Every week on Monday, the WoW! staff, community and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum, short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture, or daily living. This week’s question: Who are Your Favorite Presidents?
The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all.
Don Surber: My favorite is Trump. He’s taking on the establishment and every day is a new adventure. As they try to put him down, they expose their own corruption. Consider the AP Fake News story about Trump weighing sending 100,000 National Guardsmen to round up illegal aliens. It is preposterous. All the AP did was show itself to be run by liars.
My second favorite is Lincoln. Ended slavery. Gave us the transcontinental railroad (finished under Grant), land grant colleges, and the Homestead Act. Those four moves set the nation up for the industrial and agricultural growth that made us the most prosperous nation on Earth.
My third favorite is Reagan, a decent man who gave conservatives hope after 50 years of socialism.
Of course, Washington is the most important. He eschewed nobility. He set the tone for everyone to follow. This is why I do not call Monday “President’s Day,” and why Congress never changed the name from George Washington’s Birthday.
Rob Miller: There’s a novelist I like who used to be quite popular named Somerset Maugham. In one of his books (‘The Moon and Sixpence?’ The Razor’s Edge?’)he wrote that he had never ceased to be amazed at how much courage there was in the cowardly, how much baseness there was in the good, how much character there was in the dishonorable and how much honesty there was in the dishonest. I think it’s the same with presidents. The office and the challenges change the man, for better or worse.
A while ago I examined who I thought the worst presidents were based on specific criteria. Although now I would have to add Barack Hussein Obama to the list, I wouldn’t change it otherwise. But the best? Well, in no particular order:
Calvin Coolidge remains one of the few presidents ever to shrink the behemoth of the federal government while keeping a balanced budget. He oversaw considerable growth in America’s economy while exhibiting an almost voodoo-like knowledge of when to simply get out of the way and let things be. He did no harm and quite a bit of good. I also love his old fashioned Down East sense of humor. My favorite ‘Silent Cal’ story concerns a woman reporter who once gurgled at him, “Mr. President, I made a bet with some of the other reporters that I could get you to say three words. Can you say just three words for me?”
President Coolidge’s response? “You lose.”
Ronald Reagan was an amazing man and an amazing president. He turned America around from the decline of the Carter years and although he really did little to actually shrink government, he at least recognized and named the problem. Articulate, humane, brave and principled, he left America far better than he found it – strong, prosperous, confident and with its major strategic threat, the Soviet Union in eclipse and en route to defeat just a year or so later. I don’t refer to him as ‘Ronaldus Maximus for nothing.
John Adams remains a seriously underrated president. Aside from his role in the Revolution and being a prosperous lawyer willing to risk his neck for freedom, he was also Washington’s behind the scenes go to man when it came to keeping the fractious colonies in line or formulating policy. As president, he overcame serious political opposition to build up our military and is often called the Father of the American Navy. His term in office solidified nuts and bolts of the American government andhow it works. And yeah, a man of almost obsessive principle and courage, willing to risk ruin and social ostracism to defend the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre trial even though he was a firm and outspoken patriot – on the grounds that a man accused of a crime was entitled to a legal defense no matter what.
And at last we come to George Washington, truly the man who set the standard for our future presidents. While his ability to lead is a given, a window into his sublime character is that he was willing to take on the job at all. He was one of America’s richest men, comfortably ensconced at his palatial home in Virginia with nothing to gain by casting his lot with a bunch of barely organized rebels taking on one of the world’s great powers. He could have easily done what lots of people in his situation did…sit back, keep quiet and wait and see who would prevail. Instead, he took on the job and risked his health, his wealth and his life, because had the Revolution failed, there’s no doubt he would have been hung as a traitor and everything he possessed confiscated by the Crown. Washington was fully aware of that, but he possessed the moral and physical courage to take a stand and see things through, no matter the odds.
It’s far too early to assess Donald Trump’s presidency, but as a passing note, he has shown exactly that same kind of courage. He had a pleasant life of ease and plenty, a beautiful wife and a successful company he put together where he had the pleasure of working with his kids everyday. Instead of just sitting back and enjoying life, he chose to run for president and be subjected to ridicule, hatred and even physical danger.
He was never called a racist or Hitler before he decided to run for president with an R after his name, nor were his wife, kids and even his grandchildren ever attacked viciously in public simply because they were his family. And he’s putting up with all that plus the stress and hard work involved in the job itself at age 70 – for the munificent sum of $1 per year.
Disagree with him or not, you can’t deny that he chose to run for president knowing what it involved, especially after seeing how the Left and their trained seals in the media demonize opponents and their families. And he did it anyway. That kind of courage is an encouraging sign.
Mike McDaniel: The first on any rational being’s list would have to be George Washington. Even before he became president, at the Constitutional Convention, he was the unanimous–the only–choice to preside. He said only a very few words, and remained silent the rest of convention. A giant among giants, his mere presence was enough to lend the necessary gravity to the deliberations of giants. Likewise, there was no question who would be the first President of the new United States. Oh, to once again experience that kind of national pride and unity.
On the long ride to the new nation’s capitol, Washington passed tens of thousands lining the roads, and weeping in gratitude and admiration at his passing. It affected him deeply. A lesser man’s ego might have swelled to epic proportions, but Washington wept and was humbled. Washington served with dignity befitting the office. He could have been president for life–many clamored for just that–but knowing everything he did would set the tone for the future, retired to private life. Washington was a great American, and a truly humble and dedicated public servant.
Abraham Lincoln would also have to be on the list. His speech in response to Judge Douglas is a classic of American philosophy, mercy and grace. The Gettysburg address, less than two minutes in length, rhetorical, moral perfection. It is little known Lincoln was not the featured speaker that day, but was included out of obligation. The headliner was the greatest public speaker of the time: Edward Everett, who spoke for more than two hours. No one remembers what he said, but Lincoln’s words–and this is no faint platitude–will live as long as liberty survives. Likewise his Second Inaugural speech is a masterpiece of the depth and honor of the American spirit. I need not speak to his preservation of the union, the Emancipation Proclamation, and his genius for friendship.
As magnificent as it is, the Lincoln Memorial scarcely does his spirit justice.
Imagine Harry Truman, hours after being sworn in as president following the death of FDR: “Uh, by the way Mr. President, we have the most powerful weapon mankind has ever developed, and you have to decide if we use it against our enemies.” Harry Truman remains the only world leader to authorize the release of nuclear weapons.
As history marches on, more and more fools believe the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary, perhaps even war crimes. Perhaps the best recent information on the issues facing the new president is provided by the invaluable Bill Whittle, here. Whittle puts to shame the morally bankrupt arguments of the shameless. We owe more to Harry Truman than most can imagine.
There have been, at precisely the right times, just the right men in the Oval Office. I do not, for a moment, think this chance, but the guidance of God. Their morality, patriotism and courage turned the tide of history and ensure that freedom would not perish from the earth. Harry Truman, much reviled by those without knowledge of history, humanity and patriotism, think otherwise. How terrible to be such shriveled souls.
And then there is Ronald Reagan, the right man at the right time, the man who, working with other visionary world leaders, ended the Soviet empire and freed untold millions. His view on the Cold War was simplicity itself: “we win; they lose.” His unabashed love for America and belief it her greatness was a shining city on the hill.
Donald Trump. Does he have that kind of moral clarity, that kind of selfless courage? Will he truly drain the swamp and return America to government of the people, by the people, for the people? We shall see
Doug Hagin: Well, Washington set the standard. He term limited himself, limiting his own personal power. He set the example of what a president should be in many ways.
Reagan, because he believed, truly believed in Conservatism, and showed what Conservatism could do when implemented.
Also, two presidents not so famous. John Tyler, and Grover Cleveland But these men showed a great respect for the Constitution, and the separation of powers, and Federalism. I would suggest reading the book, Nine Presidents who Screwed Up America and four who tried to save her by Brion McClanahan for more of an in depth understanding of these two leaders.
Dave Schuler: While naming the usual suspects, e.g. Washington, Lincoln, is pious, it’s just too expected.
I’m going to have to go with the politically incorrect candidate of James K. Polk. He accomplished nearly every campaign promise and then, consistent with his campaign promise, refused to seek another term. As far as I’m concerned that’s batting 1.000.
He was also the architect of the present United States. He literally changed the map of the country.
Bookworm: I’m here to put in a good word for Calvin Coolidge. He understood that a liberty-oriented government exists to occupy as small a space as possible within the nation. It has its core responsibilities — national security, free commerce between the states, international relations, etc., but it functions best when it gets out of the way. Here are some of my favorite quotations, all of which are clear and concise, and all of which explain how he understood individual liberty; limited, constitutional governance; and the importance that faith (personal faith, not government-imposed faith) plays in a the affairs of a healthy, moral nation:
“To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.”
“I want the people of America to be able to work less for the government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. This is the chief meaning of freedom. Until we can reestablish a condition under which the earnings of the people can be kept by the people, we are bound to suffer a very severe and distinct curtailment of our liberty.”
“It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”
“This country would not be a land of opportunity, America could not be America, if the people were shackled with government monopolies.”
“Wealth comes from industry and from the hard experience of human toil. To dissipate it in waste and extravagance is disloyalty to humanity.”
“I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people.”
“The people cannot look to legislation generally for success. Industry, thrift, character, are not conferred by act or resolve. Government cannot relieve from toil. It can provide no substitute for the rewards of service. It can, of course, care for the defective and recognize distinguished merit. The normal must care for themselves. Self-government means self-support.”
“The nation which forgets it defenders will be itself forgotten.”
“…After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these are the moving impulses of our life. But it is only those who do not understand our people, who believe that our national life is entirely absorbed by material motives. We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism.” [Dishonestly, many anti-Coolidge writers stop with the first sentence or two. The whole quotation is powerful.]
“It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless and arrogant.”
“It is hard to see how a great man can be an atheist. Without the sustaining influence of faith in a divine power we could have little faith in ourselves. We need to feel that behind us is intelligence and love. Doubters do not achieve; skeptics do not contribute; cynics do not create. Faith is the great motive power, and no man realizes his full possibilities unless he has the deep conviction that life is eternally important, and that his work, well done, is a part of an unending plan.”
“Our government rests upon religion. It is from that source that we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberality, and for the rights of mankind. Unless the people believe in these principles they cannot believe in our government. There are only two main theories of government in our world. One rests on righteousness and the other on force. One appeals to reason, and the other appeals to the sword. One is exemplified in the republic, the other is represented by despotism.”
“The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country. There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man. Of course we endeavor to restrain the vicious, and furnish a fair degree of security and protection by legislation and police control, but the real reform which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of our religious convictions, or they will not come at all. Peace, justice, humanity, charity—these cannot be legislated into being. They are the result of divine grace.”
Honestly! How can one not love the man who presided so wisely over one of the most dynamic growth periods in America? It was imperfect as all times are, but looking back on the tapestry of American history, it compares very well to other decades. The most corrosive influence during this period was probably Prohibition and that, one must remember, was a gift from the Progressives.
The only reason Coolidge is not given the respect he deserves is that Progressives became ascendant in America’s history departments and media after his presidency, and they poured their encomiums on Franklin Roosevelt. That would be the Roosevelt who, among other things, imprisoned American citizens without due process, sent Jews to die in Nazi death camps, refused to integrate the American military, tried to force the Supreme Court to rule in his favor on manifestly unconstitutional acts, and kept the U.S. in a perpetual Depression thanks to his Leftist economic policies. FDR gets kudos for his upbeat demeanor and for being a patriotic wartime president who, thanks to Hitler’s stupidity in declaring war on America after Pearl Harbor, joined in the good fight in Europe, but otherwise he’s simply a post-War Leftist idol.
And yes, I agree with everyone else about George Washington, the man who would not be king; Abraham Lincoln, who refused to let the nation disintegrate at the alter of slavery, one of humanity’s great evils; and Ronald Reagan, who inspired a powerful conservative revolution, delaying by two decades the Progressives’ disastrous politics.
For now, I’ll hold off on Donald Trump. I think he’s doing wonderfully so far, and I’m still kvelling with joy about that beautiful press conference, but I still want to get more of a feel for his presidency before ranking him.
Laura Rambeau Lee: We are a relatively young republic. President Trump is only our forty-fifth president. I am taking this opportunity to provide some little know historical information on our third president, Thomas Jefferson. One can’t bring up the name Thomas Jefferson without some educated/indoctrinated liberal immediately responding with “he owned slaves”. That is supposed to shut down all further conversation about the man and diminish his accomplishments and contributions as a founding father of our country. We were all taught Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. What we were not taught was that his original draft was edited to leave out the following paragraph as a listed grievance against the King of England:
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”
You see, Jefferson, as well as the other founding fathers, detested the practice of slavery. Like many others, he inherited slaves through his father’s and father in law’s estates. It was the English monarchy that brought slavery to the colonies. The above paragraph was stricken from the Declaration of Independence in order to obtain the signatures of the representatives of Georgia and South Carolina and get unanimous consent of all of the Colonies.
Jefferson attempted several times during his political career to abolish slavery. His first attempt was in 1769 when he became a member of the legislature of the county in which he resided. In his autobiography Jefferson acknowledged that during the turbulent Revolutionary War eradication of slavery had not been addressed and he wrote “this subject was not acted on finally until the year 78, when I brought in a bill to prevent their further importation. This passed without opposition, and stopped the increase of the evil by importation, leaving to future efforts its final eradication.” Here we again see Jefferson’s personal commitment to the abolition of slavery in America. This was an important advancement towards ending the practice and also reveals the Founding Fathers shared the same commitment.
The Library of Congress states that, “As his life advanced, Jefferson became more and more concerned that people understand the principles in and the people responsible for the writing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson wrote: “this was the object of the Declaration of Independence, not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we [were] compelled to take.” He wanted future generations to understand what they had done, and more importantly, why they had done it.
Jefferson’s contributions to the founding of the United States of America sowed the seeds of liberty which set the course of our country towards the inevitable freedom of every man, woman, and child. It took a very bloody Civil War to finally effect this change. Never before in the history of mankind have free men fought to emancipate those who had been enslaved. In writing the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson established the precepts upon which our nation was founded. Our belief in the inherent right of every individual person to life, liberty, equality of opportunity, and self-determination, has been a beacon shining upon the world which still today attracts people from countries all over the world to immigrate to our shores.
History is never as simple or neat as we have been taught. As for me, Thomas Jefferson remains my favorite president. He had me at “sacred and undeniable.”
Well, there it is!
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