Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Politics"
Asker Anonymous Asks:
I've honestly been wondering this for so long. Why do people give Biden so much crap, and make him the butt of a lot of jokes?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Vice Presidents always tend to be easy targets and since Biden is so affable and open, people seem to underestimate him. Quite frankly, I don’t know where the Obama Administration would be without Vice President Biden. It’s no secret that Obama has been terrible with building relationships with Congress (and that’s certainly not solely his fault), and can be aloof at times because that’s just one of his personality characteristics — he’s not cold, he’s just a very serious, focused, cautious person. On the other hand, Biden is open and candid — sometimes to a fault — and it makes it easy to poke fun at him. Biden lacks a filter and often says things that he probably shouldn’t say — not necessarily because he’s saying something inappropriate, but more so because he’s so authentic. Like I said, some people find that to be a fault, but I find that to be incredibly refreshing, especially in a political leader who has basically spent his entire adult life in elective office.

But Biden has built bridges between the White House and Congress that have helped accomplish the big things that the Obama Administration has actually been able to get done. That’s because of Biden’s masterful political skills and the relationships and connections that Biden forged through nearly 40 years in the Senate. Biden likes to be underestimated because Biden knows exactly how gifted he is. He has never lacked that confidence — not even when he first ran for the Senate. I mean, Joe Biden is a guy who was so confident in himself that he ran for the Senate (and won) even though he wasn’t yet Constitutionally eligible to actually take his seat until a few weeks after the election.

Plus, a lot of people don’t truly know Joe Biden’s story. They know that he’s been around forever and that he spent decades in the Senate, but he’s never been the stereotypical fat cat incumbent clinging to his spot on Capitol Hill. Biden has always been active, always been a fighter, and always been straightforward. Biden earned everything that he has ever obtained and he worked for the people of his constituency in Delaware every day since his 1972 election, and he’s continued that work on behalf of the people of the United States every single day since he was elected Vice President. I wish that everyone would read more about Joe Biden, learn his story, and see how much he has overcome and how hard he has worked to get to where he is today — Jules Witcover’s Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption (BOOK | KINDLE) is a great place to start.

On a personal basis, I don’t hesitate to stay that Vice President Biden is probably my favorite politician alive today; it’s a close race between Biden and Bill Clinton. But from a professional standpoint — removing any of my personal biases or political beliefs from the equation — I think Joe Biden is probably the best Vice President in American history. Dick Cheney was a more powerful Vice President, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into excellence. Al Gore was the most influential VP up to that point, but his relationship with President Clinton wasn’t as symbiotic as Biden and Obama’s. Barack Obama is the mind and the conscience of the Obama Administration, but Joe Biden is the heart and soul.  

Asker Anonymous Asks:
The challenger who tried to unseat Thad Cochran in MS blamed his defeat in the primary runoff to democrats who voted in the primary and helped Cochran win. What do you think of that possibility and should elections like that be overturned?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Mississippi’s two U.S. Senate seats have been in the hands of Republicans for over a quarter-century — and in the case of Cochran, it’s been held by a Republican (him) for over 35 years.  Mississippi voters recognize that a Democrat isn’t winning that seat anytime soon and if they want to actually make a difference in the election of someone who represents all of them, crossing over and voting for the lesser of two evils (to Democrats and most African-Americans) between the two Republican candidates is their only opportunity to make that difference.  The GOP Senate primary in Mississippi basically decides the general election since the winner is virtually guaranteed to beat the Democratic nominee in November.  When there is a threat of someone like Chris McDaniel — someone who Democrats and African-Americans in Mississippi disagreed with so strongly that they actively supported Thad F’ing Cochran (!) — winning a primary election that would basically clinch him a seat in the U.S. Senate for the next six years, I think it’s a wonderful display of our political system when voters organize themselves in a way that allows them some measure of self-determination.  I don’t know why an election in which that happens would be overturned.  Nobody broke any voting laws and Mississippians were exercising their franchise in the best way possible — to make sure that they played a part in voting for the person they wanted to represent them.

Incidentally, this type of crossover should open the eyes of any groups or people who wonder about the feasibility of creating a new third political party.  It’s one thing if voters are just flat-out fed up and stay home because they don’t care about the candidates, they don’t see any reason to actually go to the polls, and they just don’t care.  But these voters in Mississippi clearly care very much about who is going to represent them. The voters who crossed over are so concerned about who is elected to serve their interests that they went to the polls and voted against someone that they’ve probably voted against throughout their lives in order to have some influence in the political process.  People want alternatives, but the extremists on both sides of the aisle that both Democrats and Republicans actually put forward as alternatives are so unappealing that voters settle for the incumbents that they don’t really like — and, in the case of yesterday’s Mississippi Senate primary, many voters supported an incumbent just because they disagreed with him less than they disagreed with the other guy.  

Every region of this country is ready for a backlash against incumbents as long as the alternative isn’t an extremist.  This nation is ripe for a moderate third political party that draws in independents and the frustrated Democrats and Republicans who don’t really identify with those parties as they stand today.  Building a third party takes time and money, but it can be done and it should be done.  If a third party is organized efficiently in each state and then coordinated on national level, a third party can grow and be successful.  It’s not going to result in a third party candidate being elected President right away, but building the party and coordinating it effectively so that the party earns name-recognition and ballot access will allow the new party to elect candidates on a state level and start making progress.  Two to six years in and that new party would hold seats in Congress and State Legislatures, grab a few Governorships, and be able to position itself for a serious run for the Presidency.  It needs to happen.  The country is ready for it now. 

Asker kray814 Asks:
Has there ever been a true Libertarian president? And if a libertarian won presidency today, how different would this country be?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

No, there hasn’t been a “true Libertarian” President, and if all the Democrats and Republicans were somehow disqualified from running for President in the next election and a Libertarian somehow won, the country wouldn’t change at all.  About 20 minutes after the Libertarian President was inaugurated or received their first major briefings, he or she would realize, “Oh shit, government is really important and totally necessary and even if I wanted to make this a truly Libertarian country I couldn’t do it because there are three branches of government and both of the major parties would actually probably team up to defeat what we’re trying do. Plus, actually instituting drastic changes in order to realize the Libertarian ideal would require a repudiation of Libertarian beliefs because it takes government action to change government policies.”

I’ve had a lot of people try to argue to me that the United States is way more of a Libertarian country than a Republican or Democratic country and that the partisan bickering and constant government gridlock due to the two major parties is turning more-and-more people into Libertarians. That’s an easy one to shoot down:  no Libertarian has ever even come close to being elected President or Vice President and today, in 2014, Libertarians currently hold a grand total of ZERO Governorships, ZERO seats in the U.S. Senate, ZERO seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, ZERO seats in State Senates or upper chambers of State Legislatures, and ZERO seats in State Assemblies or lower chambers of State Legislatures.  In a country where ignorant people use the labels of “socialist” and “Muslim” as if they are bad words, there is an avowed socialist (Bernie Sanders of Vermont) serving in the United States Senate and two Muslims (Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana) serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, but ZERO Libertarians in significant elected positions.  I don’t care how passionate many Libertarians are — and they are very passionate because no one sends me angrier and more annoying hate mail than Libertarians — the Libertarian Party has no effect on American electoral politics.  None whatsoever.  

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Ok I think your Kermit+miss piggy super pac analogy is your greatest contribution yet!!!!
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Thank you.  I wasn’t sure if Tumblr was the place for a hard-hitting, technically-detailed editorial using Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy to explain the Super PACs that are now dominating American politics, so I’m glad it resonated.  

Now, I’m the last person to toot my own horn (inappropriate) and I’m not saying that I deserve any sort of recognition or anything, but when the respective organizations are ready to send me my Pulitzer Prize and Peabody Award, I’ll be happy to pass along my mailing address.  No C.O.D.’s, though. 

Asker Anonymous Asks:
What do you think of the Super PAC system?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Our entire campaign finance system is a joke.  With Super PACs, I think we should just drop the stupid games and acknowledge what they really are and what really happens with them.  I don’t think anybody truly believes that there is no direct coordination between Super PACs and candidates, especially when Super PACs are directed by people with extremely close connections with specific candidates.  It’s ridiculous.  Just stop insulting our intelligence and acknowledge it for what it actually is. If you’re already doing what you want to do, why do you need to try to trick us into thinking that it’s not what we know it is?

Listen, imagine if Kermit the Frog was running for President and there was a Super PAC called “Building a Green Future" that Miss Piggy was in charge of.  Everyone would probably say, "Hey, I bet they are totally coordinating their campaigns", right?  And no matter how many times Kermit denied any collusion between his campaign and Miss Piggy’s Super PAC, we probably wouldn’t believe him if he kept showing up on MSNBC with Miss Piggy’s lipstick marks all over his stupid face, right?

Well, that’s basically the charade we get with campaigns and Super PACs nowadays, except the candidates aren’t nearly as appealing as Kermit the Frog and there is cash in the place of Miss Piggy’s lipstick.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
There is a story that republicans in south dakota are calling for obama to be impeached. What do you say about that?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I say that I think it’s going to be tough for the South Dakota Republican State Convention to impeach the President of the United States since only the United States House of Representatives can do that.

Since South Dakota only has one member of Congress in the entire House — Kristi Noem, who is an at-large representative for all of South Dakota — and Noem doesn’t support impeachment, it looks like it is back to the drawing board for the South Dakota GOP. 

I don’t think Obama (or anyone else) should be too worried about South Dakota.  I mean, let’s put it this way — the entire state of South Dakota has just one more seat in the United States House of Representatives than my garbage can does.  Seriously!  If, for some strange reason, my garbage can was granted a seat in the House there would be exactly as many members of Congress representing my garbage as there are representing the entire state of South Dakota. 

(No offense to anybody from South Dakota who might hitchhike to Minnesota so they could use the internet there to read this.)

No, I have not really ever considered running for office. I don’t think that I have the temperament to be a good elected official. I believe that I’d be capable when it came to the actual job, but getting the job would be my problem. I lack the patience and the subtlety that is required of successful politicians — I have no filter and in those instances where I should hold my tongue or turn the other cheek, I have a tendency to throw the first punch and then stomp on the person’s head once they are down. That may work out great when you’re Frank Underwood, but I’m no Frank Underwood, and my House of Cards would collapse into a heap at some point before I even got myself elected.

If the Presidency somehow fell into my lap, of course I’d want to try it on for size and try to make things happen, but I don’t think I’d want to run for President (or any other office, really). I think that I’m better suited in a background position. I’d love to be Chief of Staff, and I know that I’m a solid political strategist. I’m not sure if I’ll ever work on a campaign again, but if I had the opportunity to go back in time and choose my career path when I was in high school, I’d set myself on the course to be a high-level strategist or campaign manager. I’ve worked on a few campaigns, but not at a level that gave me significant influence with the candidate or in a position where I could steer the entire direction of the campaign. There are not a whole lot of things that I know I’m naturally talented at, but political strategy is definitely something that I’ve always had an instinct for. And while it’s easy to get involved with political campaigns, unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get a seat at the grown-folks’ table without an invite. Hopefully, one of my readers who actually likes me will eventually decide to run for office and hire me to help get them elected. I don’t work for free, but I’m cheap enough to make it worthwhile. Maybe I should rewrite that sentence to make my talents sound a bit more appealing.

I’ve worked on a Presidential campaign, a Gubernatorial campaign, and a couple of local campaign and school bond issues, but I would honestly REALLY like to run a Mayoral campaign or a Congressional campaign. I love retail politics and think those type of campaigns would be incredibly fun. Building a campaign organization precinct-by-precinct, community-by-community in a city or Congressional district really appeals to me and I’d jump at a chance to run one of those campaigns. They truly feel like you’re doing something every day while Presidential campaigns or Gubernatorial campaigns never feel like you’re actually moving, even when you’re working 18 hours a day and seven days a week. If I work on a campaign again, I don’t want it to be something dominated by fundraising, fundraisers, and then events scheduled solely to raise funds. I want to a small-scale operation where the candidate and campaign staff hits the pavement to canvass, register voters, and motivate people who don’t always vote to get to the polling place and get involved. That’s what I love about political campaigns, so that’s what I would want to do again if I found the right candidate or the right issue and decided to get back into politics.

A report has reached here that President Polk was dead, which, I do not credit…while I regret to hear of the death of any one…I would [rather] have heard of his death…as that of any other individual in the whole Union.

General Zachary Taylor, writing about his Commander-in-Chief, James K. Polk, to his son-in-law from Monterrey, Mexico during the Mexican-American War.

As the war with Mexico progressed and General Taylor’s success in the field as a commander brought him military glory and his name began being put forth as a potential Presidential contender in 1848, a jealous President Polk saw him as a rival. Even though Polk had pledged to only serve one term and had no interest in breaking that campaign promise, he wanted to handpick his successor and made numerous attempts to cause difficulties for Taylor, place obstacles in his way, and neuter his military authority. General Taylor recognized that the President’s actions were politically-motivated efforts to slander his reputation, force his resignation, and handicap his shot at becoming President.

Although Taylor had not previously had any ambition for a political career — in fact, he had never even cast a ballot in his life — Polk’s efforts backfired, Taylor continued to be seen as a war hero, and the General was motivated by the President’s actions to seek the Presidency in 1848. Taylor, of course, won the election and an exhausted Polk — an intense workaholic who believed that it was just short of a sin if a President sought leisure or took a vacation while in office — was stricken with illness as he returned home to Tennessee and died just three months after leaving office.

Asker ultra-pop Asks:
Did the John McCain/Joe Lieberman ticket in 2000 (Independent) or 2008 (Republican) ever have a chance of going off the ground? Same for the Kerry/McCain 2004 Democratic revenge ticket?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

First of all, I have never, ever seen the appeal of Joe Lieberman.  I thought he was a crappy Vice Presidential pick for Al Gore in 2000, and I think the main reason why Lieberman was his choice was because Gore saw it as a way to deflect some of the heat off of him that he thought he faced from being connected to Clinton during the Lewisnky scandal.  Lieberman was one of the most vociferous detractors of Clinton from the Democratic side, and Gore wanted some of that moralistic rub.

As for a bipartisan ticket, there are always going to be difficulties with that. An independent run is going to be even more difficult because independent candidates have to be highly organized and get an early start in order to get ballot access in all states, which they need to have even a slight chance at winning.  In 2000, McCain would have needed to run as an independent almost from 1999 instead of seeking the GOP nomination (remember, he actually beat George W. Bush in the New Hampshire Primary in 2000) if he wanted a shot at being on the ballot in every state during the general election. Lieberman likely wouldn’t have been a consideration in 2000 as an independent candidate for anything since he actually was the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee that year.

As for 2008, I think that McCain/Lieberman is an interesting idea and, in hindsight, anything would have probably been better for the GOP than Sarah Palin on Election Day. I just can’t envision Lieberman getting nominated by the Republicans in 2008. Maybe he could have been nominated in 2012 after he had spent more time as an independent, but he in 2008, he was the key to a Democratic majority in the Senate. Since he was caucusing with the Democrats as an independent (as was Bernie Sanders), the Dems had a 51-49 majority. If Lieberman caucused with the Republicans, he would have lost his seniority and his chairmanships, but the Senate would have been tied and the Republican Vice President Dick Cheney would have been a tiebreaker. That probably would have been held against him if McCain put him forward as his choice for a running mate.

But 2004 is definitely a possibility. Listen, it’s no secret that John Kerry and John Edwards was an awful ticket, and yet, Kerry almost won the 2004 election because of the backlash against President Bush. It was well-known that McCain and Bush were not close, especially after the 2000 Republican primaries where McCain was Bush’s only serious challenger and Bush’s campaign used some dirty tricks against McCain (and McCain’s family) in the South Carolina Primary. I think McCain could have been nominated as a Vice Presidential candidate by the Democrats at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I think the Kerry/McCain ticket would have picked up some appeal from the anti-war Republicans and some moderates, as well as some of those Nader voters. Although Nader didn’t win any Electoral votes, he did win over 400,000 popular votes and in an election as close as 2004 was, that could have shifted things enough in the really close battleground states to have been the difference in 2004 and swing the election to John Kerry.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Did LBJ Republicans exist? What kind of people were they?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Well, they weren’t really identified as such (like “Reagan Democrats), but there had to be some traditional Republican voters who supported LBJ in 1964 because he won 61% of the popular vote — it’s still the biggest margin of victory in the popular vote in American history.  

Goldwater definitely took the GOP far to the right in 1964 and many moderate Republicans were unhappy with the prospect of voting for him. That — and the civil rights legislation and Great Society progams of LBJ’s Administration shifted the status of the Republican and Democratic parties from that point on.  The states of the Solid South — which had been traditionally Democratic since before the Civil War and anti-Republican since the time of Abraham Lincoln — shifted to the Republican column with the appearance of more Conservative GOP candidates.  Some of the blue-collar areas of the Northeast, Midwest, and Mountain West, which had been a stronghold of moderate or progressive Republicans for years began shifting to Democratic.  When people talk of the two major parties “switching places”, this is what they normally mean.  They didn’t necessarily switch places, but they evolved into different versions of what they previously were, largely in the area of social issues.

"LBJ Republicans" would have been traditional Republicans like those in Vermont and Maine who normally went with the GOP but were so turned off by Goldwater that the states not only went to LBJ in 1964 but they’re now solidly Democratic.  "LBJ Republicans" could also be found in Midwestern and Mountain West states that had long had a history of electing progressive or moderate Republican Senators.  Those Senators also played an integral part in passing LBJ’s civil rights and Great Society legislation that the Democratic Senators from the previously Solid South were vehemently opposed to.  As the GOP became more Conservative, many of those progressive and moderate Republicans Senators either switched parties or ended up losing their seats to challengers as the population of their state shifted to the right and further away from their traditional ideology.

Americans like politics. They like us to air our differences because they know we have got to have an honest debate to come to a good answer. But then they also think that debate ought to have limits to it. It keeps us from solving a lot of problems and doing a lot of things that we could have done otherwise. So I think people see George and me and they say, ‘That is the way our country ought to work.’
Bill Clinton, on his close post-Presidential relationship with George H.W. Bush, interview with Michael Duffy, TIME Magazine, December 19, 2005

Dave Brat beat Eric Cantor in yesterday’s primary partly thanks to the fact that Cantor spent so much money attacking him in ads as a “liberal professor” that it actually gave him name identification in the Congressional District.

But wouldn’t it be great if labeling Brat as a “liberal professor” totally backfired in the other direction and actually enticed voters to support him against Cantor because they moved to the left? That didn’t happen — especially in THAT district, but a boy can dream.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Do you think Secretary of State would be a good stepping stone to the presidency today, or that the offices are too distinct now?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

At the beginning of the 19th Century, being Secretary of State was almost a guarantee that you’d be elected President.  Five of the first eight Presidents had served as Secretary of State, including three (James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams) who went directly to the White House from serving two terms as Secretary of State.  But it’s been nearly 160 years since the last Secretary of State — James Buchanan, who ran President Polk’s State Department from 1845 to 1849 — was elected President.  

I think it’s more difficult now for a couple of reasons.  First of all, Secretaries of State aren’t nearly as powerful now.  The Vice Presidency is a far more influential position today than it was in the 18th, 19th, and first half of the 20th Century, the White House Chief of Staff handles the Administration’s COO-type responsibilities that many Secretaries previously took on, and as other Cabinet posts have increased their profile within the Executive Department it has diminished the power of the Secretary of State, especially when there are turf wars like the feud between Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld.  The Secretary of State used to be a Foreign Minister-type position that was basically just short of being equivalent to a Prime Minister; in many ways, the Secretary of State used to be (unofficially) the first-among-equals within the Cabinet.  That changed a bit early in the 20th Century, but especially in the latter part of the last century.  Basically since Nixon’s Presidency, American foreign policy is almost fully run by the White House through the National Security Staff (formerly known as the National Security Council).  The Secretary of State is a member of the National Security Staff and has a role in formulating that policy, of course, but they are more like Super Ambassadors who go where the President sends them and relays messages.  They have always been the top American diplomat, but the job now is much more political, domestically and internationally, than administrative.

Another reason why you don’t see more Secretaries of State running for President directly from the State Department is purely political.  If a President serves a single term, a Secretary of State isn’t going to be an ideal candidate because they’d have to challenge their boss.  If a President serves two terms, there is usually voter fatigue when it comes to the President and his Cabinet.  After two terms, the opposition party will have been sharpening their knives and getting ready for the Presidential election.  A Secretary of State who has either served two terms in office or wants to run for President directly from the State Department after one term in the Cabinet is an easy target.  All Presidents eventually become lame ducks and if someone is serving in their Cabinet as the President’s popularity starts to take a dive, they’ll usually be painted with that same brush.  It’s easy to run against them — whether you’re from the other party or challenging them in the primary.

Hillary Clinton would have a more difficult race in front of her if she were serving as Secretary of State in Obama’s Cabinet right now.  It would be easier to connect her with an unpopular President who is rapidly heading towards lame duck status if she were currently in the Cabinet.  Since she left after the first term, on her own terms, after Obama had been re-elected, she basically left at the perfect time — it’s like when an athlete retires after winning a championship.  If you go out on top, you control your destiny and shore up your legacy.  So, that’s why no Secretaries of State have been elected President since Buchanan in 1856 and few have even won their party’s nomination.  But, if things play out the way I think they will, Hillary will end that drought in 2016.