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12/10/2005 Entry: "Wrong Man for the Job"

A recent editorial by Richard Reeves caught my eye. He writes op/ed for Yahoo! News. I had to grin when I saw the seemingly rhetorical question, "Is George Bush the worst President – Ever?" Duh?

On inauguration day, about half the country on was convinced that this was fact BEFORE he took office, so asking the question is only rhetorical if you like to jab the other side; but the qualifier at the end is an unnecessary poke in the eye.

Reeves opens this diatribe with a quasi-historical examination of poor James Buchanan, the 15th president. True, Buchanan oversaw the opening shots of the American Civil War and true his administration was fairly corrupt – but this isn’t his point.

Poor James Buchanan, the 15th president, is generally considered the worst president in history. Ironically, the Pennsylvania Democrat, elected in 1856, was one of the most qualified of the 43 men who have served in the highest office… But he was a confused, indecisive president, who may have made the Civil War inevitable by trying to appease or negotiate with the South. His most recent biographer, Jean Clark, writing for the prestigious American Presidents Series, concluded this year that his actions probably constituted treason. It also did not help that his administration was as corrupt as any in history, and he was widely believed to be homosexual.

So the poke in the eye wasn’t enough, he had to kick us in the pants with speculation about Old James’ sexual preferences. Whatever. But the bit about the American Civil War was territory he should have avoided. I did quite a lot of research on the Civil War a few years back, actually got to dig around the Mathew Brady photo archives, talk to re-enactment guys, various historians, and so on. Did you know that there is a magazine dedicated to the study of the American Civil War? It’s called Civil War Times – which always made me chuckle. I asked the editor if it wasn’t a bit of an oxymoron – I mean, how long was the Civil War? Five years? The magazine has been around 10 years (and counting)? I digress.

[Buchanan’s] real failures were in refusing to move after South Carolina announced secession from the Union and attacked Fort Sumter, and in supporting both the legality of the pro-slavery constitution of Kansas and the Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott class declaring that escaped slaves were not people but property.

Any college history student could rip these two claims clean in half. The Union had already suffered incredible damage by the time South Carolina had enacted its secession. It can be argued that Buchanan was trying to allow diplomacy run its course; bring South Carolina and her like-minded Confederates back to the table for discussion. Any provocation would have only served to accelerate a rapidly deteriorating situation. Buchanan inherited this situation from our colonial heritage and I have to believe that most sitting presidents would have certainly done everything in their power to avoid civil war. Finally, that bit about the Supreme Court smacks of such ignorance of American governance. What could Buchanan have done? Declare the Court’s decision invalid and overrule it?

Buchanan set the standard, a tough record to beat. But there are serious people who believe that George W. Bush will prove to do that, be worse than Buchanan. I have talked with three significant historians in the past few months who would not say it in public, but who are saying privately that Bush will be remembered as the worst of the presidents.

Mere babbling; almost amusing, but my point is that it isn't. I knew that Bush would be bad for the country - well before he even stepped up to the podium and claimed his candidacy. But slapping ol'Dubya around this way is not productive. Using the American Civil War - the WORST war this county has ever suffered - demeans the argument. Reeves has only succeeded in demonstrating his total lack of understanding of that quarter of our history. His piece also foments more irritation with his use of false information and terrible analysis. And heck, the anti-Bush argument does not need to INVENT a reason to dislike this president.

I sent an email to Reeves – asked him to get his history straight. He didn’t reply. I guess ignorance is bliss too.

Read the rest of his article here. -HP

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