Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Somewhere, Andrew Johnson Is Thankful That He Is No Longer the Worst

Until perhaps now, the worst president in the history of the United States has to have been President Andrew Johnson.  No one else has managed to reach the same reverse Midas touch (everything he touches turns to name something foul and offensive) ineptness shown by Andrew Johnson . . . again, until perhaps now.

As a president, Johnson deserves his fate.  As a man, he deserves some slack.  The nation would have never elected Johnson to this office on his own merits.  He was an aggressive, sometimes drunken, angry man bearing not chips, but full grown redwood trees on his shoulders.  Johnson was useful as a Southern Democrat in the US Senate who hated secession and everyone associated with it.

Johnson tried to follow what he assumed Lincoln's policy would be.  But he lacked Lincoln's disarming diplomatic style.  His intellect paled in comparison, also.  Most importantly, Lincoln earned more political capital than any president since Washington by winning the Civil War.  He would have had to spend all of it and test his leadership abilities to their limit to implement his Reconstruction plan and make sure the South abided.  Johnson had no such capital and no such abilities.

His suspicious and angry nature alienated moderate Republicans who had been eager to assist and even defend him against Radicals who sought full punishment for the costs of secession.  The Democratic Party remained too tainted with the recent Rebellion to have given him substantial backing.

Johnson and Obama have many differences.  One grew up in rural poverty, the other in urban comfort.  But many similarities link them.  They both saw themselves as the moral center of events.  This created trouble for both because they could not understand that others may disagree for completely honest reasons.

Johnson, on Washington's Birthday no less, savaged his House Republican opponents.   He accused Thaddeus Stevens, among others, for preventing the reconciliation of the country.  "I do not intend to be bullied by my enemies!" he shouted.  Obama, too has played the morally righteous victim, attacked by unreasonable opponents.

Both men relied on shrinking circles of trusted advisers.  Obama has few, other than Valerie Jarrett, at this point after starting off with the capable Rahm Emmanuel and Robert Gibbs.  Johnson lost most of his Cabinet outside of the increasingly moderate secretary of state William Seward.  Seward had a relatively free hand and gave Johnson one of his few accomplishments, the purchase of Alaska.

Johnson's political influence did not hit its nadir in fall of 1866, even though he invested two weeks into speeches backing Democratic candidates.  Those who allowed him to speak in their support found he was little help.  Radical Republicans won big in the midterms that year and the nation repudiated Johnson.  In 2014, most Democratic candidates avoid Obama.  Allison Grimes of Kentucky hopes to build support for her Senate race against Republican Mitch McConnell by attacking the president.

And both men broke the law.  Historians generally agree that the Tenure of Office Act was a trap laid out in the open by Republicans hoping to catch Johnson committing "high crimes and misdemeanors." they impeached, but failed to remove him.  The odium of violating the law and facing a Senate trial ended whatever influence Johnson had left.

Obama last week violated a more important federal law.  He turned five terrorist leaders and strategists back over to the enemy for a Marine who may have been at best a deserter, at worst a traitor. The law requires that any terrorists released from Guantanamo Bay come after consultation with Congress and 30 days for discussion. Obama failed to follow the law, then allowed his National Security Adviser to claim the enemy captured him on the battlefield, which was far from the case. The Taliban must know that if these men plan and execute an attack that harms Americans, that it will spark a Constitutional crisis and the likely impeachment of the president.

Democrats seem to have found their breaking point.  Senator Diane Feinstein was livid in her denunciation.  This comes on top of the Veterans' Affairs scandal and the War on Coal regulations that provoked open rebellion from Senator Joe Manchin and Congressman Nick Rahall.  Obamacare's many failures and burdens on working Americans already define his presidency. Clinton will try to separate herself from the president and his policy, but will not have much success.

Johnson with his flawed personality and good intentions sank his own presidency.   He failed in everything that he tried, but Andrew Johnson did not make the country substantially worse off than when he took office. Obama's values and beliefs have underlain every policy decision that he has made, foreign and domestic.  The utter wrongness of those ideas has put the nation and the world in a much worse position

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