Saturday, March 31, 2007

Major League POTUS – Home Turf

The discussion up to now has been a bit muddled, as many people fall back on old methods of general “who’s best/worst” labeling. I have tried to suggest an alternative method for evaluating the performance and capabilities of Presidents, emphasizing that each President has areas of relative strength and weakness. The next step in setting up the contests, is to evaluate each of the five areas of responsibility, relative to each other for the same President. That is, we already know the top and bottom for each, but now need to assign a place for the other three. Because my “season” will be starting soon, I am leaving that alone for now, but I wanted to mention it so it would be known.

After this is done, we can turn our attention to the terms of office. Since George Washington first took office in 1789, we can count 55 terms for our Presidents, giving us 55 sets of responsibility priorities. As with the Presidents, the five areas of concern are these:

[] Responsible Attention to Military Threats and Needs
[] Responsible Attention to the Economy
[] Responsible Attention to the Balance of Branch Authority
[] Responsible Attention to the U.S. Constitution
[] Responsible Attention to Advancing/Protecting American Interests

And as with each President, the emphasis varies of needs. For each term, there is a principle need, and the other four areas have lesser importance to the moment. During the Civil War, for example, the state of the economy was useful but not at all as important as the military aspect. On the other hand, the 1928-36 terms did not face an immediate military threat, but the economy was in great need. At other times the need has been for a President to expand his office to meet the needs which Congress and the Courts could not meet, and at still other times the context of the Constitution was primary in need. So today’s article opens the question of which category of responsibility was most and least important during each term. Bear in mind that I am talking about the 55 4-year terms, regardless of whether a President may have served for more than one term, or whether a four-year term may have seen more than on President (like Gerald Ford filling out the last part of the 1973-6 term).

The “season” starts on Monday, so all these preliminaries are moving towards resolution in comparison. Don’t ask me how long it took to work up the “schedule”.

Friday, March 30, 2007

‘England Expects’, No Longer

Historians have longed agreed as a consensus, that the greatness of Great Britain was brought to bear by its navy. The Royal Navy has been the scourge of pirates, rogue despots, and various pretenders to world power for centuries, yet the events of this month have demonstrated a pathetic cowardice which was heretofore unknown to Parliament with regard to Jack Tar and his mates. Yet Whitehall has swallowed the anchor and scuttled the pride and patriotism of the Andrew, all in hopes of placating a worthless pissant of a man who cannot properly shave himself, much less lead a regional power. The shame of the situation was made clear this week past, when it was revealed that the HMS Cornwall, the escort ship which could easily have prevented the kidnapping of the sailors, was ordered not to interfere, to allow innocent sailors to be seized in Iraqi waters by the Iranian raiders. One can scarely imagine a less British sentiment, notion, or resolution.

But even worse for the long-term look, is the savage and foolhardy destruction of the Royal Navy's budget and capabilities; one need look no further than the five-year moratorium on promotions to be imposed on all British naval officers. The intent is clearly to drive the most qualified and professional officers out of the service, an act so dangerous to the safety of Britain and so malicious against her citizens' welfare, that it may properly be called traitorous.

If the next Nelson is to come, he shall not be found in England, for England has abandoned her history and her greatness, by scorning her navy.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Major League POTUS – The Hard Part, Part I

It’s been an interesting few days, as readers come to grips with my outline of how Presidents may be compared to one another on something like even ground. A lot of off-topic sniping and character bashing has been going on, which I removed to clarify the discussion. I have to say again, that while expression of opinion is fine, for this topic the gutter stuff is not going to be allowed.

Which brings me to the really hard part of today’s post, a condition which I suspect will sharply limit the number and depth of valid responses. It comes down to my contention that every single President, regardless of what else we can say about them, had certain qualities which helped them ascend to the office. They were also all human, meaning that they all had blind spots, weak areas, and personal foibles to some degree. Once again, this is not an attempt to say that all Presidents are the same, or that one given President may not soundly thump an opponent in a match-up; it is simply an observation that people tend to paint leaders in solid colors, bright or foul. Such glorification or demonization detracts from the worth of examining the Presidents, and diminishes these men to caricatures.

So, for this part, the instruction is this: Consider the five areas of Presidential Responsibility which I described yesterday.

[] Responsible Attention to Military Threats and Needs
[] Responsible Attention to the Economy
[] Responsible Attention to the Balance of Branch Authority
[] Responsible Attention to the U.S. Constitution
[] Responsible Attention to Advancing/Protecting American Interests

With those in mind now, for each President (or as many as you care to note) list the category where he was strongest and the one where he was weakest. It is possible that the “strongest” category could still be one where you are not impressed with the man, and in the “weakest” category you may happen to believe that this President was strong, simply not as amazing here as in the other areas. But this exercise, in addition to helping folks discover some of the more intricate details in evaluating Presidents, may also serve to help folks see the men in more than one dimension. As an example, one of the more commonly mocked Presidents, if he is remembered at all, is Millard Fillmore. Fillmore became President upon the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850, and he is often pilloried as a man who did not stand up against Slavery. However, on closer examination Fillmore, who opposed slavery but suffered from a lack of influence with Congress, understood better than most people the peril of his position. Even in 1850, the South was discussing the possibility of secession, or what amounted to the same thing, the refusal to follow Federal law. This was the reason for the drafting of the Compromise of 1850, which was tied to the crucial decision to admit California as a state to the Union. Fillmore understood that as things existed in 1850, the United States could not withstand a Civil War, and the Union could not hope to compel the South to remain in or rejoin the Union. He needed time, and a build-up of the Union Army. Few Whigs understood Fillmore’s wisdom, and the decision helped break the party. But Daniel Webster, writing of Fillmore’s resolve, wrote “I can now sleep of nights”. Understanding this facet of a man unfairly considered ignoble, is a key step in comprehending the work done by all the Presidents.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What Makes A Good President? Maybe, Not What You Think!

I mentioned that my approach to matching Presidents against each other in competition would be somewhat radical. This is, in part, because I mean to challenge the common assumptions made, and for that I must begin with the criteria which is so often used in comparing Presidents.

I did some looking around, and I found the following six words used the most often to describe an effective President:


These are all good, desirable qualities, but there is a glaring problem with any of them. They are all subjective values, determined by how the grader feels. That’s a big red flag for me, and one reason why time often changes the position which Presidents occupy. And it gets no better when you look at professional historians. A site called “History News Network” examined President George W. Bush, mainly in terms of whether or not he is the “worst President ever” or merely just a “failure”. The article is no better than a smear job, obvious when one notes that the qualities of famous failures are subdued in favor of slamming the current Commander-in-Chief. The historians were every bit as biased and subjective as popular polls have been, with the exception that the worthy folks at George Mason University attempted to present their tilt as an objective finding. But that is neither here nor there, for our purposes. It means for us to consider, carefully, how we shall avoid the same blunder in measuring these men. The historians used a largely negative yardstick, measuring all Presidents in such categories as “economic damage”, “imperialism”, “dishonesty”, and “arrogance”. All words which can be, and are, liberally applied to paint a selected target in foul colors. Such a circular argument is useless on its face.

I also eschew the complex examination. That is, if great detail matters, one should endeavor to read some of the many fine biographies of Presidents, but the sheer volume of information would be unwieldy in the extreme here. So, I have determined to walk through five basic qualities of Presidential responsibility, and to try to set out some standards for certain levels in each skill. These five areas are determined by the needs of the United States through its Presidential History (since 1789, that is). They are:

[] Responsible Attention to Military Threats and Needs
[] Responsible Attention to the Economy
[] Responsible Attention to the Balance of Branch Authority
[] Responsible Attention to the U.S. Constitution
[] Responsible Attention to Advancing/Protecting American Interests

With apologies to Mr. Gore, I am afraid that “green” activism is not a mark of a responsible President of the United States. With apologies to Ms. Clinton, I must contend that advancing Socialism is not in the best interests of the Nation. With apologies to Rev. Sharpton, I observe that the President of the United States is not obliged to show preferential treatment towards a racial minority, and is in fact obliged to rather oppose racial, gender, or cultural bias in his performance and decisions. The careful reader will observe that the responsibilities of the President of the United States are, in some ways, much different than the responsibilities of the Congress of the United States and of the Judiciary of the United States, to say nothing of the state, county, and local levels of government. There is, admittedly, still a risk of subjectivity in even these more-clearly defined areas of duty, but at least we can establish certain benchmarks for these categories before we assign values to individual Presidents. And as I mentioned earlier, each of these areas will differ in their weight of significance according to different conditions and times.

Next, defining the benchmarks.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Men Among Men – Scoring the Presidents

I have read a few requests to explain how I am going about the games between our Presidents. To answer, I would begin by noting that there seem to be generally three methods used when comparing Presidents. The first style is to write about a President one likes, then sketch out thin and lifeless comparisons of other Presidents to make the chosen one look really good. While sometimes these essays can provide good background on a certain individual, they are useless in terms of presenting a fair look at the field. The reverse of this method is also common, where a President disliked by the writer is described in terms to make anyone seem better in comparison.

The second method is a bit more organized and balanced. The graders assign values for each President in a set number of qualities, tally them up and the highest grade is the winner. This was a popular method for many years, and was used by such notable historians as Arthur Schlesinger, Wikipedia, and popularity polls. There were and are, however, fatal flaws in this method as well, not least the clear bias of the graders, the assumption that each quality is equally important to the President’s job, and that a President would perform the same in other conditions as in his actual time and circumstance. This fails the common sense test.

The third common method is one which I have used myself; setting Presidents alongside each other and asking folks to discuss their accomplishments and disappointments. Such discussions are seldom popular, in some degree due to the poor level of history retained in the craniums of many Americans, and there is often no clear winner, as each person tends to hold to the President he or she originally preferred, but such discussions have improved understanding of the President’s job, the complexity each Chief Executive faces, and they have helped the discerning realize the difference between an attractive quality to a candidate, and an essential attribute we need in any potential President.

But the debate rages on, albeit in limited circles, and this year I am suggesting a somewhat radical alternative. It is my contention that to properly match up Presidents, we must see them compete in a variety of circumstances and conditions, which is why my “schedule” uses a “Home & Away” method to compare Presidents. I would establish five key sections of Presidential competence measures. I also believe that the frame of time available, from 1789 to 2007, should be broken up into 4-year segments, each of which would highlight one of the five competence areas as its critical focus.

I would also, to be blunt, do away with marble statues and monuments at the outset. That is, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and their like, often enter comparisons with an unreasonable advantage – many people are afraid to criticize them, as if there was something disallowed about not revering a ‘Founding Father’, or constantly praising ‘The Man Who Saved The Union’. No, I am not saying that the favorites have not earned their laurels, but I do see a habit of presuming that the first sixteen Presidents are so far ahead, say, of the last sixteen that no valid comparison is possible. I dissent with that notion. George Washington had an iron will, but he also had a bad temper. Abraham Lincoln also responded harshly at times to criticism, as Mr. Taney could tell you. I rather suspect one reason we do not see candidates in their mold anymore, is because I doubt such men would have the sort of temperament to endure the Primary season, convention, debates and then the General campaign, with the media all the while trying to keep the media from mangling their message beyond all sense. Andrew Jackson once killed a man in a duel; imagine what CNN would do with that in a candidate today!

It’s my take that the same things which are a strength in one situation can be a liability in another case. So it will be interesting, I think, to work out the match-ups and see where they take us. As always, comments are welcome, although I admit I have not yet set up merchandising opportunities.

For no reason in particular, I am setting the “pre-season” rankings by using Wikipedia’s ranks. As they play out, the records will move our guys up and down. Here is the starting Top 10:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. Franklin Roosevelt
3. George Washington
4. Thomas Jefferson
5. Theodore Roosevelt
6. Woodrow Wilson
7. Harry Truman
8. Andrew Jackson
9. Dwight Eisenhower
10. James Polk

Monday, March 26, 2007

Major League POTUS 2007

Oddly enough, there seems to be some mild interest in my 2007 match-ups between Presidents. For here, I will simply outline how the "League" works, and later I will post how each contest will be decided.

In early years of these match-ups, I simply posted Presidents one-on-one matching certain catagories of work and reputation, counting each equally and assigning a score. While there is a certain value to that system, it lacked what I wanted in this sort of thing, so I have revisited it. In terms of qualities, it seems to me that while a President does establish his name in certain ways, what is important at one time and place may be less important somewhere else. It is even possible thet a President who stands out in his own term, may have done a poor job in another time and condition, and vice versa. So, my Presidents will have "Home" games, where the conditions match their actual term of office, and "Road" games, where they are judged by the standards of another President. I have also set up a schedule based on two "Conferences", with three "Divisions" in each Conference of 7 Presidents each, set up chronologically. Since Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, our 43 Presidents are acually 42 people, which fits neatly. After 2008 this will be a problem, but for now no big deal.

Each President will play a home-and-away with each President from the "other" Conference (21 Presidents for 42 games), two home-and-away with each President in his own "Conference" but different "Division" (14 Presidents for 56 games), and four home-and-away with each President in his own "Division" (6 Presidents for 48 games), for a total of 146 games. This will play out in a fashion similar to the Major League Baseball season.

If you find this intriguing, just check back every so often and have a look. If it bores you, you may simply ignore any title which refers to MLP or "Major League Presidents".


Making the Grade 2007

George W. Bush, in my opinion, has done a fine job as President, certainly top ten in terms of meeting his duties of the office and accomplishing the most important jobs. Some folks would agree with me, though to a different degree, while others would disagree with me. And some brain-dead vipers would be so consumed by their hatred of Dubya, that they would be unable to accept even the slightest of his successes.

Why mention this? Those people who have known me for years, know that every so often I like to compare Presidents in ranks, usually by a form of competition. And as the NCAA Basketball Tournaments wind down, my mind has once again found itself pondering POTUS match-ups. I do not intend to inflict that condition on anyone unasked, which is to say I will have the competition up on Stolen Thunder later this spring, but for now I am simply asking the reader, once again, to consider what it is that makes a President a failure or success.

The test is not one of popularity. I like whom I like, but that proves nothing in any objective sense. And it should be obvious that politicians in general seek to do what will make them popular, which is one serious reason why significant challenges go unanswered for so long – it takes real guts to try to address what has no easy answer, what does not promise immediate rewards, and which can usually only succeed where the leader in charge is selfless and humble to a degree scarcely found in people who run for elected office.

I would also say that accomplishments are not of even weight. A good President will understand that what solves the day’s problems is not as good an answer as one which solves threats to the generation. This is one reason why Reagan is properly acknowledged as so much greater a President than many who came before him; his actions – though controversial at the time – strengthened America and advanced her interests far beyond the moment. This is also why Clinton’s legacy will stand against him – he sought what worked for the season, never considering long-term effects of his decisions.

What I am throwing out for today, is discussion about which five Presidents you think have done the best job (let’s leave off failures for this discussion) and why, and then note which people today seem to have the most qualities in common with the great Presidents. If you see no such contender worthy of comparison, please note what you think might be useful in bringing such a person to consideration. This could be a useful tool is helping filter the dreck from the quality candidate, and less than a year from the primaries, such an exercise could be vital for both parties.