Wednesday, December 14, 2005

RETARDO's Skeptic's Guide To American Presidents (III)

Because Jenna asked for it, even if she didn't fill out the necessary paperwork.

Part I & Part II of the series.

Benjamin Harrison: A bland non-entity. Grandson of another non-entity President who at least had the good graces to croak only a few months into office. From Indiana, where he killed Indians, cheered Peyton Manning, and listened to John Cougar Mellencamp. An electoral college President, which means his Administration, like several others, existed as a middle finger in the face of true democracy.

Grover Cleveland: Not him again! Ugh. Okay, you could go back to the other Cleveland entry, but why? The second Cleveland was actually a clone of the first, manufactured as a human-alien hybrid by our insect overlords. This Cleveland went on to have cancer of the mouth, which was removed, while he was President, in a dangerous procedure Cleveland didn't tell anyone about. That he had cancer goes without saying, since he smoked many a fine cigar. And ate live puppies, too, which everyone knows are carcinogens. Okay, I'm kidding about the cigars. But I'm serious about Cleveland's cancer. And the puppies.

William McKinley: Now we're getting to the truly awful Presidents. McKinley's rise and rule are the most compelling historical analogues for the machinations of our current Dear Leader. McKinley was our first openly corporate President, into whose campaign was funneled a then record amount of plutocrat money, ably managed by one Mark Hanna. Of course we take for granted the buying of Presidents now, and the McKinley model of legalised corporate bribery is so status quo it's now refered to with a straight face as "free speech," but back then it was a new and bold thing.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. The President had little public charm, wasn't terribly bright, had a mousy wife, was a bit of a (protestant) religious nut, was managed by the most able and ruthless political manager of his day, was an open toady of corporate interests, had the press deep in his pocket, and pandered to the basest urges (jingoism, racism, white man's burden, sectarianism) of the electorate.

Spooky, huh? That's not all. McKinley was surrounded by a cabal of elitist, rabidly imperialist fucktards. Though it would gravely insult the legitimately intelligent men who comprised McKinley's cabal to call them neocons, that's absolutely the proper analogue. You just have to allow for a certain sort of political entropy -- everything and everyone gets stupider over time. But still, Alfred Thayer Mahan's and Brooks Adams's theses look awfully like the more intelligent, better written 19th century versions of PNAC.

Back then the prize was not middle eastern oil, but the markets and coal fields of China. Coal was the object of the Brzezinskian geostrategy of that era. And libertarians like to tell us that technology solves all; hah, it just transplants misery to other areas. Anyway, the other important and related issue was the projection of American power. PNAC for the late Gilded Age.

There was also a creepy bit of Tom Friedmanism to the whole enterprise. Everything in Brooks Adams's work is for the aim of America getting cheaper, faster, better, richer and damn the human consequences. "Free Trade" at the end of a gun barrel.

For extra domestic help, and for a friendly competition on who could be the most jingoistic, McKinley's goons even had a token Democrat ideologically on board, Mr. Beveridge of Indiana: McKinley's own Joe Lieberman.

The McKinleycons decided America simply must have a foothold in Asia. But where? And how? Well, wait for an unrelated crisis, and use it as an excuse. (Nothing is new under the sun.) Sure enough, they got one. The Maine blew up in Havana harbor... and Cuba was then Spain's imperial possession. We must liberate them! It's only a coincidence that Spain also owns the Philippines! After having great bloodletting fun ("Gridley, you may fire when ready" was famously, smirkingly uttered by our Admiral) in Manila Bay with the terribly inferior Spanish fleet (we lost like, 8 men compared hundreds of Spanish casualities), McKinleycons got our Asian foothold. Promptly welching on the deal struck with the native Filipinos, McKinleycons decided that, no, they weren't going to allow self-determination, much less independence. The Filipinos, see, were too irresponsible to allow that. They must be democratized Americanized! Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The Filipinos, sensibly, went into rebellion.

What happened then? Well, America invented neat new methods of torture. American waterboarding then was not Charles Krauthammer's cherished version we employ today. It consisted of filling a victim's stomach full of water, then placing a board over his gut, then stomping on the board. We Americans are exceptionally moral, remember, as the rightwing constantly tells us. But that's not all. We then rehearsed for the great "kill the gooks" racist crusade of Vietnam by "mopping up" villages of men women and children throughout the Phillipines, but especially in the areas controlled by the Moros tribe. Of course we didn't count the victims, but all serious scholarly studies since then count a number plenty high enough to qualify as genocide. Remember, kids, this is one of Max Boot's beloved "Savage Wars of Peace."

Anyway, McKinley, last of the Presidents to have served in the Civil War, put a benign face on all this carnage. But karma remembered his crimes; he was assassinated in a rather nifty way (through a fake arm bandage) by a deranged anarchist in Buffalo. Which leads us to...

Theodore Roosevelt: The Bull Moose who was a Jackass. A macho pretender, but a war-lover like no other. I don't know if Alfred Adler ever studied Roosevelt, but he should have. No other President had such an obvious inferiority complex, or such an overcompensation reflex. Of course this is what makes monsters, and Teddy Roosevelt was a monster of a jingo, hence his continuing allure to the rightwing.

Roosevelt grew up as a sheltered, foppish, spoiled nerd. A prig. A dork. Seriously, what a Poindexter: he had the thick glasses, the annoyingly precise speech patterns, the high shill voice, the buck teeth, the tedious hobbies, and the frail frame. It's really too bad that Star Trek hadn't been invented yet. Anyway, this would not do. Eventually, he became quite robust. Less charitably, he was a fatty. He became a sports maniac. He shot every animal he could, including bear cubs. Since we are a stupid society, we promptly named the plush, stuffed bear toys we give to children "Teddy Bears." But Roosevelt didn't stop at animals.

One thing Roosevelt could never be called is a chickenhawk. Unfortunately he was something even worse, a neurotic nitwit who felt constantly compelled to test his own physical courage and that of others. He had to find a crusade, a war, a cause. Oh, here's one: the white man's burden! A more dedicated racist than Charles Murray, a more bloodlusting imperialist than Max Boot, a more sectarian bigot than William Donohue, Roosevelt promply became the ultimate menace to Latin America and Asia, rationalising it on the Glenn Reynolds grounds that, "what was good for the Native Americans.."

Roosevelt gets some credit, some of it undue, for being a domestic reformer. But always be wary of who is doing this sort of praising. Roosevelt was indeed a genius at reform, but a devious one. He was sincere enough to make much of his party wary, but not sincere enough to avoid being bought himself. Ultimately, Roosevelt nipped reform in the bud by coopting it. He alone among Repugs realised that, if they didn't concede something (this was the era of sweatshop fires, child labor, daily mine collapses, federal troops under the command of Robber Barons ordered to shoot strikers etc: in other words, a libertarian's paradise in which the poor only existed to be consumed in the furnace of industy, then disposed of when industry desired), the whole plutocrat scheme might fall. Can't have that. Early in his career he voted against the interests of his class, and was branded a traitor. Yet he made up for it by endorsing some of the slimiest of the Republican Establishment. His schtick was to be reformer enough to be liked by the masses, but carefully be a suck-up and often anti-reform behind the scenes. But there were times when even a pseudoreformer could lose all patience. He alone, in his office, had force majeure enough to be able to get away with shaking his fist in J.P. Morgan's face, angered at the Robber Baron's recalcitrance. Eventually Roosevelt got his way -- enough that some, like Mr. Frick of U.S. Steel, wailed with betrayal that "Roosevelt was bought but didn't stay bought!" The Robber Barons had to concede some; that, yes, as a species they were a cancer on humanity, and that it couldn't go on quite like it was; but in the end they got to keep most everything, and do (to others, treated like so much human cattle) what they wanted.

TR was sincere, and is to be praised, in one important regard. He really was concerned with the environment. He wasn't quite John Muir or William O. Douglas, but for his time and place -- and especially considering what kind of people he came from -- he was fine.

William Howard Taft: Super fatty! A much nicer person than his predecessor, but also more reactionary. He promptly sabotaged the already inadequate reforms TR had instituted, regarding them as too radical. Seems like he had to have a special bathtub installed in the White House; the standard tub wasn't big enough. Not at all charmless, but shy, not comfortable or effective in public. Made his name as viceroy in the Philippines. Was later Chief Justice of a typically reactionary Supreme Court.

Woodrow Wilson: Worst President with regard to racial matters in the period between Buchanan and Nixon. The original "Bubble Boy" President, though by no fault of his own: had a stroke that debilitated him; wife and staff were de facto Presidents. But he was a terrible, terrible President all on his own. Terrible; the guy you want to go back and murder if you have a time machine.

Warren Harding: Crappy, but not as much as some would have you believe. Was put in office by cynical and corrupt forces, but then he was Republican and that is their way. The "sabotaged by his friends" excuse actually can apply to Harding without inspiring derisive laughter: he, unlike Grant, really was stupid and trusting. Like Grant, his friends were audaciously corrupt; they stole everything they could get their hands on. Bear in mind, however, that this sort of kickbacks-style corruption is chickenfeed compared to the kind that goes on now, and in both parties (though the Repugs are, naturally, the worst).

Harding was a force for good in that he was genuinely a uniter not a divider. Woodrow Wilson and his Attorney General had, with Ashcroftian zeal, locked up (or deported) every political enemy they could, most of them, naturally, being to their Left. Harding freed them, when he didn't have to. Even more importantly, Harding did what no modern Republican would ever do: he demilitarised, signed arms-control (actually, naval, but same difference) treaties, thwarted the military-industrial complex which had raised a huge stink with its WWI profiteering.

Calvin Coolidge: Gnomish, sanctimonious, annoying yet deeply deeply boring. Read this.


I know this isn't eleven, but it'll have to do for now. As usual, the same caveat applies as to the rest of the series: I didnt look up anything, all this is off the top of my head, and if I made any mistakes they are absolutely your fault.