Wednesday, January 7, 2015


I have a certain fascination with US politics and once took the prize in a Quiz evening when I was able to correctly name Barry Goldwater's Vice Presidential running mate in the 1964 Presidential election (Congressman William (Bill) Miller, New York).

And so it was a few weeks ago I enjoyed a very interesting discussion with Robert Ayson, Professor of Strategic Studies at Victoria University, where we rated all the American Presidents post WW2.   We come from quite different backgrounds and it was even more interesting that we both saw Harry S Truman as the stand out performer with his assumption of the Presidency in a vacuum, his decision to drop the bomb, his championing of the Marshall Plan as the catalyst for the reconstruction of Europe, his come from behind win over Governor Dewey in the 1948 Presidential election ('give em hell Harry'), the Truman Doctrine, his recognition of Israel, the Berlin Airlift and for having the 'balls' to fire MacArthur.

Honorable mentions to Eisenhower for keeping the cold war cold; Johnson with his championing of the 'Great Society but blighted by the Vietnam War; Nixon for his foreign policy initiatives (fatally flawed character notwithstanding) and Clinton despite himself.  

Kennedy was President for too short a time to make a considered judgement not helped by the myth and mystic that surrounds his time in the White House.

Reagan an enigma.   Restored Americas faith in itself but his management of the economy was crap.

We agreed that history will look unkindly on Ford, Carter and both Bush's with perhaps the greatest failure of all being ..... Obama.

Please feel free to agree/disagree.   Would welcome your comments.  


JC said...

Agree about Truman although his support for Israel came not without some tantrums from him as the pressures came on from the Israel supporters.

I think history will show Johnson's Great Society has almost destroyed the US Black society (as it has for other minority groups in many other countries) money for jam has rotted out the morality of these groups, destroyed their upward mobility and caused massive regression and intergration. So I put Johnson well down the order.

I put Reagan way up because his "crap economics" worked better than most of the alternatives and he pulled the West out of the cultural doldums of the 70s and early 80s.

George H struggled under the shadow of Reagan but more importantly as a one term President with a big war in the middle he was never going to be able to coast on the booming economy and US dominance that Clinton inherited.

Of Clinton.. agreed, but I'd credit Newt Gingrich and control of both Houses in his second term as the legacy.. Bill's genius was to be able to work with his opponents for the good of the nation.

Dubbya may be the enigma.. he won in controversial circumstances that gave him a poor mandate, he inherited the Dot Com bust and 911 would have destroyed him within months if he hadn't savagely counterattacked in Afghanistan and Iraq.. it pays to remember that he enjoyed (from memory) the highest ever Presidential approval rates immediately after the Iraq invasion.

IMO his real problem was he simply didn't have the oxygen sucking draw card personality of Reagan and Clinton when it was desperately needed to maintain legitimacy in the Iraq war and he'll never get full credit for his bravery in listening to the younger generals and colonels and embracing their COIN strategy in 2006 that won Iraq. Strategically I think he took a gamble with Iraq and he won a very good chance to bottle up Iran and Syria, gave the Kurds their head (still a success) and looked fair to form a critical alliance with Israel, Turkey and the Kurds if only Obama had held the faith. Sensibly he stayed low key in Afghanistan throughout his terms.

Obama?.. he's little short of a domestic terrorist race baiter, corrupt and a horribly inept foreign policy President but he will always be able to blame Dubbya for nearly all his gaffes but paradoxically he will now receive belated kudos for an improving economy engineered more by the gridlock in Congress that has balanced the budget for the first time in decades thanks to the work of the seemingly unimpressive John Boehner and in part to McConnell in the Senate.


Adolf Fiinkensein said...

I think you've been a bit tough on Reagan. Remember, he's the guy who (a) proved tax cuts produce more tax revenue and (b) broke the back of the air controllers unions who were holding the country to ransom.

The Veteran said...

Adolf ... the reason I say that is because Reagan added $1.412 trillion in deficits during his two terms.

He fought the 1982 recession by cutting the top income tax rate from 70% to 28% and the corporate rate from 48% to 34% while also increasing government spending by 2.5% a year. This included a 35% increase in the defense budget, and an expansion of Medicare.

Although $1.412 trillion doesn't sound like a lot when compared against 2014 debt levels, in fact Reagan's economic policies nearly doubled the debt during his Presidency.

JC said...

"in fact Reagan's economic policies nearly doubled the debt during his Presidency."

True, but that's total public and private debt. The Federal debt grew from about 31% to only 45% under his administration.

And as you can see Fed debt was falling prior to his arrival and a good chunk of that was falling defence budgets.. he reversed that to good effect for the liberation of millions of Europeans and others, ie, he used his military budget as foreign policy to outspend the USSR till it cried "Uncle".. I think that was a huge boon for the world.

As for other debt, GDP also nearly doubled during Reagan's time.


The Gantt Guy said...

I agree, I think you're being overly tough on Reagan. Much of the increase was military; required after Ford and (especially) Carter gutted it.

He was also dealing with a ProgLib Congress (where ALL spending bills have to originate, which is largely why he couldn't get through many of his spending-reduction measures, and why he shut down the government something like 12 times.

Arguably it was the Reagan legacy which led to the GOP House in the early '90s which, led by Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America, balanced the books and even managed to drag America's first black, rapist President to a fiscal surplus (which, of course, the Dems take credit for).

David Limbaugh says it far better than me...

Chaz said...

Reagan was an appalling president, and it's amusing to see the RWNJ's around here furiously making excuses for his terrible economic record while studiously ignoring Iran-Contra and his murderous cut and run from Lebanon. The US economy in the 80s benefited enormously from low oil prices, and even so Ronnie blew out the books. It was OK though, as Clinton sorted them out, in the same way Obama rescued the economy after Bush's disastrous reign of horror.

All Republican presidents since Eisenhower have been terrible for America. Analysis of the economic performance of the States under different presidents shows this unequivocally. That's because right-wingers actually believe moronic rubbish like: " tax cuts produce more tax revenue".

The Veteran said...

Chaz ... Obama doesn't hold a candle to Reagan who, for all his faults, at least restored Americas faith in itself.

Obama's foreign policy record is a litany of equivocation and flip flops. His domestic record is not too much better with his flagship 'Obamacare' programme under attack from both the left and right of the political spectrum.

Many commentators argue that the US economic revival of recent times (patchy at best) is happening in spite of Obama rather than because of him with business doing what America does best.