Posts Tagged ‘President of the United States’

Carl Albert

September 2, 2017

Carl Albert was a Democratic Congressman from Oklahoma who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1971 to 1977. While the office of Speaker of the House is an important and prestigious position and Albert had played a key role in seeing that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson’s domestic agendas were passed and he chaired the Democratic National Convention in 1968, Carl Albert is not much remembered outside Oklahoma. Perhaps he did not play an especially memorable role in politics, yet the story of how he might have become president in 1973 is interesting and perhaps worth recalling.

Carl Albert

Richard Nixon’s first Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, resigned on October 10, 1973 after being indicted on charges of bribery, extortion and tax evasion. While the constitution mandates that the Vice-President assumes the presidency upon the death, resignation or disability of the President, there was no requirement that the new president should appoint another Vice-President until the adoption of the twenty-fifth amendment in 1967. If the President died and was succeeded by the the Vice-President or the Vice-President died in office or resigned, the office of the Vice-President was vacant until the next election. This actually happened sixteen times, with such presidents as John Tyler and Andrew Johnson until the adoption of the twenty-fifth amendment, and would have happened in 1973 if the twenty-fifth amendment had not been ratified.

Following the terms of the twenty-fifth amendment, President Nixon nominated the Republican House Minority Leader Gerald Ford for the Vice-Presidency on October 12, but Ford was not confirmed by Congress until December 6, so for about seven weeks the Office of the Vice-Presidency was vacant. Now, by this time the Watergate scandal was unfolding and it was becoming increasingly likely that Nixon would be impeached, or forced to resign. If this occurred while the Vice-Presidency was vacant the new President who be the person next in the line of succession, none other that the Speaker of the House, Carl Albert.

As Speaker of the House of Representatives, Carl Albert was responsible for scheduling the vote to confirm Ford in the House, as well as preparing articles of impeachment against the president. Albert could easily have postponed the confirmation of Ford indefinitely, as well as expediting articles of impeachment and perhaps forcing Nixon’s resignation. Albert could have maneuvered his way into the White House. He chose not to. Albert stated that he did not believe that as a Democrat he had the right to take a position that the people had chosen to give to a Republican in the previous election. Had he arranged to make himself President, the effort would have been tantamount to a coup. Moreover, He stated that had circumstances caused him to become president, he would have felt obliged to resign as soon as a Republican Vice-President was chosen.

I wonder what would happen if similar events occurred today. Suppose the Democrats sweep the midterm elections next year and gain comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress. Suppose further, that something happened to Vice-President Mike Pence, either he dies in office or resigns. Suppose also that the Democrats decide to impeach Donald Trump for the high crime and misdemeanor of being Donald Trump. When Trump nominates a successor to Vice-President Pence, would Speaker Nancy Pelosi schedule a vote to confirm the nominee, or would she delay it hoping that Trump is impeached and convicted, or resigns, making her the President?

I have a hard time believing that Pelosi, or any Democrat, or for that matter any Republican, would be as high minded as Carl Albert was under his circumstances. It seems to me that more and more the people we trust to lead this nation are less interested in following the rules and more interested simply in gaining and keeping power, whatever the cost to the country. Speaker Albert knew that he would not be entitled to make himself President and decided not to bend the rules to his advantage. I think all too many people in government today would have no trouble at all bending or even ignoring the rules. We seem to have declined somehow in the last decades, despite the advances we have made in technology and economically. Our culture has grown coarser. We seem increasingly less interested in playing by the rules or in adhering to the norms that allow a diverse people to live together in harmony.

A democratic government needs these kinds of rules and norms. People have to accept the results of an election, even when the candidate they don’t like wins. People have to support the rule of law, even the laws they don’t happen to like. People have to free expression, even of ideas they find repugnant. If we stop following these rules and norms, we cannot continue to be a free and democratic country. Maybe we can turn things around before it is too late. I hope it isn’t already too late.

 

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The Fisher King

July 23, 2017

The Fisher King is a figure in Arthurian legend. He is the guardian of the Holy Grail who has been wounded in the foot and cannot discharge his duties as king of the land he rules. Many scholars believe that the foot or leg is an euphemism for a wound in the groin and that the king is impotent. Whatever the case, according the the legend, because the Fisher King is barren and impotent, so is the land he rules. The health of the land depends on the health or virtue of its king.

This happens to be a motif found in many places in mythology, folklore, and political propaganda. There seems to be a strong need to believe that a strong and virtuous king will have a flourishing kingdom, while the kingdom of a weak or evil king will be desolate. The Chinese belief in the Mandate of Heaven held that the prosperity of the Empire was directly dependent on the virtue of the Emperor. If China was doing well, the Emperor must be good. If there were natural disasters or economic catastrophe, than the Emperor must be at fault somewhere. In the Old Testament there is an explicit link between the devotion of the kings of Israel and Judah and the welfare of the kingdom. It makes sense that if the king or emperor is the representative of God or the gods and is not doing a good job then Heaven might signal its displeasure by causing natural disasters.

One might think in our more modern world in which most countries are republics, such superstitions would be a thing of the past. That does not seem to be the case. It is true that people no longer ascribe earthquakes or hurricanes to the faults of our political leaders, but we do have a way of assuming that they have far more influence over the affairs of the country, especially over the economy, than they actually do. Here is an example from Sean Hannity.

President Donald Trump has made the United States more than $4 trillion richer since taking office last January, but you wouldn’t know that from watching or reading the mainstream press, writes Fox’s Stuart Varney.

As the destroy-Trump media continues to obsess over Russia-Trump conspiracy theories, the President has made good on his campaign promise to unleash the American worker and get the US economy back on track.

Since the President’s inauguration, Trump has added roughly $4.1 trillion to the nation’s overall wealth, affecting all Americans with a 401k, an IRA, a savings account, loans, stocks; essentially anyone with “a dime in the market.”

President Trump did no such thing. He does not have the power to add $4.1 trillion to the economy. It is possible that the policies he supports will encourage economic growth, but six months is far too early for any presidential policies to take effect. Of course, a good deal of economics is psychology. It is likely that if the president is perceived as pro-business, businesses will be more inclined to expand, believing that the economy will improve, creating a self fulfilling expectation. On the other hand, if the president keeps talking about spreading the wealth around, businesses will play it safe, anticipating an economic downturn, that their actions will help precipitate. I think that if Bernie Sanders had been elected president, we would be going into a deep recession. We can give Trump credit for inspiring optimism, but not for any magical powers.

Here is a more egregious example from a singer named Lana Del Rey

I feel less safe than I did when Obama was president. When you have a leader at the top of the pyramid who is casually being loud and funny about things like that, it’s brought up character defects in people who already have the propensity to be violent towards women. I saw it right away in L.A. Walking down the street, people would just say things to you that I had never heard.

I definitely changed my visuals on my tour videos. I’m not going to have the American flag waving while I’m singing “Born to Die.” It’s not going to happen. I’d rather have static. It’s a transitional period, and I’m super aware of that. I think it would be inappropriate to be in France with an American flag. It would feel weird to me now—it didn’t feel weird in 2013.

Women started to feel less safe under this administration instantly. What if they take away Planned Parenthood? What if we can’t get birth control?

This is precisely the same country in 2017 as it was in 2015. The only difference is that the person who is president has changed. If Ms. Lane is not as proud of her country now as when Obama was president, than she is not really very proud of her country at all. Trump cannot make the streets of Los Angeles more or less dangerous. He has no control over people’s character defects. He cannot take Planned Parenthood away. Even if Congress should cut Planned Parenthood’s federal funding, which they should, Planned Parenthood has other sources of revenue. Trump cannot ban birth control. She is ascribing to Trump powers that no president has.

Why do we do this, assume that our political leaders have greater power over events than they actually do? Part of the reason must be that this is what they want us to think. How many politicians running for office criticize their opponent’s handling of the economy? How many politicians boast of the economic growth that occurred during their time in office? They might as well be bragging about how good the weather was. Indeed, the whole idea behind the global warming/climate change alarmism is that national and international governments can change the climate.

Whatever the reason for this kind of thinking, we need to get over it. The president does not run the country. We do. . President Trump cannot make America great again, though he can lead the effort. It is up to each one of us to make this country a better place.

 

 

The Resistance

July 8, 2017

I don’t object to the opposition that Democrats have shown towards President Trump and his policies. The Democrats are the opposition party and their job as the opposition is to, well, oppose. I am not one who complains much about gridlock or that the government isn’t moving fast enough. As far as I am concerned, gridlock is precisely what the Founding Fathers intended when they wrote the Constitution. They were most concerned about protecting the rights and liberties of the people and did not want a situation in which the majority could vote away the rights of the minority, thus they intentionally made it difficult for the federal government to do much without a broad consensus among the people. If I wanted a government in which everyone marches together in lockstep, I would consider moving to China or North Korea. What I do object to is the way that the people most opposed to Donald Trump have taken to calling themselves “The Resistance”. Not the loyal opposition, not simply the other party who happens to have disagreements on policy, but the Resistance, as if they are fighting against an enemy occupation.

The Resistance is deliberately named to harken back to the resistance movements in France and other countries occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. This is a ridiculous conceit on their part. The resistance fighters of World War II faced considerable danger and hardships. The Nazis were not known for their kindness towards those who fought against them and their countrymen who chose to collaborate with the Germans could be far crueller. The only danger that a resistance fighter against Donald Trump could possibly face would be being interrupted by a standing ovation in the middle of a public rant against the president or developing carpal tunnel syndrome from being at their keyboard too long. In other words, there is no danger at all in “resisting” Donald Trump. If anything, judging from recent headlines, it takes more courage to publicly support Trump, at least in such progressive strongholds as Hollywood and college campuses.

It requires no courage to be against Donald Trump. He is not a Fascist dictator who has suspended the constitution. The police will not arrest anyone who speaks out against Trump. He does not have a paramilitary army of thugs to silence dissenters. It is the “antifa” protesters who are behaving like thugs. The Resistance is just a cheap way to feel courageous and virtuous. It is a way for people to feel as though they are fighting the good fight against oppression without having to do anything about the real oppression in the world.

Who is the Resistance and what are they resisting anyway? I notice that there don’t seem to be many marginalized, and oppressed people leading the marches against Trump. The Resistance seems to be comprised of Democratic politicians, journalists and media figures, Hollywood celebrities, academia, federal workers of the so-called Deep State, and the like. In other words, the Resistance seems to be those people with the most power to influence public opinion in the country, in many cases the people who seem to despise the “Deplorables” who live in flyover country the most. I get the impression that the are actually less concerned with losing their freedom than with losing their power to hector and bully the rest of us who do not care to follow the policies they see as enlightened. Trump’s populist tone and his “political incorrectness” must be really frightening to these people.

What are they resisting if Donald Trump is not a dictator who seized power in a coup or a puppet of an occupying power? They are resisting the duly and constitutionally elected President of the United States as well as the elected representatives, of at least the majority party, in Congress. The Resistance likes to accuse President Trump of shredding the constitution, but they are the ones who have been proposing one unconstitutional means after another to remove Trump from power. After the election they were urging the electors who were pledged to support the Republican candidate to be faithless electors and vote for someone else. They have proposed that Trump’s cabinet invoke the twenty-fifth amendment to declare him unfit for office. They are now promising to impeach Trump if the Democrats regain a majority in Congress, even though there is no evidence that Trump has committed any crimes. The Resistance is resisting the results of a democratic election. They are resisting the concept of democracy in this country. They are resisting the idea that we the deplorables should have any say in the direction this country takes. They are resisting the idea that the United States should have a government of the people, by the people, for the people, wishing instead to have a government of the elites, by the elites, for the elites.

For some time now, I have had the strangest feeling that I was living in a country occupied by an enemy determined to destroy, or at least fundamentally change, every aspect that makes this country unique. It seems to me that the people who have been running this country and shaping public opinion have been doing nothing but attacking America and the ordinary people who have made it great. Our history has been disparaged as nothing more than a history of systemic oppression and racism. Our founding fathers, the greatest men who have ever lived, have been dismissed as dead, White, slaveholders. Our great heroes are defamed as racists who committed genocide. Our religion has been mocked as intolerant. Our values and our way of life are derided as old fashioned and obsolete. If we dare to take a stand and ask that our concerns be addressed, we are called racists and bigots.

Both political parties have been taking part in this. The Democrats are openly against us. The Republicans listen to us before the elections, but as soon as they get to Washington, they decide that they don’t need to keep their promises. We had the Tea Party to try to get them to listen and it has had some success, despite the unanimous opposition from the media. It wasn’t until Donald Trump ran for president that they started to notice us, and even then we were all racist deplorables. I still do not altogether trust or like Trump, but he does seem to be one of the few people in Washington who really gets it. He won the presidency by understanding why so many of us in flyover country are so upset, and he seems to really be trying to fight for us.

It is really we who are the Resistance. We are the ones fighting to restore democracy in this country. We, the bitter clingers, the Deplorables, the people who love this country and want to see it become great again are the revolutionaries against the people who think there that this country was never really great and who want to see it transformed into something quite different. Donald Trump is the leader of this resistance movement, for the moment, but if we want to see America great and free again, we cannot rely on any leader. We have to rely on ourselves. It is up to us all to make America a great nation. Let’s get out there and fight.

Who’s the Boss

March 5, 2017

While President Trump is working to make America great again, he is naturally encountering resistance. This is to be expected, of course; no president is universally popular and Trump is more controversial than most. What might not be expected is the opposition Trump will be receiving inside the federal government from the people who are supposed to be working for him and for us. This article from the Washington Post tells of the resistance from within that Trump may be facing.

The signs of popular dissent from President Trump’s opening volley of actions have been plain to see on the nation’s streets, at airports in the aftermath of his refu­gee and visa ban, and in the blizzard of outrage on social media. But there’s another level of resistance to the new president that is less visible and potentially more troublesome to the administration: a growing wave of opposition from the federal workers charged with implementing any new president’s agenda.

Less than two weeks into Trump’s administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives. Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.

And a few government workers are pushing back more openly, incurring the wrath of a White House that, as press secretary Sean Spicer said this week about dissenters at the State Department, sends a clear message that they “should either get with the program, or they can go.”

At a church in Columbia Heights last weekend, dozens of federal workers attended a support group for civil servants seeking a forum to discuss their opposition to the Trump administration. And 180 federal employees have signed up for a workshop next weekend, where experts will offer advice on workers’ rights and how they can express civil disobedience.

At the Justice Department, an employee in the division that administers grants to nonprofits fighting domestic violence and researching sex crimes said the office has been planning to slow its work and to file complaints with the inspector general’s office if asked to shift grants away from their mission.

“You’re going to see the bureaucrats using time to their advantage,” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Through leaks to news organizations and internal complaints, he said, “people here will resist and push back against orders they find unconscionable.”

I think these federal workers have forgotten who is the boss in this country. We do not some in some medieval despotism in which an superior caste of mandarins make all the decisions for the good of those deplorable serfs who are too ignorant to decide for themselves how to live their lives. The United States of America is a democratic republic in which the people rule and where government exists to protect our inalienable rights. These civil servants do not, or ought not, to make the policies and laws in this country. The people make the laws through our elected representatives. The job of the civil servants is to carry out those decisions made by our elected representatives. A federal worker has the same right to his opinion as any other American citizen, on his own time. If he believes a given policy is wrong, he can complain about it, or even resign if he believes that implementing a policy is against his conscience. He cannot work to undermine the agenda or policies of the elected and appointed officials who are his superiors anymore than a worker in the private sector can work to undermine the company he works for. Federal workers who are actively working to resist President Trump need to be fired. If the law prevents them from being fired, than the law must be changed.

Sometimes I think it would be better if we went back to the Spoils System. Our modern, professional, supposedly non-partisan civil service dates back to the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 which mandated that positions in the federal government should be given on the basis of merit as determined by civil service exams. Before that act the offices of the federal government were filled by a system of patronage called the Spoils System. Every federal employee was a political appointee, even local postmasters. With every change in administration after every election, there would be a wholesale turnover in the entire government as supporters of the previous administration were discharged while their jobs were given to the supporters of the incoming president. This meant that the first months of any new president would be filled with finding jobs for everyone who contributed time and money to his campaign. Since the victor gets the spoils of war, this system was called the Spoils System.

The Spoils System was not a particularly good way to run a government since most of the office holders were selected on the basis of political loyalty rather than on any ability to perform the functions of the job and the men selected were obviously more interested using their offices to gain political power and enrich themselves than in serving the public. The Pendleton Act was meant to remedy these obvious evils by putting into place a federal workers who had the specific skills and experience needed for the offices they held and who would dispassionately serve the public rather than political hacks beholden to the politicians who appointed them.

I am not certain that the Pendleton Act has been entirely successful, or perhaps it has been too successful in some ways. It seems to be that our modern, professional civil service has become an entrenched castes of elites with agendas of their own and who believe themselves to be a ruling caste who can lord over their inferiors. Even worse, they seem to be loyal to a particular political party, the Democrats, to the point of being willing to sabotage the elected officials of the opposing party. Thus, we have the worst of both evils, an arrogant ruling class of political hacks. At least with the Spoils System there was some rotation of people, and since they were political appointees they had to be at least somewhat responsive to the will of the elected officials who got them their jobs and who themselves knew they had to face the voters at the next election.

Something to think about, anyway. Our present system is not working too well. Maybe it’s time for a change.

The Election of 1848

March 10, 2016

As the election of 1848 approached, it was starting to become impossible to ignore the increasingly divisive issue of slavery in the United States. Hardly anyone wanted to abolish slavery where it existed, but there was a growing feeling in the North that slavery ought to be contained and not permitted to expand into any new territories. This had been made more difficult by the aftermath of the recently concluded Mexican War. The territories which had been gained from Mexico which were south of the line established in the Missouri Compromise of 1820 were open to slavery. The Whigs, at least the northern branch of the party, had been opposed to the Mexican War for this reason. Led by an obscure congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln, the northern Whigs accused the Polk administration of waging an aggressive war against Mexico for empty military glory and to expand the slave territories. The relatively quick and easy American victory over Mexico made such anti-war sentiments politically incorrect however, and the Whigs found they had to backtrack before the upcoming election.

Missouri_Compromise_map

The Missouri Compromise

 

There was no question of the incumbent President James K. Polk running for reelection. He had promised to serve only one term and he was exhausted from performing his duties as president. Polk died only three months after leaving his office. The Democrats met at their national convention in Baltimore on May 22. There they selected Senator Lewis Cass for president. Cass had been the territorial governor of Michigan from 1813 to 1831 and then had served as Secretary of War under Andrew Jackson, minister to France and then from 1845 to 1848 a Senator from Michigan. His running mate was William Orlando Butler, a veteran of the War of 1812, who had served as a Congressman from Kentucky from 1839-1943.

There was a problem with Cass, however, at least as far as the New York delegation was concerned. Cass was an advocate of “squatter” or popular sovereignty on the issue of slavery, believing that the people of a territory should determine whether a state should be admitted as a free or slave state. Some of the New York delegation, the Hunkerers because they “hunkered” after offices, supported Cass’s nomination, while others, the Barnburners believed Cass to be too soft on slavery. In the end, the Barnburners left the convention and, along with other anti-slavery people and organized the Free Soil Party. The Free Soilers, with their slogan, “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men” nominated former president Martin van Buren and John Quincy Adams’s son, Charles Francis Adams.

The Whigs were anxious for the voters to forget that they had even been against the Mexican War, so when they met in Philadelphia in June, they nominated General Zachary Taylor, Old Rough and Ready for president. Taylor had never held any political office, had no set political opinions on any issue, and had never even voted, but he had led an American army to victory in Mexico, so he seemed to be perfect for the job of president. The Whigs also nominated Millard Fillmore, a congressman from New York who had served from 1833 to 1843, who had then served as the New York State Comptroller, as Taylor’s running mate.

Many Whigs were anxious about nominating a candidate with absolutely no political experience. Daniel Webster feared that a man he regarded as “an illiterate frontier colonel” would be unelectable. Other Whigs, including Lincoln, made a virtue out of Taylor’s inexperience, pointing out that he would be sure to follow the will of the people.

There was the usual mudslinging throughout the campaign. The Democrats portrayed Taylor as an ignorant, illiterate military autocrat who thirsted for martial glory and establish himself as a dictator, after the example of Caesar or Napoleon. He was stingy and cruel to his slaves. The Whigs retaliated by claiming that Cass was dishonest, and involved in graft from his tenure as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. They also mocked Cass’s pretensions to military glory. There wasn’t much substantive debate on any issues.

The election of 1848 was the first presidential election in which the election was held on the same day in every state, November 7. From this year on, the national elections would be held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Zachary Taylor won the election without too much trouble, getting 1,360,099 votes (47.3%) to Cass’s 1,220544 (42.5%). Martin van Buren and his Free Soil Party received 291,263 (10.1%) popular votes. Obviously, anti-slavery sentiments were gaining ground, at least in the North. In the Electoral College, Taylor got 163 votes, mostly in the East with all of the largest states, except for Ohio, while Cass won 127 electoral votes. The Free Soilers didn’t win any states, but it is possible they split the Democratic vote, especially in New York, allowing the Whigs to win.

The Election of 1848

The Election of 1848

Although born in Virginia and raised in Kentucky, and a slave owner himself, President Taylor turned out to be a staunch nationalist who sought to prevent the spread of slavery in the new territories.Taylor hinted that he would sign the Wilmot Proviso, which banned slavery in the territories gained from Mexico, if it ever passed Congress, and he wanted California to be admitted as a state without first being organized as a territory so that the slavery issue could be decided by the people of California rather than Congress. Taylor’s highest priority was keeping the Union together and he threatened to personally lead an army against anyone who attempted secession.

Unfortunately, Zachary Taylor died of either Cholera or food poisoning just seventeen months into his term. The new president, Millard Fillmore, lacked Taylor’s strength of character and although he was moderately anti-slavery, was more willing to give in to the demands of Southern slave owners than Taylor had been. Perhaps it was just as well. It is possible that the Civil War might have begun a decade earlier if Taylor had lived. On the other hand, Fillmore’s administration began a decade of inaction when the United States badly needed strong leadership to resolve the increasing sectional tensions.

Ben Carson and Evolution

November 9, 2015

I got this meme off of Facebook. I think it originally came from the left-wing blog Daily Kos.

Carson Evolution

Why is this an issue in any presidential campaign? Since the duties of the President of the United States do not include teaching a science class, how is any candidate’s opinion on the theory of evolution particularly relevant? I would be more concerned with a candidate’s opinion on the theories of Marx than of Darwin. Marx’s ideas have contributed to the murder of millions and has caused more misery than any opinion on evolution ever has, yet candidates with ideas derived from Marx never seemed to be questioned by the media. The fact that Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist or that Barack Obama had as mentors such left-wing Marxist radicals as Bill Ayers and Frank Marshall Davis seem to me to be of far more concern than Dr. Ben Carson’s thoughts on evolution.

I suppose that the people at Daily Kos would argue that Dr. Carson’s beliefs about evolution disqualify him for the presidency because they show that he is anti-science. If that is the case, that Carson really is against science, what do they imagine he will do as president? Cut all funding for research? Insist that universities that accept federal funds teach creationism? Even if he wanted to do this, and there is no indication that he did, President Carson would find it very difficult to impose creationism on the scientific community. The President of the United States is not a dictator, at least not yet, and cannot single handedly control the education policies of the entire country. I think that science is safe from a president who does not believe in evolution.

But is Ben Carson really anti-science? For that matter are creationists really anti-science? They certainly do not believe that the theory of evolution is a valid explanation for the origin and adaptation of life on Earth and they disagree with current ideas about the age of the planet and the universe, but is this being anti-science? According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the definition of science is:

The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Science can also mean “an organized body of knowledge on a particular subject”, so one might argue that Dr. Carson and creationists  are not knowledgeable in the sciences of biology and geology but that is not the same as saying that they are anti-science in the first sense. In fact, hardly anyone is actually anti-science in the sense of being against the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world. Even people people espousing wildly unscientific ideas try to assume the mantle of science. Creationists like to say they have scientific evidence for their position, even when it really boils down to, “The Bible says it”. Disbelief in evolution does not necessarily imply disbelief in the scientific process.

The real importance of evolution to the left does not seem to be its status as a scientific hypothesis subject to falsification but as a means to differentiate between the elite intellectual elite and the bitter clingers in flyover country. To them, belief in evolution is a sign to show that you are on the right side of science and history. It, along with climate change is sacred knowledge, not to be questioned or doubted. By demonstrating a disbelief in evolution, Dr. Carson shows that he is lacking in intelligence and should be disqualified from the presidency.

The irony here is that Dr. Ben Carson is probably a good deal more intelligent and educated than the person who put together that meme. He is certainly more accomplished, being a gifted neurosurgeon. It is even possible he is more scientifically knowledgeable, even about evolution. I wonder how much that that person who created that meme really knows about the theory of evolution or can explain why it is accepted as an explanation for the development of life by nearly every scientist knowledgeable in the relevant fields. I would guess that he believes in evolution because it is what was taught in school and that it is what all of the smart people believe. Well, that is not the same as actually investigating the matter for oneself and actually trying to understand why a given theory is believed to be true. You don’t get to give yourself credit for being in the intellectual elite for simply remembering what you learned in school twenty years ago and you don’t get the right to sneer at people better than yourself.

 

 

The Election of 1840

July 12, 2015

People often complain that modern presidential politics is more about personalities than issues. The news media and the readers and viewers they serve seem less interested in what the candidates plan to do once in office and more interested in personalities, slogans, and sound bites. Political debates have devolved from the stately, informative Lincoln-Douglas debates in which the issues dividing the country were discussed at length to opportunities for politicians to deliver focus group tested zingers and one liners. People who idolize a past in which presidential candidates earnestly discussed detailed solutions for resolving the issues of the day had best not look too closely at the election of 1840. This was an election singularly devoid of any discussion of any issue except which candidate was born in a log cabin and drank hard cider. Actually, there was one serious issue which was beginning to divide the nation between North and South, but no one wanted to talk about it. Hint: it began with “S” and ended with “lavery”.

By 1840, the Jacksonian revolution was complete. Property requirements had been abolished in every state and every White male had the vote, beginning a new era of mass politics in the United States. The Whig Party had gotten its act together to form a truly national party and they learned enough from Andrew Jackson’s victories in 1828 and 1832 to understand the necessity of developing an organization for stirring up mass enthusiasm for their candidate and ensuring a good turnout at the polls on Election Day. The Whigs also learned to cast their candidate as a military hero and a man of the people. As events turned out, the Whigs had learned these lessons all to well as far as the Democrats were concerned.

The Whigs met in their national convention at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in December 1839, and nominated a military hero, William Henry Harrison over his rival Henry Clay. Harrison had been a senator from Ohio and governor of the Indiana Territory and had fought against the Indian leader Tecumseh, defeating his forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. He had been one of the three Whig candidates in 1836 and since he had gotten the most votes of the three in that election, he seemed a good pick for 1840, even though at 68 he was the oldest man to be elected president until Ronald Reagan. Although Harrison had been born in Virginia, he was associated with the North so, in order to balance the ticket, the Whigs nominated the Virginian, John Tyler as his running mate. Tyler had served in both houses of Congress and as governor of Virginia. As a Democrat, he had supported Andrew Jackson at first, but turned against the president over state’s rights and the spoils system, and had joined the Whigs by 1835. His selection as the Whig’s vice-presidential candidate later proved to be not a particularly good idea.

 

For their part, the Democrats met at Baltimore in May, 1840, and easily nominated Martin van Buren for a second term as president. Van Buren’s Vice-President, Richard Mentor Johnson was still very unpopular in the South because of his romantic relationship with his slave Julia Chenn. Van Buren was reluctant to drop him from the ticket, but the Democrats simply refused to nomination Johnson for another term as Vice-President, so no running mate was nominated at the convention. They had an understanding that each state would vote for its own candidate and the Senate would pick the Vice-President, if van Buren won. Undaunted Johnson went ahead and campaigned for the vice-presidency as if he had been nominated.

Van Burn was fairly unpopular throughout the country as the economy was still in recession as a result of the Panic of 1837, so the election was Harrison’s to lose, provided he did not do anything divisive or unpopular like making any statements about the issues of the day, particularly the one involving the “S-word”. So, Harrison and his supporters made it a point to say very little. Instead, they promoted their candidate as a humble man of the people. It was one of Clay’s supporters who gave them the idea for their campaign theme. During the convention, he had said derisively of Harrison that  he would be perfectly happy living in a log cabin and drinking hard cider. Harrison’s supporters took this and ran away with it, tirelessly depicting their man as born in a log cabin and drinking simple hard cider, as opposed to the aristocratic van Buren who lived in luxurious mansions and drank only the finest and most expensive wines. The Whigs organized parades demonstrations, and gatherings with a log cabin theme and served hard cider while praising Harrison for his simple lifestyle. Along with the log cabin went the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”.

It was all a lie, though. Harrison had, in fact, been born into one of the wealthiest and politically prominent Virginia families with plantations and slaves. He had attended college and studied medicine, but it was not a field that appealed to him and upon the death of his father, he had left college to join the army. The aristocratic van Buren was the one who had been born in humble circumstances and had worked his way up in New York politics. But, politics and truth seldom intersect.

The Democrats responded by attacking Harrison’s age and military record. He was old and senile, they claimed and a vulgar, profane man who slept with Indian women while in the Army and then resigned his commission just a year before the War of 1812, abandoning his country in its hour of need.

It was not a close election. The Democrats were never able to muster enough enthusiasm for their candidate to match the Whigs and the faltering economy weighed down van Buren’s efforts at re-election. The popular vote was 1,275,390 to 1,128,854 or 52.9% to 46.8% in Harrison’s favor. A third party, the anti-slavery Liberty Party, with James G Birney as its candidate gained 6,797 votes, This was utterly insignificant at the time but the Liberty Party was a harbinger of the anti-slavery movement which would create the Republican Party and tear the nation apart. In the Electoral College, Harrison won 234 votes from all over the country, while van Buren only got 60 votes, winning New Hampshire, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas.

The Election of 1840

The Election of 1840

William Henry Harrison did not have long to enjoy his presidency. After giving the longest inaugural speech in history on March 4, 1841 and a month later had died of pneumonia making the Harrison administration at only thirty days, the shortest in American history. Harrison was the first president to die in office, causing something of a constitutional crisis as it was not clear to what extent the vice-president assumed the powers and responsibilities of the presidency. Most of Harrison’s cabinet assumed that Vice-President John Tyler was only an acting president until such time as new elections could be arranged. Tyler, however, insisted that he was the new president upon taking the oath of office and with the support of  Chief Justice Roger Taney, his view prevailed. Tyler was not a particularly successful president since his political views were not much aligned with those held by his fellow Whigs in the cabinet or in Congress, or for that matter with the Democratic opposition, and this along with the then unprecedented manner in which Tyler became president made it difficult for him to get much done.

 

The Election of 1836

May 3, 2015

At the end of his second term as president, Andrew Jackson was still popular enough that he could have run for a third term if he wanted. Jackson decided to abide by the two term limit precedent set by the previous presidents and instead promoted the candidacy of his vice-president and hand picked successor, Martin Van Buren. It was curious choice given how very different the two men were. Jackson was a rough and ready frontiersman who had worked his way up from an impoverished youth to become a military hero. Van Buren was a smooth politician from New York who was descended from an old Dutch family. Although they agreed on most of the issues, the two men didn’t really have a lot in common. The thing that actually brought them closer together and convinced President Jackson that Van Buren was just the right man to continue his legacy was the Peggy Eaton, or petticoat affair.

Peggy Eaton was a pretty young woman from Washington D. C. who had developed a certain reputation by her teens. In 1816, at the age of 17, Peggy eloped with a thirty-nine year old Navy Purser named John Timberlake. Timberlake died at sea in 1828 and Peggy married an old friend, Senator John Henry Eaton. This would not normally be considered scandalous, except that there were rumors that John and Peggy had been somewhat more than friends and that Timberlake had committed suicide because he learned of her infidelities.

At the beginning of his first term, in 1829, President Jackson had appointed Martin Van Buren as his Secretary of State and his friend Senator Eaton as Secretary of War, and that was when the scandal broke. Peggy Eaton was accused in Washington society of being an adulteress who had married Eaton indecently quickly after the death of her first husband instead of spending a proper time in mourning. In mean girls fashion, all of the wives of the men in Jackson’s cabinet snubbed John and Peggy Eaton and get their husbands to do likewise. Vice-President John C. Calhoun‘s wife Floride was the ringleader of this clique and this, along with their differences over state’s rights led to Jackson dropping Calhoun from the ticket when he ran for his second term, since Jackson, recalling the vicious gossip about his own marriage to his beloved Rachel, took the side of the Eatons, against his whole cabinet, except for Martin Van Buren, who being a widower did not have a wife to fear.

Because President Jackson became involved the petticoat affair caused a schism in his cabinet that made it impossible to govern. Jackson was unwilling to ask his friend Eaton to resign, so in 1831, he had everyone in his cabinet resign and began again with a new cabinet. Since Martin Van Buren was the only member of the cabinet who had treated the Eatons decently, Jackson made him his vice-president for his second term  selected Van Buren as his political successor.

With Jackson’s support, Van Buren easily won the Democratic nomination for president at the convention that met in Baltimore in May 1836. For his running mate, the convention selected Congressman Richard Mentor Johnson from Kentucky. Although Johnson balanced the ticket, being from the South, and something of a war hero from the War of 1812 and the conflicts against the Indians, he was a controversial choice because he had had a longstanding affair with a slave named Julia Chinn, who he treated as his wife.

The American Second Party System was still developing in 1836. There had been some opposition to Jackson from a variety of factions and these came together to oppose Van Buren. The National Republicans from the previous election joined with state’s rights supporters and the Anti-Masonic Party to form the Whig Party. The Whig Party was only united in their opposition to Andrew Jackson and they never did form a coherent party identity before breaking up over the slavery issue. In 1836, this disparate group could not settle on a site for a national convention or a single candidate, so they nominated three presidential candidates with each man appealing to a different region of the country. First there was Senator Daniel Webster from Massachusetts. He was a supporter of Henry Clay and could win New England and the Anti-Masons. Senator Hugh White from Tennessee could attract voters from the South. Finally, there was William Henry Harrison, a Senator from Ohio and the first governor of the Indiana Territory, he was most famous for leading the military force that defeated Tecumseh’s coalition of Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison, then, was a war hero who could really the West. The Whigs hoped that each candidate would be popular enough to defeat Van Buren in his region and since no candidate could gain a majority. The House of Representatives would select the new president from among the top three, presumably Whig, candidates. It was an unusual strategy that has never been tried again. Perhaps because it didn’t work.


There is not much to say about the actual campaign. There was a great deal of personal invective from both sides. The Whigs assailed Van Buren for being merely a clever politician without character or principles who was evasive on where he stood on the issues. The Whigs in the Senate, over which Van Buren presided as part of his duties as Vice-President, tried to embarrass Van Buren and arranged for tie votes, which would oblige Van Buren to cast a deciding, and possibly controversial, vote. The Democrats portrayed Van Buren as a worthy successor to Jackson and attacked the honor and credentials of the three Whigs.

In the end, the Democrats proved to be far better organized than their opponents and proved to be far better at rallying their supporters. Van Buren won the majority he needed. He won 764,168 or 50.9% of the popular vote.  He won 170 electoral votes from states all around the Union. Of the three Whigs, William Henry Harrison proved to be the most popular with 550,816 or 36.6% of the popular vote. Harrison won the mid western states Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, as well as Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Vermont for a total of 73 electoral votes. Hugh got 146,109 or 9.7% of the popular vote carrying only Tennessee and Georgia with 26 electoral votes. Daniel Webster won only his home state of Massachusetts and 14 electoral votes. Webster received 41,201 or 2.7% of the popular vote.

The Election of 1836

The Election of 1836

There was one more Whig, Willie Person Magnum who got South Carolina’s 11 electoral votes. South Carolina was the only remaining state in which the electors which selected by the state legislature rather than by popular vote.

Willie Person Magnum

Willie Person Magnum

 

There was one other oddity about the election of 1836. This was the only election in which the Senate selected the Vice President, as provided by the twelfth amendment,

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Van Buren’s running mate, Richard Johnson, proved to be very unpopular in the South because of his relationship with Julia Chenn, and 23 of Virginia’s electors who supported Van Buren refused to vote for Johnson. As a result he only received 147 electoral votes, one short of a majority. Johnson easily won the Senate vote which was along party lines 36 for Johnson to 16 for the Whig Francis Granger.

 

Rand Paul for President

April 8, 2015

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has officially announced the opening of his campaign to be the next President of the United States. As CNN reports,

For Rand Paul, it’s all led to this moment.

Since riding the tea party wave into the Senate in 2010, Paul has carefully built a brand of mainstream libertarianism — dogged advocacy of civil liberties combined with an anti-interventionist foreign policy and general support for family values — that he bets will create a coalition of younger voters and traditional Republicans to usher him into the White House.

The test of that theory began Tuesday when the Kentucky senator made official what has been clear for years: He’s running for president.

“Today I announce with God’s help, with the help of liberty lovers everywhere, that I’m putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America,” Paul said at a rally in Louisville.

Paul immediately hit the campaign trail for a four-day swing through New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa and Nevada — the states that traditionally vote first in the primaries and caucuses.

In his speech, he called for reforming Washington by pushing for term limits and a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. He argued that both parties are to blame for the rising debt, saying it doubled under a Republican administration and tripled under Obama.

“Government should be restrained and freedom should be maximized,” he said.

In general, I like Rand Paul. He seems to be more clever than most of the  leading Republicans and he is willing to  move beyond the comfort zone of the GOP and reach out to people who haven’t generally been very responsive to overtures from Republicans and he is willing to take unorthodox positions. His mainstream libertarianism is likely to be appealing to the large number of Americans who simply want the government to leave them alone without seeming overly dogmatic or extreme. He seems to be having a somewhat antagonistic relationship with the mainstream media, in that he is not allowing the reporters who have interviewed him to corner him or put words in his mouth. Perhaps Rand Paul understand, as few Republican politicians seem to, that the media is the enemy and will never give any Republican candidate a fair chance. All in all, Rand Paul seems to be an excellent candidate for president.

Rand-Paul-announce-620x362

I have some reservations, though. Paul doesn’t have much experience in politics, just one term as the junior Senator from Kentucky. The last time we elected a one-term junior Senator, it didn’t work out too well. A more serious objection to a Rand Paul candidacy is the fact that his father, Ron Paul, is a lunatic and I am afraid that the nut doesn’t far fall from the oak tree. My most serious concern with Ron Paul is his extreme isolationism. There are a lot of people, including Rand Paul, who have been labeled as isolationist because they have expressed the position that the United States need not get involved in every conflict in the world and should exercise more discretion in intervening in foreign affairs, particularly in matters that do not affect our interests. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take. Ron Paul, however, seems to be of the opinion that the United States should not be involved in foreign affairs at all. We should mind our own business and in return the world will leave us alone. This is a dangerously naive position to take. For one thing, America is simply too big and powerful to mind its own business. Everything we do, even not doing anything, affects everyone in the world. A small country like Switzerland can keep to itself. The US does not have that option. Also, our present period of relative peace and prosperity depends very much on American leadership and power. If America falters, things could get very bad, very quickly. President Obama’s reluctance to assert American leadership has already caused much vexation among our allies and in the world generally. A truly isolationist administration would be a disaster.

Rand Paul seems to be more reasonable about foreign policy than his father and it may be that he will find a middle ground between extreme isolationism and excessive interventionism. It may also be that his father’s extreme positions will prevent his election or even nomination as the Republican candidate. It remains to be seen. The election of 2016 is still a long way off and it is probably premature to make any predictions or make any decisions about the candidates.

Rating the Presidents

February 18, 2013

While shopping at Goodwill yesterday, I came across a book called Presidential Leadership, published by the Wall Street Journal. This book features a collection essays assessing the historical legacy of each of the presidents from George Washington to George W Bush. The writers seem to be conservative commentators, so perhaps the collection has a rightward tilt. Still, I am sure the book will be interesting to read, although I have not had time to do more than skim through the book. Towards the end, after the essays about the presidents are essays about presidential leadership and appendices of various scholars’ attempts to rank the presidents. Since today is President’s Day, I thought I would write a little about the Presidents.

The three Presidents generally ranked the greatest are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. George Washington probably wouldn’t be considered much of a president today. He wasn’t an activist executive and he deferred to Congress. He might be considered a do-nothing president by today’s standards. Still, there is no question that he was one of our greatest presidents. He was the first and he had to work without any clear precedents or guidelines. Abraham Lincoln was also one of the greatest. A lesser man might have given upon the Civil War and let the South go. Lincoln had a clarity of vision that eludes most politicians and was willing to sacrifice his popularity and chances of reelection to do the right thing.

I am not sure Roosevelt deserves to be considered one of the greatest presidents. His New Deal policies probably prolonged the Depression. That was not his intent and he does deserve credit for raising the nation’s morale in a difficult time, yet it has become clear that he really didn’t have any idea what he was doing. Roosevelt was an effective war time leader. In general, he picked the right men for doing the job, especially George Marshall as Army Chief of Staff. His only fault in the handling of that war was his trust of Joseph Stalin. Roosevelt seemed to be unaware that Stalin was just as vicious and evil as Hitler and believed that Stalin could be handled like any other politician. In this, Roosevelt may have been badly advised by the members of his administration who were Communists, or Communist sympathizers. To the extent that Roosevelt was unaware of the treacherous leanings of some of his staff, he deserves the blame for the concessions he made at the Yalta Conference. I also believe that Roosevelt did poorly in running for  a third and then fourth term. He reversed the long standing precedent that a president should only serve two terms. It may well have been that Roosevelt felt that no one else could do the job effectively, but the foundation of a republic rests on the concept that no one man is indispensible. In any event, by 1944 Roosevelt was in failing health and must have know he would not have live to finish another term.

The worst presidents are generally regarded to be Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, and James Buchanan. These seem to be fair assessments, except for Warren Harding. He did possess remarkably poor judgment in selecting his subordinates, which led to a series of scandals late in his administration, yet Harding ended Woodrow Wilson’s more egregious civil rights violations, released the anti-war protestors and Socialist that Wilson had jailed, and did his best to return the country to normalcy. I kind of suspect that Harding’s low rankings have as much to do with ending “progressive” policies as any thing else.

I think something similar could be said of Ulysses S. Grant. He also exhibited poor judgement in some of his appointments and there were a series of scandals in his administration. Grant, like Harding, tried to return the country to normalcy after the horrendous Civil War and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. He fought for the rights of the former slaves and used military action to suppress the Ku Klux Klan. He even believed that the Indians should be treated decently.  I think that the low ranking Grant is usually given reflects the ire of Southern historians who were outraged that anyone should defend the Blacks, not to mention Grant’s key role in winning the Civil War.

John F Kennedy is almost certainly the most overrated president. For all his charisma and sympathy from the intellectual class, he didn’t actually do all that much. He does deserve some credit for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it should be remembered that that crisis would not have arisen at all if he had handled the Bay of Pigs invasion. He ought to have either given the rebels his full support or cancelled the operation entirely. By allowing it to go ahead but withholding air support, he assured its failure and made himself look weak and foolish. Kennedy’s reputation would not have been  so favorable if he had not been assassinated. As it is, his ranking has gone steadily downward over the years.

Thomas Jefferson is another overrated president. He was an accomplished man, in many ways, but he was not a very good president. His second term was a disaster.

Richard Nixon is an unusual case. By all respects, he should have been a successful president. He got us out of Viet Nam without actually losing the war. He negotiated the SALT agreement with the Soviet Union and opened up relations with China. Nixon was the president who created the EPA and large scale Affirmative Action. Yet, Nixon is often regarded as a failure. This is, of course, because of the Watergate scandal. Watergate was, in itself, not so large a deal as has often been reported, previous presidents have done far worse. The intense and increasing partisanship in American politics caused the scandal to assume an outsized role and ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation. I wouldn’t regard Nixon as a great president, however. He was at least partly to blame for the enmity held against him.

The greatest president you have never heard of is James K. Polk. He may have been the only president to have actually fulfilled all of his campaign promises. He served only a single term but did more than most presidents have in two terms. Polk expanded the territory of the United States by provoking and winning the Mexican War while negotiating a peaceful settlement with Great Britain over the boundaries of the Oregon Territory.

Another great but forgotten president is Grover Cleveland. He was an honest and strong man who fought to keep the government honest. He favored a strong money policy over those who wanted the government to expand the money supply and create inflation, ostensibly to help the cash poor farmers of the West. He also limited government spending.

Presidential reputations change over time, sometimes due to changing ideas about what a president should be, and sometimes because new information about a president is revealed. I have already noted Kennedy’s declining reputation. It seems that the more one looks beyond the myth of Camelot, the tawdrier the whole thing appears. Dwight Eisenhower, on the other hand, has become more respected over the years. Eisenhower was a popular president, but the general feeling has been that he was a rather relaxed chief executive who didn’t do much. As more has been learned about his administration, historians have discovered that he was a very active president indeed. Eisenhower was not much concerned with getting credit for his actions and so was underestimated. Another president whose reputation has improved is Harry S. Truman. Truman is well thought of today, but he was a very unpopular president. He left the office with a job approval rating of 22%, lower that Richard Nixon’s and about the same as George W. Bush’s. Somehow, Truman’s blunt, uncompromising personality looks a lot better in hindsight, and history seems to have vindicated his policies on the Cold War. Perhaps the same will be true of Bush.

There is a lot more that I could say about the presidents. I have barely scratched the surface in rating some of the presidents and here are so many that I haven’t even mentioned. This post is starting to get overly long, however, so I think I will end it here. The presidents do make a fascinating subject and I am sure I will find more to right about.


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