Mount Rushmore – Mount Rushmore Edition

Hey, everyone!  Guess what I don’t know shit about?  Presidential history!  But why should that stop me on weighing in on who I think should grace a Mount Rushmore of Presidents limited to those who have served since construction began on the original monument?  It won’t!  I’m using the beginning of construction as the cutoff because I assume at that point no changes were going to be made to the design (even though the original plan of carving their upper bodies was ultimately scrapped… Hey!  I do know something!) and thus any Presidents who served after that date (October 4, 1927) were not considered.  Basically, we’re looking at everyone from Coolidge forward.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt:  I feel like he’s a pretty big deal.  He’s the longest serving President and, if I remember my history right, actually led to the implementation of term limits on the office.  He saw us through the Depression and World War II and I’m pretty sure did a whole bunch of other stuff that still resonates with us today (for better or worse… take that up in the comments!).

John F. Kennedy:  Probably more popular than he was influential, he is still probably the first President people think of when asked to name one.  In fact, I think I saw that on “Family Feud” once.  He was the #1 answer.  And who is going to argue with the survey?

Ronald Reagan:  A wildly popular President (right?) who has become a demi-God to the Republican party since.  Another one who, for better or worse, has dramatically shaped the American landscape.

Barack Obama:  Leaving aside anything he accomplishes during his administration, the fact is that being the first black President matters.  A lot.  More than we probably realize at this moment — especially white people — because we are still living in the moment.  I mean, JFK is still remembered for being the first Catholic President which wasn’t nothing but surely wasn’t as monumental as being the first black President.  His election was historic even if his run in office wasn’t (and the jury is still out on that, obviously).

That’s what I got.  It ain’t much, but it’s something.  What you got?

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165 thoughts on “Mount Rushmore – Mount Rushmore Edition

  1. FDR no question belongs up there. He is the architect of contemporary American government and the culmination of the Progressive Presidents’ efforts.

    I’m a bigger fan of Eisenhower than may be strictly fashionable. No one knew how to fight a Cold War. He figured that out. And he figured out the domestic dangers of being in a Cold War for too long. He also figured out how to deploy his own stature and charisma to let Eugene McCarthy flame out, and still project an aura of confidence and strength during what were actually quite unstable times.

    If FDR was the architect of modern America, LBJ was its finish carpenter. We still live in his Great Society, and while I’ve serious questions about the efficacy of some of his redistribution schemes, LBJ both shifted the political center of gravity towards inclusiveness and the power and resources of the government towards meaningful equality. Had he not gone all-in on Vietnam and instead found a way to proclaim victory and withdraw, he’d be the modern-day equivalent of Andrew Jackson.

    Fourth would be Reagan, for reasons you say — we still live in his America today, too. He gave our national character and pride a much-needed tonic. Reagan assessed strengths and weaknesses strategically, understood that the threat of policy dominance Ike warned of had become manifest anyway, and pushed to not just gain the upper hand but outright win the Cold War. The tax scheme he created, with modifications, prevails today as does the basic mindset that taxes ought to be as light as possible so as to foster economic growth. As to our use of debt to pay for government, Reagan is less remembered for saying tomorrow’s dollars are cheaper than today’s, but that concept whether right or wrong still prevails a generation after his mind began to slip.

    I’m not nearly so impressed with Barack Obama as to include him on a modern Mount Rushmore. His principle achievement was getting elected in the first place. After that, well, I’ve not been hugely impressed. And I recognize that both LBJ and RWR are flawed contenders, but out of the available candidates, we’ve got four spots to fill and they did have a big impact.

    Nixon is out of consideration because he so badly disgraced the nation as to assault the very concept of the rule of law.

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    • I more or less agree with your assessment of Obama as a President but think in 100 years we will look back and remember the historical nature of his election and wonder why he isn’t on Mount Rushmore 2.0.

      I think I told this story once before, but I’ll repeat it…

      The day after his election, I went to the local grocery store in Silver Spring, MD (a town with a sizable black population) to grab a few items. There was a line starting at the service desk and stretching all the way down an aisle and around another. Almost everyone on it was a middle-aged or older black person. “What’s going on?” I wondered. I asked an employee. “We ran out of newspaper. They’ve been waiting all day for more to come in.” I hadn’t even connected what I was seeing with what had happened less than 24 hours earlier. But that showed me the magnitude of the moment among black folks and forever cemented that Obama — regardless of his effectiveness — would never be a historical footnote.

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      • As someone who is decidedly not progressive, you can imagine that I’m not the biggest fan of FDR. I can’t say that I’m all that anti-FDR, however. I’m much more anti the inaccurate historical understanding of his presidency that dominates. The guy was in office for 12 years

        Wilson is an entirely different matter. If there were a Mt Rushmore of terrible presidents, his would be the first name that I offered. One of my favorite things to do is ask people who claim that GWB was the worst president in American history what they think of Wilson. It’s always an interesting conversation.

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      • Should read:

        The guy was in office for 12 years and through two of 20th century America’s defining moments. It’s somewhat acceptable that he was making it all up as he went along. That is often the best that we can do.

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      • Most people know who Woodrow Wilson is. More importantly many people who would contend that GWB was the worst president see Wilson as one of the best ones.

        The other thing that I like to do to people who claim that GWB, and now those who say the same of Obama, is to ask them to name every president and tell me something meaningful about their terms. I don’t get very many answers to that one.

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      • If we’re talking worst Presidents ever, I’m on record as putting Buchanan atop the list. His defenders say the country was too far gone to have been saved by the time he took office — I’m not so sure if that’s true, but it’s for damn sure nothing did in office helped matters any.

        Also for your consideration: Pierce, Harrison II, Nixon. Hoover I am a bit forgiving towards — he was simply clueless about a historic system reset, rather than ideologically malicious.

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      • Most people know who Woodrow Wilson is. More importantly many people who would contend that GWB was the worst president see Wilson as one of the best ones.

        I can speak only from my experience, but most people I meet outside of my history pals don’t know who Wilson is, although those who do and who think Bush Jr. was the worst are probably inclined somewhat favorably to Wilson. Again, except for my history pals, who recognize his (largely successful) attempts to institute Jim Crow at D.C., is Latin American imperialism, and his getting the US into that awful war.

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    • Nixon is out of consideration because he so badly disgraced the nation as to assault the very concept of the rule of law.

      So did Roosevelt. Aside from the general disregard for jurisdictional issues, there was the court-packing scheme.

      Why that POS gets the respect he does is beyond me.

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      • How can you compare “court-packing” to Nixon’s shenanigans? It was an open and honest proposal sent to the Congress, not an illegal and clandestine conspiracy. The Constitution does not specify nine Supreme Court justices; Congress has the authority to increase or decrease the number at will. Congress said no, and the proposal died. Isn’t that exactly the way the process is supposed to work?

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      • It was an attempt to politicize the court, to manipulate it to the President’s will. That the constitutional process worked in stopping this attempt to violate the independence of the judicial branch is a testament to the process, not to the guy who tried it.

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      • I understand the objection to it, but the comparison to Nixonian tactics (the gist of BB’s overwrought comment [POS?!] is nuts. You simply cannot compare a proposal submitted in the full light of day to the Congress of the United States with a conspiracy hatched behind closed doors. That’s all I was trying to say.

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      • Secrecy’s only a small facet of the point. The bulk of Nixon’s schemes were overtly criminal. FDR’s court-packing proposal further politicized an already-politicized Court, but was neither criminal nor unconstitutional.

        In ‘s defense, I see what he’s getting at: FDR used political pressure to convince members of the Supreme Court to change the way they voted (or so the legend goes; I’ve done insufficient investigation myself to either concur or dissent). His is theory that doing so thereby elevated the presidents political preferences above the rule of law, and thus places the court-packing scheme within shouting distance of Nixon’s burglaries, forgeries, conspiracies, and cover-ups.

        I understand the argument while disagreeing with it. FDR’s proposal came after many other presidents and members of Congress had proposed, and in some cases passed, laws changing the size of the Supreme Court. Enlarging or diminishing the number of justices on the court is a political football, and FDR was playing that political game. As it turned out, he only needed to play the game, not necessarily win, in order to get what he really wanted. How fortuitous!

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      • FDR attempted to exploit a loophole in the Constitution in order to install a crony court, because the established system of checks and balances was preventing him from enacting his blatantly unconstitutional overextensions of federal power.

        This was a serious assault on the rule of law in the most literal sense–he tried to neuter the judicial branch entirely in order to prevent the enforcement of legal restrictions on his power.

        Had he succeeded in establishing a precedent for this, it would rendered the court forever void as a check against a unified executive and legislature. As it is, he broke federalism.

        Then he robbed a bunch of Japanese Americans and threw them into concentration camps.

        It seems petty even to mention this after the first two things, but he also violated the longstanding tradition of limiting oneself to two terms, a move so problematic that a bipartisan amendment to prevent this from ever happening again was passed and ratified shortly afterward.

        Roosevelt and Nixon are the only tenable contenders for top spot in the rogues’ gallery of 20th century US presidents.

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      • Only the naive would deny the court is politicized, yet it remains independent. FDR assaulted that independence. Burt’s point about the Court having been enlarged before is inapropos. It was never enlarged–to the best of my knowledge–solely for the purpose of stacking it with, as Brandon says, cronies, so that the president can override its decisions.

        It was an assault on the rule of law and on the structure of the American system of government. I’d say not as bad as Nixon’s, but not to be overlooked as a mere political misstep, as it so often is.

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      • Its totally different from refusing to even schedule hearings for new judges so that when your guy gets in, he can fill all the vacancies with life-termed thirty year olds. Thats just smart strategy.

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      • I don’t think anyone here is defending that. I’m certainly not, since I find it beyond appalling. But while it’s not different in kind from what FDR did, it’s at least different in degree. More importantly, though, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the court packing scheme, and its assault on the very concept of judicial independence and of the judiciary as a coequal branch of government, was what led to the behavior you describe, which is hardly a phenomenon exclusive to Republicans.

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      • And it also led directly to the notion of firing US Attorneys who wouldn’t use their power to affect elections or were in other ways insufficiently partisan. It was just a delayed reaction.

        Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote an open letter during the Clinton administration complaining that the federal judiciary couldn’t do its job because there were too many unfilled vacancies. When had that ever happened before?

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      • Why that POS gets the respect he does is beyond me.

        Because he saved the country.

        My father has very clear memories of the Great Depression, and he is quite comfortable with the idea that a general uprising against banks, governments and the other institutions that were failing the country was close at hand. The Bonus Army was crushed under Hoover’s administration. A second Bonus Army was defanged in Roosevelt’s.

        Much as the EU is discovering now, you can be a very loose assembly of disparate states with different economic and labor policies. But once you start to bind together, the central government must be able to wield overall power or disaster looms. A broad reading of the Commerce Clause is the only way that this country still exists today as a single nation.

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      • , the court owes its independent status to two factors. The first is the constitution. The second is Marbury v. Madison.

        But remember that Marbury is a bargain. Marshall preserved the independence of the court by letting the democrat-republicans win on the political question. The political independence of the supreme court exists because the supreme court maintains a degree of independence from politics. That was eroding under the supreme court, and the court-packing scheme was a response to that erosion. The switch in time that saved nine was a reiteration of the unspoken bargain of Marbury.

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  2. Will you kick me out if I’m a party pooper?

    1. We already have a Mt. Rushmore of presidents. ;)

    2. If we need a new one, my picks are William Henry Harrison, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and Calvin Coolidge.

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  3. FDR for all the obvious reasons. But after that, candidates get very thin on the ground. There are plenty who are influential, but few who I’d count as squarely excellent. LBJ had Vietnam. Reagan introduced the world to massive deficits and tax cuts for the rich, creating a toxic legacy for conservatism generally. Obama had the ACA and first-black-president status, but also the NSA and a lack of domestic achievements post-2010. A lot of the rest are simply not that influential in terms of major achievements (Clinton, Ford, Carter) or actively harmful (Nixon, Bush the younger). If I had to pick I’d say FDR, LBJ, Obama and Reagan, but the last three would be on a lower level, or maybe even a smaller mountain somewhere further away from the viewing platform.

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  4. 1) Truman, for being the last ordinary guy to hold the job (and probably the last one ever), but not letting that stop him from making tough decisions (some right some wrong), taking responsibility for them, and standing up to other power players that would have cowed a lesser man.

    2) LBJ, for making the tough calls to drag the South into the modern era and the world out of Communist domination.

    3) Ike, for being the guy that finally tied the country together economically.

    4) Nixon, for doing a whole heck of a lot well internationally and domestically, more than anyone else in his half of the century – except, of course, for that one thing.

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  5. If you are looking for the four presidents that roughly define the path of American politics from 1927 on, then you’ve got the right four. You could make an argument for LBJ replacing JFK, but The Atlantic probably won’t be putting LBJ in wayfarers on its cover anytime soon, so why not stick with Kennedy?

    The idea of putting the “best” presidents on the thing is a bit of a flawed exercise. It just becomes people naming the four guys that are closest to the chooser’s ideology.

    As is my contrarian nature, I might advocate for including Nixon. After all, there is nothing that defines the modern presidency more than the idea that POTUS exists largely outside and above the law. Iran-Contra. Clinton’s questionable semantics. GWB’s assertions about the president’s ability to declassify at will. Obama’s extra-judicial killings…

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    • As always, my Mount tends to skew towards “story” and less towards an objective ranking. In 2100, who will be the first four Presidents people name from the time period of 1927-2014.

      Nixon was the only other one I considered… in part because I don’t know most of the Presidents.

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    • ‘s approach is pretty similar to the tack I’d take. But I’d go a step further: I’d also put GWB up there along with FDR and JFK. I figure that’s a pretty good sampling of how the President became a demi-god and why that probably wasn’t a very good idea. I’d make sure that internment and court packing figured especially prominently in FDR’s bio, as well, seeing as so many people like to pretend those things weren’t every bit as much part of FDR’s legacy as the New Deal.

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  6. I’m not sure Mt. Rushmore is a good Mt. Rushmore… I mean, shouldn’t the game be to name 3 really impressive things and then a Roosevelt?

    Your list has two Roosevelts (well, technically, three).

    In fairness, though, I’m not sure one can come up with 3 impressive presidents since 1927.

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      • You are treating Mt. Rushmore as the 4 best things… Mt. Rushmore is not a list of 4 best things… it is a “one of these things doesn’t belong here” game.

        So, the Meat Meatmore should be: Grassfed bone-in Porterhouse, Lamb Chops, Liver pate (esp. Foie Gras), and Haggis.

        Now I’ve prosed the joke out of my original comment.

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      • – I don’t think you ever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but there’s an episode of the show called “The Zeppo”, in which one of the supporting characters is accused by another of being just that.

        The “dunsel”, if you will.

        And then the whole episode centers on him, with the more standard “apocalyptic threat” storyline playing out in its background (literally at times, you see something huge happening through a window that his back is to), while his story centers on a (relatively) smaller crisis that only involves him losing his virginity and trying to stop some resurrected dead hooligans that are plotting to blow up the school. He gets to shine, and none of the other characters get to see it. It’s a pretty fun episode.

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      • I don’t think you ever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but there’s an episode of the show called “The Zeppo”, in which one of the supporting characters is accused by another of being just that.

        Unrelated, but that episode inspired an entire subset of Buffy fanfiction, generally involving the Zander you see in that episode moving more into the spotlight.

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  7. Franklin D Roosevelt: New Deal, appointed some of the Great Supreme Court justices like Black and Douglas.

    Lyndon Johnson: Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicaid and Medicare, Headstart, and other great pieces of social legislation, appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court

    Harry Truman: Integrated the Army, vetoed Taft-Hartley (one of the most dreaded pieces of anti-labor legislation).

    Eisenhower: Appointed Warren and Brennan to the Supreme Court

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  8. I am going for the Mt. Rushmore of Civl Rights:

    So:

    1) Abraham Lincoln, ending slavery
    2) Woodrow Wilson, women’s right to vote;
    3) Richard Nixon, for signing the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts into law and establishing the EPA, the right to a clean environment is essential;
    4) Barack Obama, for ending DADT and DOMA, and granting federal recognition to spouses in same-sex marriages for benefits, etc.

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    • While it would be funny to have the guy who screened Birth of a Nation at the White House and tried to re-segregate the federal government on a civil rights memorial, that’s probably not the effect that you were going for.

      With the possible exception of Lincoln, I don’t think U.S. presidents have any business being anywhere near a Mt Rushmore of civil rights. These other guys just happened to be in the office at the time the issue came to a head and made the not horrible choice, which I guess is somewhat commendable. Perhaps we could memorialize their acts of not effing it up with something less ostentatious than a mountain. Something like a novelty mug or a t-shirt would be appropriate.

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      • These other guys just happened to be in the office at the time the issue came to a head and made the not horrible choice, which I guess is somewhat commendable.

        having grown up next to one of the most polluted rivers in the nation — you can swim there now — or knowing people who have to make a choice between contraception and rent/food or having faced the kind of discrimination in health insurance (men’s stuff paid for, women’s not), I disagree. That these things don’t matter to you only speaks of you and your experience; and I’m guess your particular rights were pretty much promised from the get go, and that you’re young enough to not have lived next to an open sewer, had to hide your sexuality to do your job, or wondered how you would pay for the contraception or HRT that you needed.

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      • Lyndon Johnson just happened to be in office at a point where it required every bit of his boundless energy and unmatched legislative expertise to push the CivilRights and Voting Rights Acts through a Congress that was at best apathetic and at worst violently opposed.

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      • Really, the only serious roadblock was the Southern senators. But LBJ does get credit for neutralizing them (not getting their votes, but stopping them from voting against cloture).

        Of course there’s that whole Gulf of Tonkin business. GWB isn’t the first president who flagrantly lied to get us into an unwinnable war.

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      • There was also pressure required in the House to force the bill to be brought to the floor against the wishes of the chairman of the Rules Committee (Howard W. Smith of Virginia.)

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    • I do have to take exception with Nixon because of the Clean Air and Water Acts.

      Or a better suggestion: don’t limit this mountain to presidents, instead, go for the greatest statesmen. For this, I’d nominate Sen. Ed Muskie, who wrote the Clean Air and Water acts. He and I were born in the same town, Rumford, ME. I grew up just a bit downriver, and live about the same distance upriver now.

      People who are just a bit younger have no appreciation about the changes these laws made. The politics that created them gave the next generation a better world in many ways. The environmental improvements are significant; the health of the river I live on, compared to what it was, staggers me. It gives me great hope that we can overcome other challenges, too.

      So if I cannot have Nixon, for understandable reasons, I nominate Ed Muskie as the real person who should be honored for outstanding achievement.

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      • And if I were going to do a Mt. Rushmore of Statesmen for my state, it would be easy:

        Margaret Chase Smith
        Ed Muskie
        George

        The fourth position might go to Hannibal Hamlin or Olympia Snowe, but Snowe’s too covered in the shame of the Bush/Cheney administration, which is really a shame. If this is some decades in the future, I’d wonder if Angus King, Chellie Pingree or Mike Michaud might turn out to be contenders. I like them each, warts and all.

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      • I like this. I’d go MLK, Ben Franklin, Thomas Alva Edison (Jersey,Baby!), and someone associated with the digital age, maybe Bill Gates? Although on further reflection, I’d probably replace Edison with Susan B. Anthony.

        And now I need to do one for just Jersey: Edison, Paul Robeson (Somerville HS, Baby!), Bruuuuce!, and Lauryn Hill.

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      • Four greatest Americans?

        Definitely Lincoln. Definitely Martin Luther King Jr. One of the founders (Jefferson? Franklin? Someone better versed in American Revolution-era history than me can pick. But a course on 19th-century French history with its endless cycle of revolution, reaction, paranoia, and instability left me with a strong appreciation of the US Constitution’s ability to last over two centuries.) And Susan B. Anthony. (If I can add a fifth, it’s Frederick Douglass.)

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    • May I pick a nit with the Clean Water Act? Nixon’s heart was in more-or-less the right place, but he vetoed the bill because of the budget impact and Congress overrode. Then Nixon impounded half of the appropriated funds, one of several major instances that led to the 1974 Budget and Impoundment Control Act. Said act being a major contributor to the budget kabuki dances we’ve been treated to multiple times in the past few years.

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      • I withdrew Nixon and nominated Muskie.

        Do you remember watching the war on the new? With Walter Cronkite narrating? We watched everything we could because my uncle was there flying helicopter. I had vivid nightmares of our house being bombed, and Cronkite was frequently in them.

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      • Sorry, I didn’t notice the withdrawal.

        Yes, I remember the news. I also remember walking down the street with my cousin, back from his second tour, cutting my legs out from under me when a car backfired and I wasn’t hitting the dirt fast enough. And my uncle the Green Beret colonel who committed suicide rather than live with remembering what he had done over there.

        I was a freshman in college when Nixon stopped the draft. My lottery number was 25, so I would have been in the first group taken in 1973. They had done away with the student deferment. I had been through the pre-induction physical, and was clearly not going to get out on a medical. The choices were (a) get drafted and almost certainly wind up in SE Asia, (b) get married (there was a group of anti-war women at the university who were marrying men with low lottery numbers with the understanding that this was on paper only), but the ethics of that bothered me a lot, (c) sign up with the Air Force, who would cheerfully have kept me out of SE Asia in exchange for four years as a programmer, and (d) move to Canada.

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    • How much a role did Wilson actually play with women’s suffrage? It’s not like he could sign an amendment into law. I have to confess my ignorance here, though. Suffrage is one of the movements that I just know too little about. I’m aware that the 19th amdt happened, and I’m aware that several states granted varying degrees of suffrage before the 19th, but that’s about all I know.

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      • I don’t think Wilson had a great deal to do with it; I don’t think any of the presidents and prime ministers in power at the time in the US, UK, and Canada had a great deal to do with it, because it happened at the same time in all three place, which is a strong indicator that social forces and pragmatic politics, rather than any belief in women’s equality, were the reason for the reform. (Robert Borden in Canada was particularly blatantly partisan about it – his first law on the subject said that women could vote, but only if they had male relatives in the military, intending to shore up support for himself as a wartime prime minister.)

        I wish there was more alternate history on a world where WWI never happened, or one where Germany won. All the stuff out there seems to focus on either the US Civil War or WWII as turning points. I think a world where WWI never occurred would be a better one on the whole, but women’s suffrage might have been a longer time coming.

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    • LBJ doesn’t go on the Mt Rushmore of presidents-for-civil-rights? I’d recommend him over Wilson any day. Wilson happened to be in power when women got the vote, but he didn’t have much to do with it; it was the achievement of activism combined with social change and global events (WWI), not of any particular president. Lincoln and LBJ, in contrast, needed action, determination, political strategy, and effective negotiation (okay, substitute the term “strong-arming” in LBJ’s case) to get, respectively, the abolition of slavery and the Civil Rights Act passed.

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  9. Harding, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton: Incompetent corruption, corruption, incompetence, and moral indecency.

    These are important icons of American government.

    Harding was before 1927, but within the margin of error.

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  10. I thought at first, based on the title, that this would ask for the 4 definitive US national monuments; you should still do that in subsequent exercise, imo.

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  11. In an alternate universe where their Presidents were unable to serve out their terms, these guys all became president: George Herbert Walker Bush, Nelson Rockefeller, Al Gore, and Alben Barkley.

    I’m not convinced that’s not a better (or at least, more interesting) list than Kazzy’s.

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      • That depends in part on what the VP’s mission was; the Constitution creates the VP as sort of a minister without portfolio. For much of history, the VP was chosen to gain advantage in an election and then expected to just sort of go away thereafter. Many of them were quite successful in this regard.

        Most of the VP’s are interesting for things they did either before or after they served as VP. Adams’ stint as VP was very much a failure; he tried to exercise power directly in the Senate and was basically hooted out of the place, and rendered into the butt of all criticisms against the Administration.

        John C. Calhoun is an interesting case — the only Vice-President to serve under two Presidents of different parties. Must have been a bit of a balancing act, especially given Calhoun’s strong political identity in his own right. (George Clinton served under both Jefferson and Madison, but they were of the same party.)

        Aaron Burr was kind of a bad-ass as Vice President. I heard he killed a dude.

        More seriously, Andrew Johnson gets the nod, I think, because he crossed partisan, ideological, and regional lines to form a unity government.

        Richard Nixon gets a more favorable nod for his time as Veep than for his time as POTUS. Not only did he loyally fill his role as Ike’s lieutenant, he went mano a mano with Khrushchev, which must have took some cojones given that he held little over political power on his own at that point in time.

        Al Gore and Dick Cheney each had substantial governmental authority delegated to them by their Presidents, so they had some opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. From there, I’m pretty confident that assessments will diverge.

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      • Andrew Johnson gets the nod, I think, because he crossed partisan, ideological, and regional lines to form a unity government.

        Proving yet again that no good deed goes unpunished.

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      • You’ve got to love McKinley’s first VP, Garret Hobart. A modern VP a few generations early. A corproate lawyer and venture capitalist turned master of the Senate. I also have a fondness for Garner, who ran against his own president (FDR) on ideological grounds.

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      • The VP has the specific duty of presiding over the Senate, which in principle would make him a power, like the Speaker. The Framers somehow failed to anticipate that senators would react to the rule of a non-member by stripping their presiding officer of any sort of discretion, to the point where it’s often done by junior senators as a sort of hazing.

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  12. I can see FDR and Reagan, but I think that even by post-1927 standards there aren’t two other standouts. Perhaps we should leave at least one spot blank?

    Maybe we should have done that with the real Mount Rushmore. Six slots. Think of how grandiose presidential actions would have been if the sitting presidents knew that there was a chance of making it onto the mountain.

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  13. I don’t know if there’s enough presidents with substantive positive achievements in that time period to be worth a Mt. Rushmore. FDR unequivocally deserves a spot for steering the country through one of its most challenging times and putting in place the modern welfare state.

    I don’t agree with any of your other choices, though. JFK is remembered for being young, handsome, charming, and assassinated; he had little in the way of actual achievements.

    And yet the 1960s were certainly a pivotal decade in American life and politics, and so I’ve diverging from your rules and nominating for Mt Rushmore a man who made far more positive changes (and far fewer negative ones) to America than either Kennedy or Johnson: Martin Luther King Jr.

    Virtually everything Ronald Reagan did made the United States (and many other countries) worse – he funded terrorists and death squads in Latin America who killed and tortured many innocent people; he undermined the US budget to ramp up military funding and set it on the path of spiralling debt that it’s been on ever since, thereby undermining the social welfare state that FDR created; he indulged in childish nationalist demagoguery that treated any nation America didn’t like as evil, demagoguery that was taken up in far less competent fashion by his spiritual successor George W. Bush.

    One cannot choose both FDR and Reagan for this list and be in any way philosophically consistent, because their achievements are the converse of each other: one building up the social welfare state, the other tearing it down. If one deserves their placement as a person who made positive change in the United States, the other does not.

    If I have to choose additional presidents for this list, I will choose Jimmy Carter. He may not be considered a great man, but he is the only good man to hold the presidency since FDR. (I’m not unequivocally claiming FDR as a good person, but I am saying that none of the other presidents after him were.) He believed in and acted on behalf of peace. He was willing to recognize when nations allied with America were committing atrocities and put pressure on them to stop. He was willing to recognize that left-wing governments (such as the Sandinistas) were not necessarily or automatically threats to or enemies of America. He enabled the Camp David Accords, and even if I believe he was to some degree duped by Begin in that regard – he thought the Israelis had committed to compliance with UN resolutions on Palestine when they had no intentions of fulfilling them – it was a genuinely powerful move on behalf of peace. He returned to Panama Canal to the state of Panama, its rightful owner, recognizing this as both strategically wide and morally right, and avoided a destructive conflict over it. He recognized the need for renewable energy and made progress towards it long before most other people did (another thing Reagan reversed). He was, and remains, a good and well-principled and humanitarian man. He is the last Christian president America had. That he lost the election to Reagan is not an indictment of him; it is an indictment of the American people.

    I don’t have a fourth president to chose for my list.

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  14. If we had more Canadians here, I’d want to do a Mt. Rushmore of Canadian Prime Ministers (1867-present). But Canadian politics isn’t widely known outside of Canada, so I doubt a lot of people would have comments.

    Anyway, it’s pretty obviously John A. Macdonald (1867-73, 1878-91), Sir Wilfred Laurier (1886-1911), Lester Pearson (1963-68 – gave us the Canadian flag and national health care; started UN peacekeeping pre-prime-ministership) and Pierre Trudeau (repatriated the Constitution, passed the Charter of Rights, forged a more independent Canadian foreign policy rather than “whatever the British and/or US are doing”, and dealt with Québec).

    If people know some British politics, though, it could be fun to do a Mt Rushmore of British PMs (starting post-1689, perhaps, since that’s when the position of Prime Minister really began). Lots of time, gives us a very wide selection and makes decisions difficult. Too many good candidates is always a better situation for these kinds of discussions than too few.

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    • Sadly, even though I wrote a history dissertation that was a US/Canadian comparison, focused largely on politics, I am still woefully ignorant of Canadian political history, including Prime Ministerial history (the exception being that I know a bit about Bennett and Mackenzie King, and some, but less, about Borden, Laurier, and MacDonald).

      By the way, what’s your opinion of Bennett and/or Mackenzie King? I really only know their antitrust policies, and that in broad brushstrokes.

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      • You probably know more about Bennett and Mackenzie King than I do, since I’m not familiar with their antitrust policies.

        WLM King was, to my view, a terrible Prime Minister. Unlike FDR, he didn’t achieve much in the way of alleviating the Great Depression.

        He was a huge supporter of appeasement (and unlike Chamberlain, he wasn’t doing it to buy time), primarily because he felt Canadian involvement in another war would threaten national unity his electoral prospects by raising the issue of conscription, which Québec was overwhelmingly opposed to. (When the war did start and election was held where conscription was a major issue, he ran on the slogan of “Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription”. Only in Canada could a wartime leader be elected on a slogan of “Eh…maybe”.) That slogan is the main thing most Canadians know about him – that, and that he held séances to talk to his dead mother.

        However, some of my relatives greatly admire him and still vote Liberal because of him, because in the 1930s he got a bill through Parliament very quickly that allowed a lot of Mennonites in Ukraine to immigrate to Canada. This enabled them to escape from the famine and from Stalin, and they and many of their descendants were very grateful. However, he did this on the basis that he judged the Mennonites to be good, hard-working, farming people who could settle the prairies; it wasn’t a general immigration policy. He almost entirely closed Canada to Jewish immigration during the period when the Nazis were in power.

        In addition to that, there’s the internment and dispossession of Japanese Canadians in BC. Although FDR did that as well, WLMK doesn’t have any of FDR’s positive achievements to offset it.

        I honestly can’t believe we put this guy on our money. There’s got to be some better candidates.

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      • Oh, and I’d love to see your dissertation, since I’m quite interested in Canadian-US comparative politics. I don’t want to write down my e-mail address in case it attracts spam, but Jaybird could give it to you if you like.

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      • My impression of WML King pretty much corresponds to what you said, although I didn’t know most of those facts. I tend to think of him as a politician who was concerned primarily with staying in power and who was pretty good at doing so, except for the Bennett interlude.

        Bennett strikes me as almost a Hoover-esque person who jumped on a New Deal-esque bandwagon to try to save his prime ministership. That view is almost definitely too simplistic.

        As for the dissertation, you’re welcome to read it if you forgive all the dense prose and typos (the very first sentence of the very first page of the acknowledgements has an embarrassingly obvious typo). The dissertation itself is free and online. You have Jaybird email me and I could email him the link to the dissertation and he can email the link to you (and he’s welcome to read it). Or he can email me your email and I can email it directly.

        Or you could email me at joycegabrielconroy at gmail dot com It’s more or less a dummy account that I use just for my blogging existence. But I check it almost daily.

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  15. Any Mt. Rushmore without Lincoln is silly.

    Kennedy’s term was a triumph of style, coupled with the glamour of tragedy. He has no major achievement to justify his inclusion in any kind of pantheon. He is all mythology.

    I could accept an argument for the real President Reagan and his foreign policy agenda. Sadly, he has also been reduced to myth and his real achievements are eclipsed by his rhetoric. Oh, well.

    I’d be happy with FDR. I could accept LBJ.

    Also, some guy was in charge when we became a country? Retired to the countryside when his time in power was up? We should probably toss him up there. Seems like an important fellow.

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  16. Re: America First

    The point about Gerald Ford being a founding member of America First at Yale Law was not that he was right-wing but that he was part of the elite at an elite institution. Yes there were plenty of Democratic Party members and liberals in the group who originally but the group did quickly become right-wing and very Republican.

    You get strangely defensive about this stuff sometime and I don’t even think you are that right-wing which makes it stranger.

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    • You’re right that I do get defensive. And that’s on me and not on you. But since I often make you the target of my defensiveness, that’s unfair to you. So I apologize.

      Until and unless I’m willing to discuss it more forthrightly and without making sideswipes at others, I should probably just follow the five-minute rule that’s been advised to another commenter at this site and decline to discuss it. I say that as a rule for myself. It doesn’t mean others ought not discuss it.

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