Friday, 19 July 2013

Best or Worst Politicians

The worst and the best US Presidents as calculated by various criteria is not a subject I have dwelled long upon ..... I guess that like most people, I have thought along the lines of, Abraham Lincoln = Good, and George W Bush = Bad. But when you think of it, that's

(a) Rather simplistic and
(b) Inaccurate, depending upon the criteria used.

For example, if the criteria is for 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness' .... then Abraham Lincoln led the US through its bloodiest episode, and it can be argued that had he allowed the South to secede from the Union (which after all, constitutionally they were probably allowed to do), then he would have been fulfilling his constitutional requirements by pursuing Peace, and Prosperity and Liberty. Rather than entering upon a bloody civil war .... it should be remembered that Lincoln did not enter the civil war to defend freeing the slaves (its clear from the records that he would have backed down on that issue), but rather to preserve the Union. The slave issue was only a secondary matter to stopping the secession of the southern states.

President Clinton, who could have been a great, was mired in scandal throughout his terms, and put off decisions that would have prevented later issues for the US abroad (notably in the Middle East). Obama, well he's turned out to be just a smart turn of phrase (in fact a slick willy lawyers glibness), attached to no concrete measures .... a disappointment for all those UK and US  'lefties', who thought that his being 'Black' made him 'different', indeed 'better' somehow, than any 'White' Presidents. So apart from being the first (and maybe only) Black president for a while, he will sink into obscurity. This despite the conspiracy biographers who will no doubt try to portray his failures as the fault of the 'white establishment'.    

President Ronald Reagan  - Best Ever?

In fact now that I think on it ...... there is an argument to be made that good Ol' President Ronnie Reagan was the best in the peace, prosperity and liberty departments. He started the process that helped end the 'Cold War', and eventually led to the break up of the Communist USSR. He had eight years of economic growth (despite, rather than because of 'Reagonomics'), and under him the US public felt powerful and good, with events such as a successful Olympics just boosting that feeling. The dark-side of his years in office only arose after he had gone e.g. The rise of militant Islam stemming from his reckless arming of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the USSR (Bin Laden and countless other jihadist terrorists were 'trained' in that war, with CIA money). The rapid rise in the wealth gap between the rich and poor in the US (and UK), as a result of his 'trickle down' economic 'theories', really only manifested fully under the Bush Administrations. But, crucially at the time of his Presidency, he ticked all the boxes that the US constitution asked of a President.

So what about the UK's Prime Ministers?

Well, as we have no written constitution, we don't actually have any markers to judge against ..... so maybe if we used the US aspirations of 'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness' we would be at least comparing like for like.

So, in view of the endless Napoleonic wars the Pitt's (elder and younger) are out. Similarly, while economic growth and empire building worked fantastically under Victorians such as Disraeli and Palmerston, the liberty of the working classes was a bit of problem, with chronic poverty for the poor, and dreadful punishments for those who stepped out of line. Churchill was a late 'Empire man', who cocked up military affairs from the Dardanelles, to Norway over several decades - he also wasn't one for economics and the working mans rights either. Similarly Mrs Thatcher was a like or loathe kind of personality with a strong sense of direction which didn't take everyone with her.

Harold Macmillan - Best Prime Minister?

So I guess, if I had to choose, I would plump for Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. He dealt with a poor hand in a failing British Empire, but had a successful economic policy, with an age of affluence, marked by low unemployment and high (if uneven) growth. He started the decolonisation of southern Africa with his 'winds of change speech', that eventually led to the end of apartheid. He also strengthened the UK's nuclear forces by acquiring Polaris missiles, created 'the special relationship' with the USA, and pioneered the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the United States and the Soviet Union - thus resisting Communism and aiding world peace. Not bad despite the Profumo 'spy' (or not spy in reality) scandals at the end of his term - he retired (medical misdiagnosis), else he may have seem out another couple of terms on office as he was popular across the classes.

'Best Ever' lists are always interesting, if rather like peoples personal music play-lists, and just a reflection of the compilers preferences and prejudices .....


  1. The American Civil War was all about the slave issue, The Confederate states economy relied on slave labour so I don't see how you can call it a secondary matter as you don't get one without the other. Are you saying that IF Lincoln had backed down on the slave issue, said states would not have left the Union?

    1. I am afraid that most historians would now tell you now, that Lincoln not an abolitionist in the sense we describe it now, but that he was certainly an opponent of slavery, and determined to use all the means at his disposal to stop its spread.

      And that's the key, he didn't want any new States joining the US to accept slavery, but he knew that trying to stop it in the Southern states where it was carried out, would not get wide support.

      He would not have forced the Southern States to stop slavery, but as the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter by the South (as they feared he would go further), his hand was forced to make it part of the war.

      I'm afraid that any other versions of events are just old PC history. Lincoln's private diaries have shown since then that he had no intention of starting a war over slavery, but didn't want slavery to spread (and hoped it would eventually die out).

      So as I said, 'Slavery' wasn't the driver of the US civil war in the sense of a US President abolishing it, the threat of secession, and the eventual declaration of secession, was.

      History has changed in the last decade (for good or bad) ..... I can't change that .... just Google it .. but the 'Lincoln was willing to fight over the slavery issue' idea is long gone....

  2. It may be the case that independence was the primary reason for the American Civil War but the main reason for independence was slavery so it can't be called secondary. If your football team can't agree on how to get to the match, the issue of transport isn't secondary even if the match is the primary issue because you don't get one without the other. It would be secondary if it wasn't an issue, but where there is a problem and the match is under threat, it becomes pivotal.
    If you take slavery out of the equation, with secession deemed legal, what reason was there for a war? War came because compromise could not be reached on the issue of slavery.

    1. Just have to disagree my friend .... I believe that there is plenty of modern historical research and support for my view ....

      The cause of the civil war was the attempted secession by the south. One of the main underlying causes was the fear by the Southern Slave states that he intended to go further and attempt abolition, but he just didn't have the political support for that, and as a lawyer, he actually believed that slavery was 'legal', as the Constitution included key clauses protecting the institution of slavery, including a 'fugitive slave clause', and the 'three-fifths clause', which allowed Southern states to count slaves for the purposes of representation in the federal government. He had moral, but not legal objections, and intended to just stop the creation of more slave states.

      The fact that the south misread Lincoln's intentions and aims, is what pushed 'politics' into becoming 'civil war'.

      You might be interested in this article on the website about Lincoln's real beliefs about slavery.

      There are a number of interesting points, but the primary statement for our discussion is #4 (my bold)

      "As much as he hated the institution of slavery, Lincoln didn’t see the Civil War as a struggle to free the nation’s 4 million slaves from bondage. Emancipation, when it came, would have to be gradual, and the important thing to do was to prevent the Southern rebellion from severing the Union permanently in two. But as the Civil War entered its second summer in 1862, thousands of slaves had fled Southern plantations to Union lines, and the federal government didn’t have a clear policy on how to deal with them. Emancipation, Lincoln saw, would further undermine the Confederacy while providing the Union with a new source of manpower to crush the rebellion."

      I am happy enough with my assertion that the reason for the war was not Lincoln trying to abolish slavery and emancipate the slaves, but rather the mishandling of the politics of the slave status of any future states being allowed to join the union, that caused the South to attempt secession and thus provoked the Civil War.


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