Thursday, November 18, 2004

Legacies

I was going to write about a truly execrable Anne Applebaum column that I found in yesterday's WashPost, but then Bob Somerby took care of it in his incomparable way, so I'll let you read that here

Instead, I want to talk about legacies. I think it's only appropriate to discuss this today, what with the Clinton library being opened and all. Clinton was someone obsessed with his legacy; whether this helped or hurt his policies is almost impossible to tell.

Obviously, this all is gearing up for a slam on the current president, but let's look at the record, shall we?

JFK: Kennedy is an interesting case. Conventional wisdom after his assasination was that he was the greatest president since Lincoln. Obviously, that CW has...matured since then. I think that right now, we see him as a heroic, but tragic figure. Highlights are obviously the Cuban missile crisis, lowlights the Bay of Pigs and the start of the Vietnam war. I think both of these are not particularly dangerous to his image, but certainly keep him from being in the first rank (as well as the fact that he really only survived about 1/2 a term)

LBJ: Pluses: Great Society, Civil Rights. Minuses: Vietnam. That's one big minus, I'm afraid, and I think that LBJ will always have a taint on him because of it.

RMN: Pluses: China, environment. Minuses: Watergate. And that says it all. If (and this is a huge if, I grant you) Nixon hadn't been a paranoid freak, he coulda been a contender. Instead, he's a contender for the rep of worst of all time. I don't care how much he was considered an elder statesman by the end, the fact that every scandal immediately gets a -gate plastered to the end of it pretty effectively takes care of any chance of rehabilitation. And rightly so.

Ford: Never elected. Will remain known mainly as a trivia question.

JC: Carter is an interesting case. He's the one who got nailed for the oil crisis, even though that happened on Nixon's watch (note that that doesn't seem to be part of the Nixon legacy.) And then there was that little matter of the Iranian hostages. Frankly, I think that history books will tend to exonerate him, that when people delve into the (still-hidden) documents of the Reagan/Bush admin, there will be a lot of readjustment. But his CW as a president is, sadly, not good. His legacy as an ex-president will, however, help him.

RR: Pluses: It's morning in America, the fall of the Soviet empire Minuses: Just about everything else. Why is this guy so revered? I simply don't understand at all what's going on here. I have had otherwise intelligent people explain that the Reagan tax cuts caused the boom of the '90s. (They tend to gloss over the boom/bust cycle that came between entirely, as well as Bush's tax raise) Again, I think that the opening of Reagan archives is going to cause a major readjustment to his CW, but right now, it's good.

GHWB: Pluses: Iraq war. Minuses: Economy. Will probably end up going down in history as the father of the worst president, ever. In other words, like Ford, a footnote to history. (Personally, I think that eventually the Iraq war, and especially Glaspie's comments to Hussein, will go down with the Maine and the Gulf of Tonkin as low points in US foreign policy. But maybe that's too much to hope.)

BC: Pluses: Peace and Prosperity. Minuses: Monica. Obviously, Clinton is currently still huge. I think he could've easily won this last election. People love him. But as far as legacies, I'm not really sure what's going to happen to him. After all, there's little that he did that will be remembered forever. Had he gotten a real IP peace or had he gotten his healthcare reform through, it might be different. Sadly, I think his talents ended up being wasted trying to fight off ludicrous REP mud. In the end, I think that he'll be ranked in there with Kennedy. (not that that's a bad thing - from the list so far, that's about as good as it gets in the last 40 years)

So, let's rank them:
JFK
BC
RR
JC
Ford
LBJ
RMN

First off, I don't think that any of these will end up in the pantheon along with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, TR, FDR. That's really asking too much, I'd say. And I'm certainly open to discussion about this order. (Should LBJ really be that low? Is it just my revulsion at the Vietnam war that makes me put someone who did so much good that low? I was going for CW here, do others think LBJ deserves better? If it were entirely up to me, I'd probably say that the order was BC, JFK, JC, LBJ, Ford, RR, RMN. But that's incredibly biased, I know.)

GWB: Pluses: ? Minuses: Huge damage to US treasury, huge damage to Iraq, huge damage to world opinion. The best GWB can hope for right now is to be ranked down with LBJ. And that's if the economy decides to perk up for unforseeable reasons. Or if, after he finally goes back to Crawford, a sensible DEM is elected who manages to put the country back onto the right economic path and leads it to fiscal sanity again, leaving deluded people to argue that really, GWB's tax cuts got us where we are today.

More likely, to me, is that he'll end up in the doghouse of history with Herbert Hoover, having run the US (and likely, the world) into a huge depression. And having started Vietnam II, to boot. And having set back the civil rights cause by fifty years.

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