Interesting topic and conjecture. But von Hoffman's treatment is somewhat scant. It goes through the administrations of John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Benjamin Harrison, James Buchanan, Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover, James Madison and Richard Nixon, right up to the awaited obvious choice, George W. Bush. The expected conclusion was that we will have to wait and see how harshly history treats Mr. Bush.
The criterion stated by von Hoffman was how much lasting damage the President did. That being the case, waiting out the current executive, there is one President who was omitted from the list: Harry S Truman (1945-52). His track record says it all, and I suggest would rank him number one.
Mr Truman was an insistence by the Democratic big wigs who convinced Franklin Roosevelt that even he could not get a fourth term with liberal incumbent VP Henry Wallace on the ticket. I guess FDR just figured he would last a full term, and apparently foolishly yielded--one of his great, though rare, mistakes. It was his beloved Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, a most respected counsel, who could not reach him on the abandoning of Wallace.
Truman's record is still with us. He allowed the Taft-Hartley bill, the most anti-labor enactment in our history to ride through the Hill without protest. And although he did refuse General George Patton's offer to continue the 1945 march on Berlin with one on Moscow and then General Douglas MacArthur's request to invade the Eastern powers after Korea, his staunch anti-Red hysteria was carried out in other ways. Truman sat by as Joseph McCarthy raged with more rabid clamor that created yet more hysteria that threatened every American freedom up to this very day. He squandered the chance to expose the viciousness and lies of the Rosenberg persecution that led to their state murders. Most glaring of all, it was then Senator Harry S. Truman who, on the day after the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, took to the floor of Congress and said that if we see the Germans are having too difficult a time in that campaign, we should help them out and supply them with weapons and war materiel. Yes, he openly advocated our aiding and abetting the Hitler forces against Russia. It is all in the Congressional Record. As President Truman, he carried out that policy as a Cold War architect.
Moreover, it was on his watch that the war ended successfully and he had the opportunity to revive the New Deal of FDR that had brought America and the world to its greatest social accomplishments in history as we all recovered from the Great Depression. Instead of that, he prefered to shake hands with Winston Churchill and their declaration of the cold war that denied the world its peacetime greatness.
But without question, the event that puts Harry S,. Truman in a worst class by himself is that he was the one who ordered the dropping of the twin atom bombs on the twin cities in Japan in 1945. He was therefore essentially responsible for the immediate nuclear deaths of almost a quarter-million Japanese civilians and perhaps that many more from the aftermath, these over targets without demonstrable military merit to allegedly end a war that was essentially over. This legacy fits von Hoffman's criterion if anything ever did.
On the day Congress acquitted President Bill Clinton in the 1998 impeachment hearings, some reporters were at the home of author Gore Vidal in Italy and asked for his reaction. When he surprisingly said he would have voted for conviction, he explained that he was would have voted to impeach all f0rty-three Presidents as being unworthy. Maybe the Perkins appointment would have been enough to excuse FDR.
So while I thank von Hoffman for his naïve thoughts, more homework would have added Harry Truman, who indeed met the author's criteria.
New York, NY
Jan 24 2008 - 5:13pm