Dead Presidents

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

By Anthony Bergen
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Posts tagged "Politics"
Lincoln is the leanest, lankest, most ungainly mass of legs, arms and hatchet-face ever strung upon a single frame. He has most unwarrantably abused the privilege which all politicians have of being ugly.
Editorial about Abraham Lincoln in the “Houston Telegraph”, June 1860
Asker Anonymous Asks:
So you are against trying to destabilize the Castro regime?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:


It’s been 56 years. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama have all tried in their various ways to bring down Fidel and Raul and the Cuban Revolution. They’ve all failed. They will always fail. Someday, Fidel and Raul will die (I think), but this little vendetta has done nothing but embarrass eleven Presidents and hurt generations of regular Cuban people.

We can be friendly and deal with Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Putin’s Russia, and dozens of other countries and regimes where human rights concerns are far worse than that little island 90 miles off of the Florida coast that we raped for 75 years and have stalked for 200 years. It’s ridiculous. End the blockade — it’s not an embargo, it’s an economic blockade — normalize relations, remove our foot from the throat of the Cuban people, and cut the petty bullshit. It’s time. We tried the “Good Neighbor Policy” before; how about we just go with the “Stop Being Assholes Policy”.

And if we’re really concerned about human rights, how about we not have our President go hang out at King Abdullah’s lavish desert retreat in Saudi Arabia where women are treated little better than property? Oh, good thing we closed Guantanamo, too. Hey, look what we did, we arrested people from all over the world, tortured many of them, charged almost none of them, allow them few rights, have held them without trial for years…and we stuck them where?

In Cuba.

(This is where Frank Underwood would break the fourth wall and look at the camera.)

The idea of Jim Polk being President of the United States! We are more disposed to laugh at it here than to treat it seriously.

A Congressman from James K. Polk’s home state of Tennessee dismissing Polk’s chances as a dark horse candidate in the 1844 Presidential election.

Polk was elected President several months later.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Presidential sex scandals, listed by your favorites, go! Feel free to include VPs or presidential candidates.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I don’t know that I really have a “favorite” sex scandal. I know that’s kind of a boring answer, but I really do respect and revere the institution of the Presidency. Sex scandals diminish the dignity of that institution and, worse, it destroys people. Real people.

We forget sometimes that our Presidents, First Families, and political leaders are real people. And for the most part, they are real people who devote and sometimes sacrifice their lives to public service. Are they ambitious? Yes. Are some of them terrible? Sure. But what are we when we tear them down?

I am neither bitter nor cynical but I do wish there was less immaturity in political thinking.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, letter to Frank Knox, December 29, 1939
To hell with them. When history is written they will be the sons of bitches — not I.
Harry Truman, on his political opponents, personal diary entry, December 1, 1952
Absolutely not. I don’t want anything to do with that son-of-a-bitch.

Gerald Ford, when Ronald Reagan’s name was brought up as a possible Vice Presidential running mate in 1976.

Reagan had challenged and nearly defeated the incumbent President Ford for the 1976 Republican Presidential nomination leaving Ford damaged going into the general election against Jimmy Carter.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
There's a lot of talk into cutting California into 5 smaller states. Do you think this is a good idea. I'm still confused on the matter. Why do they want to do this ?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

As most of my readers know, although I now live in the Missouri Wine Country, I spent the first 30 years of my life in California and have more insight into the state’s history and political situation than the other states of the Union that I am frequently asked about.

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 unwieldly.  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 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.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I am a politics and history nerd who loves your blog and reads Politico every day so I was excited to check my twitter today and see that Jonathan Allen from Politico retweeted a tweet from Anthony Bergen where you mentioned his new book!!!! I saw it and thought how cool it is that one of my favorite news sites mentioned my favorite blog!!!!!
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Well, I’m glad that Politico and Dead Presidents could team up on Twitter to make your day.

Jonathan Allen and The Hill's White House correspondent Amie Parnes were retweeting my recommendation of their recently-released book, HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton, which is a really fascinating insider account of how Hillary moved on from her loss to Barack Obama in 2008, accepted his nomination to be Secretary of State, carved out an important and influential role in the Obama Administration, and how the Clinton political machine has quietly been building the foundation for a potential bid for the Presidency in 2016.  It’s really interesting to read some of the behind-the-scenes struggles between Obama’s people and Hillary’s people as they tried to heal divisions left over from the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination campaign and work together with Hillary’s folks at Foggy Bottom and Obama’s White House staff.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is something that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates echoed in his recent book, Duty.  Basically, people who don’t know or haven’t previously worked with Hillary Clinton invariably tend to fear her or dread the prospect of working closely with her at first.  Then they develop a grudging respect for her as they see how hard she works and how brilliant she is.  Then they start to get to know her and are surprised at how nice and funny she is.  And, in almost every case, those initially wary people become downright loyal to her and love working for or with her.  Almost without fail, that is the process for people who start working with her for the first time — their preconceived notions fly out the window.

HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes is out now and well worth the read.  I raced through it and highly recommend it.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
could Biden have any success against Hillary in 2016?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Joe Biden could absolutely win the Iowa Caucus.  That’s 100% retail politics and Biden is one of the two-best retail politicians in the United States.  Of course, the other one is Bill Clinton, but I think Biden could definitely beat Hillary in Iowa.  After that, things would get tough.

What will be interesting to see if Biden and Hillary both run in 2016 is how their campaigns are built.  Even though Biden has been his Vice President for two terms, Obama will almost certainly sit the primaries out and remain neutral.  Will some of the people who helped build the Obama political machine jump in early and, if so, who will they join?  Will Hillary open things up and bring in outsiders who are new to Clintonworld?  The nominating process isn’t about winning votes; it’s about winning delegates.  That’s a mistake Hillary Clinton made in 2008 and I doubt she’ll make it again if she decides to run in 2016.

Asker hewest1937 Asks:
Any thoughts about Ted Cruz?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Senator Cruz hasn’t done a single thing to impress me, and I think he is the personification of everything that is wrong with the United States Congress — an obstructionist and extremist who makes a ton of noise without saying anything of worth.

Cruz will never be elected to anything more than the Senate, and the only reason he won that election is because it took place in Texas — a state that nobody really takes seriously despite being worth a whopping 38 electoral votes.

Ted Cruz is the very worst type of politician — an overbearing impediment to progress who is full of questions yet utterly lacking in answers.

Asker bbkld Asks:
In my lifetime, there have been three "WTF were you thinking, voters?" re-elections: Nixon, Clinton, G.W.Bush. In each, the weaknesses of the incumbents were well known (Nixon: crook; Clinton: the ladies; G.W.: G.W.), yet managed to keep office for valid reasons (like their opponents). Which re-election of a sitting incumbent do you consider to be the most difficult to understand?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I don’t know if “difficult to understand” would be the right term because most re-elections of incumbents can be explained pretty easily.

Let’s just look at your three examples — Nixon, Clinton, and Bush 43. As you mentioned, all three had it pretty easy when it came to their opponents. I have a ton of respect for George McGovern and Bob Dole, but they were no match for Nixon in 1972 and Clinton in 1996, respectively. And, of course, John Kerry was just a terrible candidate for President, so Bush got really lucky in 2004.

It’s important to note, however, that the scandals that tainted Nixon and Clinton didn’t start causing them major problems until after they were re-elected. The Watergate break-in happened during the ‘72 campaign, but the extent of Nixon’s in-depth involvement wasn’t revealed until after Nixon laid an ungodly Electoral College beatdown on McGovern that year — 520-17 was the score, 49 states for Nixon while McGovern took home just Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

The Monica Lewinsky story didn’t break until January 1998, well after Clinton had coasted to re-election against Bob Dole in November 1996. And, even if Clinton had faced re-election at the same time he was being impeached by the House of Representatives, would it have mattered? Remember, Clinton’s approval ratings went UP while he was being impeached and put on trial by the U.S. Senate!

So, I guess we settle on George W. Bush by default. In retrospect, the 2004 election is definitely one that raises eyebrows. Bush was tremendously unpopular and the only reason he was re-elected was basically due to the fact that in John Kerry and John Edwards the Democrats nominated their worst Presidential ticket since the nightmarish duo of John W. Davis and Charles W. Bryan in 1924.

That 1924 Democrats ticket required 103 ballots before the Democratic Convention finally settled on a candidate. At that Convention, the Democrats nominated SIXTY different candidates for the Presidency! And if they had spent just a quarter of that time on coming up with alternate candidates 80 years later in 2004, George W. Bush probably would have lost that election.

The nation did not want to re-elect Bush in 2004, but the Democrats blew it by nominating John Kerry. You can’t really blame Kerry — you have to take that opportunity when you get it. It’s other leading Democrats who could have and should have stepped forward in 2004 who deserve the blame. Most of them recognize that they made a huge mistake by not running in 2004 because (a.) they could have won, and (b.) they may have lost their window for being President. Hillary Clinton is fortunate to be a resilient enough political figure that her window is still open. If Hillary had run in 2004, she would have beat Bush and would have been seeking re-election to the White House in 2008 instead of losing the Democratic nomination to the junior Senator from Illinois that year.

I really don’t know if I’ve answered your question. I guess my point is that none of those re-election victories are difficult to understand, but it is certainly frustrating that an incumbent as vulnerable as George W. Bush in 2004 was able to win another term. I guess the difficult thing to understand is how the Democratic Party, with its vehement opposition to Bush and increasing anti-Iraq War sentiment in 2004, nominated such an underwhelming ticket in such an eminently winnable campaign. I don’t know if I will ever fully understand that.

Do you know what is most frustrating about the 2004 election? Despite the terrible Democratic ticket, despite John Kerry, despite John Edwards, despite the lack of passion from Democratic voters nationwide, and despite everything that happened from the DNC in Boston until Kerry’s concession speech at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, one thing will always haunt Democrats: Kerry still almost won! The Electoral College count: Bush 286, Kerry 252. If more people had voted for Kerry than Bush in just one state — Ohio — on November 2, 2004, Bush would have been a one-term President.

Like I said, it’s not that I find anything I mentioned to be difficult to understand; it’s just a bitter pill to swallow — still, nearly a decade later.

I now know the difference between a cactus and a caucus — in a cactus, all the pricks are on the outside.

Lyndon B. Johnson, to reporters, after meeting with the Senate’s Democratic Caucus following LBJ’s election as Vice President, January 1961