This is a two part question: In the 1976 Republican Primaries , after Ford barely beat Reagan, why did he not select him as his VP? I understand they weren't necessarily fond of each other, but wouldn't having Reagan as his VP would've almost guaranteed Ford being re-elected. Also, is it true that after his loss in the 1976 election, Ford was deeply depressed and almost suicidal?
Even though Reagan came close to beating out President Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976, he continued to focus on becoming President and I think Reagan would have seen the Vice Presidency as a major step in the wrong direction. If Ford had asked Reagan to be his running mate, I don’t think Reagan would have accepted. I don’t think Nancy would have allowed him to. Nothing could be gained for Reagan by serving as Ford’s running mate. The Vice Presidency was finally gaining influence and significance in the 1970s, but it wouldn’t have done anything to actually further Reagan’s Presidential prospects.
A Ford/Reagan ticket might have resulted in a victory, but Reagan wouldn’t really gain anything from that, either. Ford wouldn’t have been able to run for re-election in 1980 because of the 22nd Amendment (Ford had served more than two years of Richard Nixon’s unexpired term, so he would have been ineligible to be elected again had he won in 1976). But if Ford and Reagan had been elected together in 1976 and the Ford had a rough four years in office, Reagan would have been intimately connected with that Administration, giving his potential 1980 opponent something to strongly use to campaign against him with. He would have been pegged as the successor or as the continuation of that hypothetical Ford Administration. Anything like that would have been a huge risk for Reagan because part of the reason he challenged Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976 (besides believing that Ford wasn’t Conservative enough) was that Reagan was already 65 years old. In 1976! He was older than Nixon and Ford and a full six years older than John F. Kennedy. People forget about that — Reagan was worried, even in the 1970s, about whether his age would be an issue. Even if he had beaten Ford out for the GOP nomination in 1976 and been elected that year, Reagan would have been the second-oldest President ever inaugurated — and that was a full four years before he actually be did become President!
More than anything else, though, President Ford was pissed off in 1976 by the fact that Reagan challenged him (Ford), an incumbent President of the same party, and required Ford to expend energy and much-needed campaign funds just to get a nomination that is usually an automatic for an incumbent President. When Reagan notified Ford that he was going to seek the nomination that year, Reagan said he hoped it wouldn’t be divisive and Ford responded, “How can you challenge an incumbent President of your own party and not be divisive?”. The Ford/Reagan battle in the 1976 primaries really hurt Ford more than anything — even more than Ford’s controversial pardon of Richard Nixon or Ford’s big mistake in the second Presidential debate with Jimmy Carter when he stumbled and suggested that there was not Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. But the GOP primary battle allowed Carter to begin the general campaign with a huge lead over Ford and Ford came extraordinarily close to closing that gap and winning the election — with another week of campaigning, he likely would have beaten Carter. Ford genuinely believed that Reagan (and Reagan’s advisers) were to blame for the fact that Ford had to fight from so far behind against Carter. In interviews embargoed until after his death, Ford admitted, “It burned the hell out of me that I got the diversion from Reagan that caused me to spend an abnormal part of my time trying to round up individual delegates and to raise money.” Ford was also bothered by the fact that even after Ford clinched the Republican nomination, Reagan did very little to help him out during the general election. Recognizing that the focus of Reagan and his team immediately turned towards 1980 following the 1976 Republican National Convention, Ford said, “They didn’t give a damn whether I won or not because they were already planning to run in 1980.”
Gerald Ford was, by all accounts, one of the most good-natured, mild-mannered, polite, reasonable, and loyal politicians in American history. That’s one of the reasons that Congressional Democrats all but demanded that Nixon nominate Ford to fill the vacancy caused by Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation in 1973. Ford also knew that he needed a more Conservative running mate in 1976 because he and the Vice President that he had appointed, Nelson Rockefeller, were too moderate for his increasingly Conservative party. Ford dumped Rockefeller in favor of the more appealing (to the far right of the GOP) Bob Dole and, later in life, frequently mentioned that the biggest regret of his life was dumping Rockefeller from the 1976 ticket — not because of any disrespect towards Senator Dole, but because Rockefeller had served him well and Ford was ashamed that he had pandered so much in taking that action. But before he chose Bob Dole at the 1976 Republican National Convention, many Republicans pushed for Ford to choose Reagan as his VP and there was nothing mild-mannered or good-natured about President Ford’s response. When Reagan’s name was mentioned, he bluntly said, “Absolutely not. I don’t want anything to do with that son-of-a-bitch.”
So, to answer the rest of your question, yes, Ford likely would have been re-elected if Reagan had been his running mate. However, he likely would have been re-elected if Reagan hadn’t forced him to spend the spring of 1976 fighting for the Republican nomination even though he was the incumbent President.
And, yes, Ford was extremely depressed about losing the 1976 election, but he wasn’t suicidal. It was an understandably devastating defeat — George H.W. Bush has spoken of how devastated he was, too, upon losing the 1992 election to Bill Clinton. General Colin Powell recalled a conversation with Bush at Camp David after the 1992 election where Bush 41 was nearly in tears while telling General Powell, “Colin, it hurts. It really hurts. I just never thought they’d elect him.” It’s an unimaginable sadness for anyone who hasn’t actually been the most powerful person in the world and then had hundreds of millions of people decide, “No, we don’t want you anymore.” But Ford was not suicidal. Some people have suggested that he was in a dark place because it was his wife, Betty, who read Ford’s concession speech in 1976, but in actuality, Ford had been making non-stop campaign swings during the last days and hours of the ‘76 campaign and had completely lost his voice, so that’s why Betty Ford gave the speech as he stood nearby.
I just want to say that I picked up Shooting Victoria at the library based on your review and I'm finding it to be the most interesting book! I'm only on chapter 4, but I've learned a lot already. Thanks for recommending it.
I would also recommend checking out another book on a similar subject and from pretty much the same era — Why Spencer Perceval Had To Die, (BOOK | KINDLE) Andro Linklater’s book about the only assassination of a British Prime Minister, which took place in the lobby of Parliament in 1812.
I agree that a population of 40 million people is probably way too unwieldy for a single state government to handle effectively, but there are so many impracticalities about partitioning California into six different states that I just can’t see it happening. I’m guessing that this question came because an advocate for the six-state partition was on Stephen Colbert’s show recently, but I’ve written about this debate previously, so I’m going to repost some of that because it goes a little deeper into my thoughts on the issue and highlights the major sticking points on partition:
Culturally, California has five or six distinct regions and there have been secessionist movements within the state since the time it became a territory of the United States. Around the time of the Civil War, Californians overwhelmingly lobbied for the state to be split in two, but the federal government had its hands tied with trying to hold the country together and the California split wasn’t given serious consideration in Washington. Those five or six distinct regions of California have different reasons for wanting to split into their own states. Some (the extreme counties of Northern California near the Oregon border along with the Northern California coast) feel so far removed from the rest of the state politically end economically that they see themselves as shut off from the state government apparatus. The citizens of the region of California that has long tried to form a separate state called “Jefferson” feel that Southern California is as foreign to them as Canada is. Among other reasons that Californians support partition are the constant battle over water resources between Northern California and Southern California and the fact that the Sierra counties, Desert counties, and even some of the agricultural centers of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valleys feel either underrepresented in state government or simply out-muscled by the major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, and Sacramento.
Do I think it’s a good idea? I don’t think the proposal to partition California into six different states is a good idea because it’s simply not feasible.In order for an idea to be good (in my opinion), it must be possible. The six-state partition is just not going to happen — how will California’s natural resources be divvied up? How will water be allocated? Where do the prisoners which severely overcrowd every single prison in the state go to?— the nearest facility to where the crime was committed?; the facility that they are currently incarcerated?; who foots the bill for the prison facilities?
But, with that said, there would be benefits to partitioning California into two states — Northern and Southern California. Already, the two halves of the state are about as different as two regions within one state can be. Californians already identify themselves by the section of the state they are from. Infrastructure is in place that would allow the two parts of the state to split somewhat equally in every area except water allocation (Southern California needs water from Northern California to survive, that’s a fact). Some of the same issues involved in a six-state partition remain, but the solutions aren’t quite as daunting if California is split in two. Why even consider splitting the state into two after over 160 years of statehood? Well, California is home to nearly 40 million citizens and, quite frankly, that’s probably way too many people for one centralized state government to effectively manage. I think that’s one of the problems that the state has faced over the past 30 years — the population is just too unwieldy. California has the area, the population, and the economic base of a large, wealthy foreign country. Yet, one state government is charged with administering California — no different, really, than the state government system in a place like Wyoming which has a fraction of the population. The population growth in California isn’t slowing down anytime soon — can the already creaky government apparatus in Sacramento keep up with the pace and continue managing the whole state? Indications from the last three decades do not inspire optimism.
Will partition of California ever happen? I doubt it. The water allocation issue itself will probably dynamite any serious discussions about it. Plus, California can’t even figure out a way forward with building high-speed rail — a sure-fire investment in the state’s future which would create jobs, change the nature of travel within the state, and likely have significant positive impacts on the environment and economy. If the state can’t deliver on a slam-dunk like high-speed rail, I doubt California will ever be able to deliver on splitting the state into two, let alone partitioning it into six new states.
Hi just followed too. You were on the featured blogs page. Tho I'm not particularly political, I get my world news from npr, I'm fond of democracy and adore history. Look forward to following this blog.
Thanks for checking my site out! I was just surprised because I usually get a few new followers every day, but I hadn’t been on Tumblr at all today and once I did, I noticed that I’m now closing in on 1,000 new followers in one day and had no idea what happened.
Anyway, thanks for following, and I hope that I don’t disappoint!
so now you're on the front lines of the liberal overreaction to this supposed "war on women"?
I’m on the frontlines of any battle against injustice. I always have been, and I always will be. I’ll fight against injustice and bleed to ensure that every human — female, male, child, Batman…whoever — is treated equally and presented every opportunity that everyone else deserves, whether they are rich or poor or dead center in the middle class. Inequality and injustice are violations of incredibly basic human rights, and last time I checked, our country, despite many decades of pitfalls, is supposedly on the side of equality for all, no matter who they are, where they are born, what gender they do or do not identify as, what religion they believe in or do not choose to accept into their lives, what the color of their skin is, what accent their tongues speak, and who it is that they choose to fall in love with. Any time that anybody denies another human being the equal rights that they deserve on account of being born a human being, there is an injustice that needs to be corrected. I don’t know how to fix our societal failures, but none of us should rest until we do because a restraint on one person’s human rights is an invitation to infringe on all of our human rights.
The last time I checked, this was the United States of America, and we have some major faults, but until we change our country’s name to the Loosely-United-States-of-Intolerant-Americans-Unwilling-to-Accept-That-Personality-Differences-Don’t-Abrogate-the-Fact-That-We’re-Still-All-Created-Equal, it will remain our duty to fight against injustice, inequality, and intolerance. Right now, we do it with words and with #hashtag activism, but someday we’ll need to go beyond social media and become true warriors and engage in direct action on behalf of true equality.
Why do you think Democrats and Liberals have been able to convince women and others that there is a "War on Women"?
Because if there isn’t a war on women, there is a concerted effort to dismiss the independence of women by challenging their ability to make choices about their own lives and health, there is a blatant ignorance of what women’s rights truly means and the daily threats women face just by leaving their homes, there is widespread income inequality in the professional world between men and women, there are several hundred years of judicial decisions that ignore their effect on women, and a disturbing lack of understanding of the fact that just because men and women are different sexes doesn’t mean they are different species, and that human rights apply to all humans. Yes, all humans.
As for the Presidents who were least suited to do the job, in most cases those Presidents entered office with better resumes than anyone else serving in the Executive Branch. On paper, Presidents like John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, and William Howard Taft seemingly had more experience in more important positions than nearly all of their predecessors and successors. Unfortunately, you can’t govern a nation on paper or potential, and those highly-qualified leaders found that their personalities were not suited for the job of President of the United States.
Do you think would have made a better Speaker then McCormack or Albert? And if he did become Speaker, would Nixon still appoint him VP (as resigning would have the same result), or appoint someone else (like say turncoat Democrat John Connally)?
I’m guessing that you meant to include Gerald Ford as the subject of your questions. Ford was the House Minority Leader from 1965 until 1973, and his main ambition throughout his political career was to serve as Speaker of the House. Ford loved serving in the House of Representatives and had never set his sights on the Presidency. It wasn’t until he had succeeded Richard Nixon following Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and decided that he wanted to be elected President in his own right that the Presidency ever became a goal of his.
Unfortunately for Ford, the opportunity to become Speaker of the House never presented itself because his party was in the minority for nearly every day of his Congressional career. He spent nearly a quarter-century in Congress, but the Republicans only controlled the House for two of those years — during the 83rd Congress (1953-1955), which was quite early in Ford’s Congressional career. By 1973, when Ford was appointed to fill the Vice Presidential vacancy resulting from Spiro Agnew’s resignation, he had all but given up his hopes of eventually becoming Speaker. In fact, Ford had made up his mind to seek re-election just one more time (in 1974), retire when his final Congressional term ended (in January 1977), and then enter the private sector to earn some money since he had been living off of his government salary for almost his entire adult life. If he had remained in Congress with the hope that the Republicans would finally gain a majority in the House and given him a path to the Speakership, Ford would have been waiting for a long time. The Republicans didn’t win control of the House of Representatives until 1994; by that time, Ford was 81 years old and it had been 40 years since the GOP had last won a majority in the House.
Would Ford have been a better Speaker of the House than John W. McCormack (Speaker from 1962-1971) and Carl Albert (Speaker from 1971-1977)? Yes, I think he would have. McCormack was quite old when he became Speaker following Sam Rayburn’s death in 1962, and he was far less dynamic and active than Rayburn was. Albert was a stronger Speaker of the House than McCormack was, but I think Ford would have shined as Speaker. Few members of Congress had the personal touch and solid connections (with members from both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress) possessed by Gerald Ford. After nearly 25 years in the House, Ford was also an expert on the ebbs and flows of Congress, the legislative process, and parliamentary procedure. Ford was also — like Lyndon Johnson — extremely knowledgeable about individual Congressional districts and understanding of the unique challenges that each member of Congress faced when voting for or against certain pieces of legislation. Each bill affects different Congressmen in different ways and Ford recognized the importance of that when it came time to cast votes. The best Congressional leaders (and best Presidents trying to pass legislation) have that at the forefront of their mind and will use that knowledge to help members of Congress who find themselves in trouble after casting a vote which is unpopular with their constituents. That would have been a major strength of Ford’s if he had ever become Speaker.
I’m not sure if Nixon would still have appointed Ford to the Vice Presidency if he had been Speaker, but I don’t really see a reason why he wouldn’t. Ford might have been reluctant to accept the nomination as VP after finally winning the job he had always wanted, but I’m positive he would have eventually accepted the appointment because that’s just what you do when the President asks you to do something for your country.
What is important to remember is that President Nixon basically didn’t have a choice when it came to appointing someone to replace Spiro Agnew. You asked if I think Nixon would have tried to appoint someone like John Connally to fill the Vice Presidential vacancy if he hadn’t chosen Ford. In fact, Nixon did try to appoint Connally as Vice President, but VP nominees have to be confirmed by the Senate and the House and Democrats shot down any possibility that Connally, who had switched parties and become a Republican after years of rising through the political world as a Democrat. Although Connally was clearly Nixon’s first choice, he quickly recognized that he’d never win the confirmation battle and that he’d have to appoint someone else.
When Vice President Agnew resigned in October 1973, the Watergate scandal was already raging and new details seemed to emerge every day. Even at that point, impeachment and removal from office seemed to be a strong possibility. Because of that, it was clear that whomever Nixon appointed as Vice President could very well end up as President in the not-too-distant future. With that in mind and with significant Democratic majorities in the House and Senate (both chambers being required to confirm the VP nominee), Congress was not only in a position to “advise and consent”, but to basically dictate to Nixon which potential nominees would be confirmed. House Speaker Carl Albert would later admit that Congressional leaders gave Nixon no choice to appoint anyone other than Gerald Ford. Nixon was already in a battle for his political survival due to Watergate, so he was in no position to push back against Albert and nominate his own pick as President. Albert had made it clear that pretty much any other nominee would face a major fight in confirmation hearings and that, as Speaker, Albert could simply stall and keep Nixon’s nominee from even reaching the floor for a vote. That tactic would have opened up other worries for Nixon. If no Vice President had been confirmed and the Vice Presidency remained vacant, it was Speaker Albert who was next in line for the Presidency. If Nixon was removed from office or resigned, Albert, a Democrat, would have assumed a Presidency won by a Republican and been Acting President for nearly three years. Privately, Albert had no intention of maneuvering to become President himself, but the threat of it helped pressure Nixon into nominating Ford as Vice President, as Albert had urged. Ford was nominated just a few days after Agnew resigned in October 1973, was confirmed by both chambers of Congress, and took the oath of office to become Vice President on December 6, 1973. Eight months later he became President when Nixon resigned in the face of impeachment and almost certain removal from office.
What is involved(oath and ceremony wise) if there is ever a situation where the Speaker has to succeed the office of the President and Vice-President? Do they serve out the previous President's term or do they hold the office until there is a special election? Also, who would serve as the Vice President in that situation?
First of all, if one of the members of Congress in the Presidential line of succession (Speaker of the House or president pro tempore of the Senate) assumed office because of vacancies in the Presidency and Vice Presidency, they would have to resign their position in Congress before being sworn in as President or taking any Executive action as President.
That person would also have to meet the eligibility requirements for being President to assume the office. If, for some reason, that person didn’t meet the eligibility requirements — for example, let’s say the Speaker of the House was younger than 35 years old or had been born outside of the country — they cannot assume the office and it would pass to the next eligible person in the line of succession.
If there was no Speaker of the House or president pro tempore of the Senate, or if those two officials failed to qualify for the Presidency because they were Constitutionally ineligible, the Presidency would pass on to the next eligible person in the line of succession — members of the Cabinet in order of the date that their respective Department was established. While the Speaker and president pro tempore would have to resign their Congressional positions before taking the Presidential oath of office, any member of the Cabinet who assumes the Presidency would automatically resign their Cabinet position by the very act of taking the Presidential oath.
In both cases — whether it is one of the members of Congress or a member of the Cabinet who assumes the Presidency in the event of a Presidential and Vice Presidential vacancy — the new President would finish out the remainder of the vacated term.
Now, this is where it gets confusing — as if the line of succession and Constitutional eligibility for the Presidency isn’t confusing enough. Only the Vice President becomes President when assuming the office of the Presidency; Speakers of the House, presidents pro tempore of the Senate, and Cabinet members in the line of succession only become “Acting President”. It’s not entirely clear what that means since an “Acting President” has all of the powers and duties of an actual President of the United States, or a Vice President who succeeded to the Presidency upon a vacancy in the office. An “Acting President” can discharge any of the duties of the sitting President, so we don’t know for sure what the difference is — perhaps it’s as simple as the “Acting President” not being able to live in the White House. There’s just no precedent, just as there was no precedent for what happens when a President dies in office and a Vice President succeeds him. John Tyler’s actions when he succeeded William Henry Harrison in 1841 was followed by other Vice Presidents who followed him and eventually became the recognized process when it was codified in the 25th Amendment.
If there are vacancies in the Presidency and Vice Presidency and someone in the line of succession other than the VP assumes the office, they become “Acting President”, but there is still a vacancy in the Vice Presidency. Since that “Acting President” is invested with all the powers of the President and completes the term vacated by the President, it seems that they would be able to appoint a new Vice President (who would need to be confirmed by a majority vote in both chambers of Congress before becoming Vice President). However, a Cabinet member serving as “Acting President” can be bumped out of the position of “Acting President” if one of the Congressional leaders higher in the line of succession qualifies to become President. As an example, if there were vacancies in the offices of President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, and president pro tempore of the Senate, the person next-in-line to the Presidency would be the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State would become “Acting President”, but if a new House Speaker or president pro tempore of the Senate takes office, that person could “bump” the Secretary of State from being “Acting President” and take that position. Oddly enough, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 only allows Cabinet members serving as “Acting President” to be bumped and only by the Congressional leaders in the line of succession. The Speaker of the House and president pro tempore of the Senate can’t be bumped out of their position if they are “Acting President”, and the Speaker can’t even bump the president pro tempore if that person assumed the office when there was a vacancy in the Presidency, Vice Presidency, and Speakership. It’s not clear if that would apply to a newly-appointed Vice President who was nominated to fill the Vice Presidential vacancy by an “Acting President”, but it’s possible that a Vice President — technically the president of the Senate — could also bump a Cabinet member. It is very confusing, and could be the source of a serious Constitutional crisis if we ever were in the difficult position of having someone lower than the VP on the line of succession assume the Presidency. Many Constitutional scholars believe that there are separation of powers issues with the idea of Congressional leaders in the line of succession being able to bump Cabinet officials serving as “Acting President”.
A couple of other issues with Presidential succession/Acting Presidents also stem from the 1947 Presidential Succession Act. The Constitution allows someone to hold two Executive Branch offices simultaneously (for an example, the Secretary of State can actually serve as Vice President), but the 1947 law explicitly prohibits a Cabinet official from holding on to their position while serving as “Acting President”. Another question mark surrounds the eligibility of certain Cabinet secretaries to assume the Presidency. The 1947 law prohibits any Cabinet members who were recess appointments from becoming “Acting President”. Also, what happens if there is a vacancy in a Cabinet position. If there is a vacancy in the position of Secretary of State, does the Presidency fall to the next person in the line of succession — the Treasury Secretary — or is the Deputy Secretary of State next in line. The 1947 law only states that the Cabinet member has to be confirmed by the Senate (technically, “appointed by the advice and consent of the Senate”), Deputy Secretaries are usually confirmed by the Senate, and if the position of Secretary is vacant, Deputy Secretaries frequently head Executive Branch Departments as “Acting Secretary” until a new Secretary if appointed and confirmed. Deputies serving as Department heads when there are vacant Secretary posts are usually considered to be in the line of succession by the White House in continuity of government exercises. But with that in mind, how many deputies does each Executive Branch Department go through before the Presidency passes on to the next Cabinet Secretary? These are the things that keep me up at night — the weird little Constitutional what-ifs. Fortunately, it’s extremely doubtful that anyone other than the Vice President will ever have to assume the Presidency, and if it got to the point where there were vacancies at the positions of President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, and president pro tempore of the Senate, we’d be so worried by whatever was happening that any familiar face taking charge would be a welcome site.
“I assert there is no ex-President in this case. I am here to discharge the sworn duties of my profession as I see them. If the people of this country have seen cause to honor me, it is no reason why I should not appear in the capacity of counselor nor a reason why I should be driven from this court.”—
Richmond, Indiana, 1895
Defending the right of an ex-President to serve as private legal counsel during the trial of James Morrison
If LBJ were suddenly resurrected from the dead and went to Congress to give a speech after seeing what they have behaved like since his death-particularly in the past decade or two-what would he say?
Publicly, he would have said something courteous and civil and then probably would have tried to motivate Congress by telling them that he understands how hard their job is and remind them that he spent more time as the Senate Majority Leader than he did as President. Publicly, he would have mentioned that he saw the issues from both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue and urged everyone to go to work on behalf of the American people with one of his favorite Biblical phrases, “Come, let us reason together.” That’s what he would say publicly.
Then, he would address the Democratic and Republican Caucuses privately and give them the kicks in the asses that they need. He’d be on the phone 24/7, begging and threatening members of Congress to get things done, and he’d not only know each member of Congress personally, but he’d know each of their districts and constituencies better than most of the members of Congress knew them. He’d know what the members needed back home and he’d know how to beat them if he needed to. The private LBJ wouldn’t sound very Presidential, but he’d be doing the most Presidential thing possible — actually being President and getting shit done.
If you could have dinner with any three politicians or world leaders who are alive today who would you pick? It can be any current or former leader but the only rule is that the person still has to be alive right now so it can't be Abe Lincoln.
“Say to Mr. Lincoln from me that I shall at any time be pleased to receive proposals for peace on the basis of our [Confederate] Independence. It will be useless to approach me with any other.”—Confederate President Jefferson Davis, to Northern emissaries during the Civil War, July 1864.
“He was not executive in his talents — not original, not firm, not a moral force. He leaned on others — could not face a frowning world; his habits suffered from Washington life. His course at various times when trouble came betrayed weakness.”—Rutherford B. Hayes, on his successor, James Garfield, 1883.
I'm kind of intrigued that you read Owen's No Easy Day. Any particular thoughts?
I’ve probably read at least six or seven different books about how Osama bin Laden was killed and some of them have been really good, some have been really bad, and some have seemed to be nothing more than the exact same details we learned from news reports put into the form of a book.
No Easy Day:The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden(BOOK | KINDLE) is notable because the author Mark Owen (aka Mark Bissonnette) was involved in the mission that killed bin Laden. That is certainly a unique viewpoint, but to be honest, that’s the only reason I found No Easy Day to be interesting. I can’t say that I’d recommend purchasing the book, but since Wal-Mart always seems to have 6,000 copies, next time you’re in one of their stores, you should drop by the magazine aisle and read the 3 or 4 pages that really focus on the Abbottabad raid.
There are two books that I would recommend for those who might be interested in the reading about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as well as putting the mission in context with either the hunt for bin Laden or bin Laden’s role in becoming leader of al-Qaeda and Public Enemy #1.
First and foremost, I would suggest Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad (BOOK | KINDLE) by Peter Bergen, who is no relation to me, but who is the journalist who actually scored a face-to-face interview with Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. It’s extremely interesting and frightening to read Bergen (again, no relation) give his account of that interview and how bin Laden seemed soft-spoken and polite and even had a kindly nature, but when bin Laden’s words were translated he was declaring war on the United States and warning Americans that his organization would make no distinction between civilian and military targets in their jihad against U.S. interests.
Just so everyone knows, my question about the Confederacy having a showtune for an anthem was entirely tongue-in-cheek.
I’m glad you cleared that up so that there weren’t people knocking on the doors of 300 million Americans trying to figure out who anonymously made a joking comment about a song that was never “officially” declared as a national anthem for a country that died nearly 150 years ago on a blog that not very many people have even heard about.
I think we’ve saved a lot of people a lot of trouble, person-who-asked-that-question-about-the-Confederacy-but-might-not-really-be-the-person-who-asked-that-question-since-both-your-question-and-this-message-were-completely-anonymous.
Who is your favorite Adams? Henry, John Quincy, or John?
My favorite Adams is actually Henry Adams, grandson of John Quincy and great-grandson of John, who was homies with John Hay and wrote one of the greatest and most pretentious autobiographies of all-time, The Education of Henry Adams (BOOK | KINDLE).
But of the two Presidents, I am a fan of both of them, but I probably love John Quincy a little bit more than I love his father.
…but Bryan Cranston is going to reprise his role of LBJ from Broadway’s “All The Way” in an HBO version of the play, so if World War III doesn’t kill us all before then, that should be a nice distraction.
Do we know if folks worried about the Constitutional crisis that would have occurred if Madison had died in office? (Considering what happened with Tyler, it would have been a nightmare, right?) When and how did the order of succession we now have come to be? I guess someone thought about it as they had the president pro tempore and speaker in the lineup, right? What do you think might have happened had Madison died in office, or A. Johnson missed that 1 vote (and there was no VP)?
Well, the first time that any Presidential line of succession was established was in 1792, three years after the Presidency began, so there was a process in place in the case of Presidential and Vice Presidential vacancies. It hadn’t been tested (and still hasn’t), but the succession of a Vice President to the Presidency also hadn’t been tested until William Henry Harrison died and John Tyler assumed the office.
From 1792 until 1886, the line of succession looked like this: •President •Vice President •President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate •Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
In 1886, a new Presidential Succession Act was passed and it replaced the members of Congress with Executive Branch officials in the line of succession. From 1886 until 1947, the line of succession looked like this: •President •Vice President •Members of the Cabinet in order of each Deparment’s founding, with Secretary of State being next in the line of succession after the Vice President.
The 1947 Presidential Succession Act again updated the line of succession, reinstating members of Congress in the line, but with the places of president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House switching places from where they stood in the order of succession from 1792 to 1886. After the 1947 Presidential Succession (which is a mess — there are tons of Constitutional inconsistencies and worrisome aspects in the 1947 Presidential Succession Act), the line of succession became what it is today: •President •Vice President •Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives •President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate
So, there was a safety net in place in each of those instances where there have been Vice Presidential vacancies (as I’ve mentioned before, the Vice Presidency has been vacant for a shocking 37 years of its history and there was no mechanism in place for appointing someone to fill a Vice Presidential vacancy until 1967). Still, there would have been Constitutional issues — even if its just a test to see whether certain successions would be upheld — if someone further down in the line of succession than the Vice President had to assume the Presidency. Andrew Johnson is the most glaring example — if he had been convicted by the Senate and removed from office following his impeachment, there could have been major problems. Johnson didn’t have a Vice President because he himself had assumed the Presidency from the Vice Presidency after Lincoln was assassinated. His impeachment was a political minefield and even though Johnson had been elected alongside Abraham Lincoln, he wasn’t a Republican; Lincoln and Johnson ran together on a coalition ticket, but Johnson was a lifelong Democrat. If Johnson was removed from office, Senator Benjamin Wade — a Radical Republican and one of Johnson’s most vehement critics — would have succeeded him. Wade also would have had a part in removing him as he was one of the most passionate advocates of impeachment and was one of the Senators who sat as the jury in the Senate trial following the impeachment. With the wounds of the Civil War still being raw (the Civil War ended in 1865; Johnson was impeached in 1868), a Constitutional crisis over impeachment and removal from office would have been scary.
Completely based on the possibility of if, but if LBJ had won the 1968 election, do you think he would have made it alive through his administration seeing as he died two days after his would've-been term, and especially when his lifestyle was not exactly healthy and very physically demanding?
I think that retirement — being removed from the day-to-day politics, power, and constant action of the Presidency — is what killed LBJ more than his heart problems. LBJ actually took care of himself better when he was President, too; he ate better, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink as much, he was engaged in something every hour of every day. I think inactivity led to his death more than anything else.
Thanks for the rankings! I'm sure you know the time & effort you put into all this are appreciated by a great number of people. My request is always for more info as I wonder about some detail, go to look that up, that takes me to another area, and a few hours later, I get back to the original article I was reading. I guess that's great. Hey! Sometime when you have nothing to do, ha ha, a ranking of the VPs.
Thank you. The problem with the Vice Presidents is that the position was nothing more than a backup heartbeat with so little Constitutional responsibility that few of them actually lived in Washington, those who did rarely presided over the Senate and didn’t have a place in the Executive Branch until the middle of the 20th Century. Even then, no Vice President had an office in the White House until Mondale in 1977 — nearly 200 years after John Adams was sworn in as the first Vice President. The Vice Presidency of the United States has existed for 225 years, and it was of such little importance for a major part of that history that it has been vacant for 37 years, 290 days of that 225 years — nearly 16% of the time!
In other words, there’s no way to rank the Vice Presidents because the job wasn’t really even a job for most of our history, for a big part of that time, nobody actually held the job, and, in my opinion, only 9 out of 47 Vice Presidents have either had some influence within the Administration they served in or had responsibilities as VP that might be considered notable —Hobart, Nixon, LBJ, Mondale, Bush 41, Quayle, Gore, Cheney, and Biden. And even then, Nixon, LBJ, Bush 41, and Quayle had limited roles, and all of those Vice Presidents, with the exception of Garret Hobart (who served as President McKinley’s VP from 1897 until dying in office in 1899) were born in the 20th Century or served after 1953.
I’m all for helping to advance some knowledge, but there’s nothing to be gained by ranking the VPs. However, I do get asked about the VPs a lot, so maybe I will just do short profiles on each of the Vice Presidents featuring information like each of the entries of the Presidential Rankings contained — biographical data, a short synopsis of who they were, what they did before being elected Vice President, and what they did afterward, if anything.
I don’t know if that sounds interesting to anyone else. Would anybody be interested in Vice Presidential Profiles?
I'm not sure why every answer I've given today has been a minimum of 18,000 words long, but when I get like that, it's probably a good time for someone to get me a juice box and suggest that I settle down.
Do you think Eugene Mccarthy could have won the democratic nomination in 1968 if LBJ had stayed in the race or if he had faced Hubert Humphrey on his own in the primary? I'm just curious about why Mccarthy didn't do better since it was his strong showing IIRC that made LBJ drop out of the race
I don’t think that Eugene McCarthy could have won the Democratic nomination in 1968 if LBJ had stayed in the campaign and ran for another term. As I mentioned in that earlier post about what I think would have happened if LBJ and Nixon had faced each other in the ‘68 election, Johnson, like any incumbent President, would have had significant advantages and as the head of the Democratic Party, he would have controlled the party throughout the process, so any challenge from fellow Democrats could have been handled pretty easily once he put the party apparatus into action and shaped the Democratic National Convention into whatever he might have needed it to be in the case of a floor fight. Plus, LBJ had a powerful campaign organization that was already familiar with a a primary fight (the unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination against John F. Kennedy in 1960) and a Presidential election (the massive popular vote and Electoral College victory in 1964).
There is also another thing that is frequently overlooked when people bring up Eugene McCarthy’s impressive showing against LBJ in the 1968 New Hampshire Primary. President Johnson actually wasn’t on the ballot in the New Hampshire Primary; he was a write-in candidate, partly for strategic reasons (to test the waters in case something like McCarthy’s strong showing in the primary were to happen). So while LBJ won 49% of the vote and McCarthy won an impressive 42% of the vote, I think it’s always important to note that Johnson was a write-in candidate. Still, McCarthy’s performance was impressive, no matter what, and it was a sign that LBJ was going to face a fight from anti-war advocates during primary season and that McCarthy couldn’t be taken lightly. McCarthy technically came in second place in the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary, but it was basically considered a victory, and his strong showing definitely led Johnson to withdraw from the race.
Why didn’t McCarthy do better in the 1968 Democratic primaries once Johnson withdrew from the race? Well, to put it bluntly, Bobby Kennedy screwed him over. For several months prior to the New Hampshire Primary, anti-war activists urged RFK to challenge LBJ for the Democratic nomination, but Kennedy consistently declined to consider a challenge and openly voiced his support in favor of President Johnson’s re-election. Then Eugene McCarthy stunned LBJ and the Democratic Party with his showing in the New Hampshire Primary, and it became clear that there was a passionate anti-war voting bloc that could make a serious difference in the 1968 election. Despite shooting down for months about not entering the race and supporting the incumbent LBJ over his fellow anti-war advocate McCarthy, Kennedy jumped into the race just four days after the New Hampshire Primary.
I know this isn’t a very scholarly way to put it, but RFK pulled a real dick move by jumping into the race after McCarthy had done the legwork in New Hampshire and demonstrated that President Johnson was very vulnerable. When Kennedy announced his candidacy, he immediately started siphoning a lot of those anti-war votes that had propelled McCarthy to the cusp of an upset over an incumbent President in the New Hampshire Primary. Many of those voters saw Kennedy as more electable than McCarthy because he was, of course, a Kennedy, and as they battled each other during the primaries that followed, Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert H. Humphrey, joined the race and was basically seen as the mainstream candidate. To a lot of those young Democratic voters who had supported McCarthy and then bailed in favor of Kennedy once RFK declared his candidacy, HHH was a continuation of the Johnson Administration’s increasingly unpopular foreign policy. But the back-and-forth battle between RFK and McCarthy in many of the state primaries helped clear a path for Humphrey to take a nearly insurmountable lead in delegates as the 1968 Democratic National Convention approached. After winning the California Primary, Bobby Kennedy looked to have some momentum, but he was assassinated that night. In truth, RFK’s only chance at the nomination was probably if all of the candidates headed into the Democratic National Convention without anybody able to clinch the nomination on the first ballot and having a floor fight ensue. Even then, I believe it would have been unlikely for RFK to have been nominated by a Democratic National Convention that was still largely controlled by Lyndon Johnson’s party organization, which would have worked diligently to prevent Bobby Kennedy from being nominated as President. As for McCarthy, he ended up in second place in the delegate count at the Convention, but the battles between him and RFK during the primary season resulted in many of the delegates who had pledged to support Kennedy voting for anybody else besides McCarthy (Kennedy’s delegates were released from their pledge due to his death). Eugene McCarthy got a pretty raw deal in 1968 after being responsible for a major turning point in history with his near-defeat of President Johnson and the aftermath of the ‘68 New Hampshire Primary.
So, James MacGregor Burns died. As a fellow presidential historian, do you have any thoughts on his work?
He did?! Oh man, that’s a shame, I’m sorry to hear that. I think that Mr. Burns was probably in his 90s, so at least he had a long life, and us history-lovers are fortunate for that because of his prolific output of top-notch work, particularly on leadership and the Presidents/Presidency.
Here are three of my favorite books by James MacGregor Burns:
Simple question: do you think LBJ would've won in 1968? I think he could have despite the turbulence surrounding his presidency simply because people knew he was a leader. And also, the war in Vietnam hadn't quite hit it's peak though it was close. I think that Americans would rather want the devil they know than the one they don't, especially in wartime. Anyways, what's your opinion?
I agree — I think LBJ would have won in ‘68 if he had run. First of all, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, of all people, almost pulled off the victory over Richard Nixon in 1968. Humphrey lost the popular vote by a margin of just over 500,000 votes — in an election where George Wallace won nearly 10 million votes. Despite his Civil Rights accomplishments, I think Johnson would have neutralized Wallace in some of those Southern states. In fact, it’s very possible that a heavyweight like LBJ in the race would have kept George Wallace from launching a bid as serious as he actually did in 1968. Wallace won 46 Electoral votes (all of them being states of the Deep South) and I don’t think that would have happened with LBJ in the race.
Wallace was a big factor in the race, but another big factor was the battle for the Democratic nomination and the turbulence surrounding the primaries, RFK’s assassination, and the battles between Chicago police and anti-war protesters outside of the Democratic National Convention. If LBJ had been the candidate, there would have been no primary fight, and the DNC would have been much more disciplined. There definitely still would have been anti-war protests, but instead of seeming to add to the chaos of the Democrats’ nomination process, it would have come across differently.
And the biggest difference would have been the difference between Lyndon Baines Johnson on the campaign trail and Hubert H. Humphrey on the campaign trail. On television, LBJ often came across wooden and uninspiring, but he was something altogether different while campaigning. More importantly, LBJ wouldn’t have rolled over and just let Nixon get away with any Nixonian dirty tricks. LBJ could play just as dirty, and he would have if it meant the difference between four more years and a forced retirement. LBJ was the incumbent President of the United States and the head of the Democratic Party; he controlled the party apparatus would have known who to use the power of his office and his power of the Democratic Party to propel him to victory if it was kept close.
It definitely would have been closer than the 1964 election; LBJ wouldn’t have cruised to a landslide over Nixon in 1968 like he did over Barry Goldwater four years earlier, but I do think LBJ would have beat Nixon. In the election that we did get — a three-way race between Nixon, Humphrey, and Wallace — the Electoral College results were Nixon 301, Humphrey 191, Wallace 46 (270 votes needed to win). Nixon won the popular vote in 1968 over Humphrey by only a few hundred thousand more votes than Kennedy beat him in 1960 (one of the narrowest victories in American history) and George Wallace claimed 9.9 million votes. As I said, in my opinion, if LBJ had run in ‘68, Wallace either wouldn’t have run or he wouldn’t have been able to get ballot access in all 50 states. Either way, he wouldn’t have won 9.9 million votes and I don’t think he would have won any of the five states that he did actually win in ‘68 (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi). LBJ would have built a powerful voter registration and get out the vote organization in those Southern states with large African-American populations whose right to vote was signed into law and protected three years earlier by LBJ. I think that those new voters, in addition to the Democrats who remained Democratic voters in the South despite LBJ’s Civil Rights policy, would have put those states in the Democratic column. Wallace also won one of North Carolina’s 13 Electoral votes in ‘68.
If it was just LBJ vs. Nixon, I think LBJ would have won all of the states that Humphrey won (Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia) as well as the states that Wallace won (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi). I also think that LBJ would have won 11 of the 32 states that Nixon won majorities in over Humphrey (Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia). In many of the 32 states that Nixon won in the actual 1968 election, his margin of victory was slim and Wallace’s removal from the equation likely would have swung more votes into the Democratic column than the Republican, resulting in a swing of those 11 states. The popular vote margin would still be pretty close, but LBJ would win majorities in most of the major states (those with the most Electoral College votes). In a straight LBJ vs. Nixon matchup in 1968, I think the Electoral College result would be: LBJ 381, Nixon 157.
And, yes, this question motivated me to actually go back and re-figure the 1968 Presidential election’s Electoral College map state-by-state. Don’t say I never did anything for you guys.
Is it weird that when I think of John Adam's personality, I think of Cogsworth from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"?
Not as weird as calling him “John Adam”. It’s probably worse that I’ve never seen Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, so I don’t get the reference at all. I’m like an 80-year-old man when it comes to pop culture references.
You haven't been posting as much hip hop stuff lately as you used to do but I'm curious about one question - Nicki Minaj or Iggy Azalea?
I don’t know what you’re asking me to do. All you did was throw out the names of two human beings and expect me to just make some magical connection or infer the intent of some question that you didn’t even ask. This is where I answer questions, not decipher what the questions might be.
I do know one thing is certain. I know that you’re not asking me to compare Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea as MCs. I know that you’re not asking that of me because I don’t have stupid readers and that would easily be the dumbest question that I’ve ever been asked.
Nicki Minaj is an MC. Nicki Minaj is a rapper. Nicki Minaj is a hip-hop artist. Nicki Minaj is all of those things (and many other things, too), and I know that you are not comparing her with Iggy Azalea, or asking me to compare them. Because Nicki Minaj is all of those things, and Iggy Azalea is none of those things.
The only similarities between what these two women do is that they make noises with their mouths into microphones and people give them money and recognition for doing so. But one of them also gets — I’m sorry, one of them “earns” respect. And one of them is just on TV and the radio constantly.
Nicki Minaj is a hip-hop artist, a rapper, an MC. Iggy Azalea is not. Iggy Azalea is a performance artist, and that’s the choice that she made and the choice that millions of people seem to support, just like millions of people supported performance artists like Bozo the Clown or Gallagher or Al Jolson. There are many performance artists in the world and many of them work hard. Some of them are talented and some of them are terrible. Some performance artists are respectful, culturally significant, and can be educationally important; some performance artists are offensive, either purposely or cluelessly ignorant, and, quite frankly, in certain cases, seem to be just a can of shoe polish away from performing in blackface.
Nicki Minaj is a hip-hop artist; Iggy Azalea is a performance artist. They do not do the same thing and they certainly are not at the same level. One of them does not deserve to be compared to the other or use the word “realest” in reference to herself. And, to be honest, one of them has fans who should be embarrassed for allowing music they think is catchy to blind them to blatant and shameful cultural appropriation.
This isn’t my area of expertise, though, so what do I know? I’m just a guy with opinions who knows hip-hop when he sees or hears it, and likes to think that authenticity is one of the most important factors behind making a hip-hop artist a hip-hop artist.
This is kind of a wide open question: In your opinion, when was the single most difficult day of the American Presidency? There's the days a President decides to send American youth to war, for instance. For me, it may be the day LBJ became POTUS with his predecessor's widow standing next to him.
That is such a GREAT question because the answer can go so many different ways and spur some fantastic debate. The Presidency is a difficult and terribly exhausting job every day and most Presidents have faced a lot of adversity throughout their terms simply because of the very nature of the position and its responsibilities. There are dozens of individual days that are hard to argue with if they are suggested by someone to be the most difficult single day faced by a President over the 225 years that the job has been in service.
I think that the day you suggested is undoubtedly near the top of the list, as are any of the days when a Vice President assumes the office upon the assassination or death from natural causes of the incumbent President, and November 22, 1963 was, of course, one of the darkest days in the nation’s history. The emotions and thoughts possessed by the people on Air Force One as LBJ took the oath office and they prepared to fly back to Washington, D.C. with JFK in a casket just a couple of hours after he arrived in Dallas on that same airplane very much alive are unimaginable. There are just no words for a tragedy of that magnitude, and, as you mentioned, the presence of a newly-widowed Jackie Kennedy, clearly in shock and standing in the crowded cabin of the plane with her husband’s blood and brain matter staining her clothing, adds a whole different dimension to the tragic day and was a hell of a way for someone to begin their Presidency. There was also the fact that nobody knew the scope of the assassination and whether there might be something even more sinister — an international conspiracy or a plot to decapitate the entire federal government — going on. Plus, LBJ was the only President to actually witness his predecessor’s assassination. As if a Presidential assassination isn’t shocking and traumatic enough, Johnson was only a couple of cars back in the motorcade. He saw what happened and he was taken to Parkland Hospital right behind JFK; LBJ caught a glimpse of the scene inside JFK’s limousine as the Secret Service past the vehicle in order to keep him protected inside the hospital; Johnson was in the building when Kennedy was officially pronounced dead. I’ve always thought that one of the strangest feelings ever experienced by a President had to have been when an aide entered the room where LBJ was being held inside Parkland Hospital and addressed him as “Mr. President” — the moment he realized that JFK was dead and that he was now President. Imagine that.
And yet, even with everything mentioned above, I think there are two other more difficult days faced by Presidents. One is April 12, 1945 — another day in which a President died in office and was succeeded by his Vice President. In this case, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died suddenly at his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, and was succeeded by Harry S Truman.
FDR was clearly dying when he won an unprecedented fourth term as President in 1944, and his health was declining noticeably. When he took the oath of office for his fourth term in January 1945, FDR was sworn in on the South Portico of the White House instead of at the U.S. Capitol. It was said that the inaugural festivities were scaled back because of World War II and that certainly played a part, but FDR’s failing health was also a factor. At just 557 words, Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address was the second-shortest in American history — only George Washington’s second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1793), which was 135 words long, was shorter than FDR’s fourth. After the physically taxing trip and summit with Stalin and Churchill at Yalta and meetings with other Allied leaders in February 1945 — a journey which would have been punishing for even a healthy person — FDR gave a report on the agreements to a Joint Session of Congress. At Yalta, officials from the other Allied delegations were alarmed by FDR’s appearance and when FDR gave his speech to Congress he did so from a seated position, apologizing for his “unusual posture” and noted that it was “easier for me not to have to carry about ten pounds of steel around on the bottom of my legs.” The reference to the leg braces he had worn since contracting polio in 1921 was the first time Roosevelt had ever publicly acknowledged his physical disability, and members of Congress now saw what those at the Yalta Conference had seen — FDR was gravely ill.
One person who did not realize how badly the President was ailing was the Vice President, Harry Truman. In 1944, President Roosevelt had dumped his Vice President, Henry Wallace, from the ticket, and seemingly put the decision of his running mate largely in the hands of the Democratic National Convention. In reality, Roosevelt was virtually positive that he would not survive his fourth term and he wasn’t simply choosing a Vice President — he was choosing a successor. Vice President Wallace didn’t cut it as a successor (not to FDR and definitely not to the leaders of the Democratic Party), and Truman steered the Convention towards Truman, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and James F. Byrnes, a former Congressman, former Senator, former Supreme Court Justice, a longtime advisor-without-portfolio to FDR and the ultra-powerful director of the War Mobilization Board.
Roosevelt eventually decided that Truman was the guy he wanted and worked behind-the-scenes to get him nominated at the Convention despite a floor fight by passionate supporters of Wallace who wanted to keep him on the ticket and by Truman’s own reluctance to leave the Senate, a job he loved more than anything he had ever done in his life, for the Vice Presidency, which was powerless and boring and lacked even a hint of influence within Presidential Administrations at that point in history. Once elected and sworn in as Vice President, Truman was no different than any of the previous Vice Presidents — he had nothing to do, wasn’t included in on decisions or discussions of policy, and had almost no personal or professional relationship with President Roosevelt. The only thing of note that Truman did during his Vice Presidency was cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to help his predecessor in the Vice Presidency, Henry Wallace, get confirmed as Secretary of Commerce. Truman spent most of his days on Capitol Hill, and was at having drinks with a small group of Congressmen and Senator in the office of House Speaker Sam Rayburn on April 12, 1945 when he got a call summoning him to the White House ASAP.
Truman wasn’t sure what was going on, but Allied troops were quickly closing in on Berlin that month from the west and the east, so it could have been just about anything. When he arrived at the White House, it was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who told him, quite bluntly, “Harry, the President is dead.” Despite FDR’s poor health, Truman was stunned. “Is there anything I can do for you?”, the new President asked Eleanor Roosevelt, and the new widow responded, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”
That wasn’t an exaggeration. World War II was coming to a close in Europe and still raging in the Pacific. Within two-and-a-half weeks of Truman’s succession to the Presidency, Mussolini was captured and killed by his own people in Italy, Berlin fell to the Soviets, Hitler killed himself in his bunker, Germany surrendered, and the war ended in Europe. And, at some point shortly after Truman was sworn into office, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson briefed him on the work being done to build an atomic bomb. Truman — the only President to order a nuclear strike — was completely in the dark about the Manhattan Project and the goal of building a nuclear weapon until after he became President. With all of that to come, everything going in on the world, and the fact that he had suddenly succeeded the longest-serving President in American history — a man whose image was hanging in the houses of millions Americans next to an image of Jesus — in the midst of the bloodiest war in the history of the world is why Truman’s April 12, 1945 was a more difficult day than LBJ’s November 22, 1963. The day after he was sworn into office, Truman said to reporters, “I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”
The other day that I would consider one of the single most difficult days experienced by a President doesn’t require much of an explanation because most of us remember it well. We lived through it and it’s tragically memorable in the same way that older generations remember November 22, 1963 or another day that was very difficult for a President, December 7, 1941 (the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor). No matter how I voted, or how I felt about George W. Bush when it came to other issues and his Presidency overall, I will never forget his poise during the days after September 11, 2001, which was without a doubt one of the toughest days any President has ever experienced. He was a bit unsteady on the day of the attacks, at least in his statements early in the day, but we were all unsteady. We didn’t know what the hell was going on, and the President was in the frustrating position of not being allowed by the Secret Service to return to Washington, D.C. until later in the evening. He was removed from the situation, forced to remain in the air aboard Air Force One as it flew across the country, protected by fighter jets, to a secure location in Nebraska. President Bush began to find his footing with his address to the nation that night from the Oval Office once he finally ordered to be taken home to Washington, and he was fantastic throughout the rest of that week, especially at the National Prayer Service and when he visited with the family members of victims and with rescue workers at Ground Zero.
Knowing how difficult 9/11 was for regular Americans like me, far removed from the horror in Manhattan, in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, I can’t imagine how hard that day was to the actual victims of the attacks, or those people connected to the victims. And it’s impossible to understand how hard September 11, 2001 was for the President of the United States, from the moment Andy Card whispered the news to him in that classroom in Sarasota, Florida until he finally went to sleep that night after a day of attacks on the country unlike any that any other President has ever faced. Like I said at the beginning of this answer (approximately 90,000 words ago), this is a great question because it has so many possible answers and opens up a very interesting debate. But in my opinion, no President had a more difficult single day than George W. Bush on September 11, 2001.