88:

In that case, I'd throw out the elder Charles Stuart and leave the younger in the basket, if anyone's asking.

89:

"At least Nixon founded the EPA and opened relations with China"

As Brad DeLong said (quote from memory): "the reason that 'only Nixon could go to China' is that only Nixon could go to China without being red-baited by Nixon.".

Nixon spent decades p*ssing in the well; he shold not get credit for cleaning it out.

90:

68: "I don't think this is an answerable question just yet. Nixon's reign is a closed case and the long-term outcomes of his policies are a part of the historical record. In contrast, ****'s rule is an open case and the long-term outcomes of his decisions are unknown. Indeed an unknown number of his policies cannot be evaluated because they are secret either in whole or in part."

This is very important; many people now in senior positions got their start in the Nixon administration, or the Ford interregnum (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paulson). Others were boosted (Bush I, Powell). Take a list of mid-level guys from the W administration; in 8 years many will be senior guys in the next GOP administration.

And these people will have learned in the past 8 years that they can get away with far, far more than we'd like them to believe.

91:

Just because no one's brought it up yet, I thought I'd remind everyone of Harry S. Truman. His popularity ratings were on par with W's (highs and lows), he had a come-from-behind victory for his second term (assuming you count the remainder of FDR's term as his first), and it's been 58 years since he got us into Korea, and there are still 30,000 US troops stationed there...

92:

scot, people pretty much don't bring that up, because it's ridiculous, for reasons which have been endless rehashed. It *is* one step less ridiculous to comparing the Iraq War to having had troops in Germany for decades, but only one step.

93:

Curmudgeon @ 68: Nixon's reign is a closed case and the long-term outcomes of his policies are a part of the historical record. and
Barry @ 90: Take a list of mid-level guys from the W administration; in 8 years many will be senior guys in the next GOP administration.

What length of time is sufficient to qualify as "long-term" will usually depend on what type of issues you're discussing. For most types of simple domestic/national political issues, one generation (about 25 years) is minimum. (Example: the development of certain national government level social policies in the Thatcher and Reagan administrations, and their gradual implementation over a similar period, including continuation by successors of rather different nominal political orientation.)

The actual medium to long-term consequences of the current U.S. administration's domestic policies should be reasonably apparent by the time today's mid-level guys finally retire from their subsequent senior policy-level appointments.

For significant international issues, especially those involving changes in the relative economic and political clout of any Major Powers, 50 years is a much more useful length baseline, and 100 years is usually enough to provide a fairly clear trend-line. (Although this probably qualifies as merely a localized blip, by, say, traditional Chinese strategic standards . . . )

94:

Leroy F. Berven @93 -- sure politics is fractal like -- the question is -- do you have the imagination to make a plausible story about the future based on what we know now?

re: Barry @ 90 specifically, what will the mid-level Bush people do? uh, my guess is that the Alberto Gonzales', Harriet Meiers, the Regents University grads and all those involved in the US Atty scandals, etc... are not going to be making a big splash in the future in the way the Nixon people did. Bush was a lightweight admin, with lightweight people, except for the Nixon and Reagan retreads.

Another fun historical analogy -- Nixon is Ceasar -- final nail in the coffin of any semblance of democracy -- Bush is Nero -- a truly horrific piece of work, but a natural step in a declining empire (obviously I don't hope for this, my hope is the Nixon/Reagan people finally die off/retire and the Bush people are never heard from again)

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 13, 2008 11:15 PM.

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