People claim George W. Bush is the most stupid man ever to be elected president. My response is,”define stupid.“ True, Bush must have the lowest I.Q of anybody who has infested the Oval Office, but having a high I.Q doesn’t make one smart. Bill Clinton could do the New York Times crossword puzzle in a minute and a half flat, but he wasn’t as smart as Warren G. Harding. Harding was bright enough to take his mistresses into the Oval Office closet.
In honor of eight years of utterly unenlightened leadership, let’s take a trip back in time and visit other stupid presidents.
John Adams was both a Royalist and a Puritan at heart. Adams wanted the President to have the same pomp and trappings as the king of England. We can blame him for the imperial presidencies. Adams wrote extensively on how American Constitutional law fit into Puritan predestination. We can blame Adams for the Puritan Work Ethic finding its way into our legal system as well as the President’s unconstitutional role as religious leader. It was John Adams who first realized that capitalism was a dandy way for God to show us who was going to heaven. If God granted you wealth, you were heaven bound.
Of all the Founders, Adams had the strangest twist on American Independence. He did not wish to be free of the King, he simply wanted to be free of Parliament. His argument was that since America was a crown colony, Parliament had no authority to tax Americans. That one stood as the weirdest argument in American jurisprudence until Bill Clinton tried to prove that fellatio wasn’t sex.
Adams was a Royalist through and through. As Vice President he was determined to make the Senate a hereditary position. Loathing the title Mr. President, he tried to change it to “His Majesty the President”, or (my favorite) “His High and Mightiness, The President”. By all accounts, Adams made himself such a pain that the Senate called him “Your Rotundity”.
Adams believed that God showed the world who was the true aristocracy by willing people to become rich. He called it the natural aristocracy. Taking a look at Barbara Bush’s most stupid kid, we can only presume that the natural aristocracy has become as inbred as the European species.
Ulysses S. Grant
I don’t know what to make of U.S. Grant. The man wasn’t a leader; he was a born follower. His parents named him Hiram Ulysses Grant, but he was renamed Ulysses S. Grant through a bureaucratic mistake that he didn’t bother to correct. Then everybody started calling him Sam. Grant was never a big smoker until the Civil War, when he felt he had to smoke all the cigars admirers kept sending him. His wife kept him away from booze until he was stationed away from her. Then he just sort of drifted into alcoholism. Grant sort of drifted through life with very little effort of his own.
Some believe Grant had Asperger’s Syndrome or some other autism spectrum disorder because of his uncanny talent for tactics. He retreated when other generals would attack and attacked when other generals would retreat. He either pressed his advantage in hopeless situations and exploited a hole in the South’s strategy nobody else saw, or he inexplicably retreated and saved his forces from a trap nobody else could see coming. It was this talent that made him a successful general, even if he did faint at the sight of blood.
Too bad his talent didn’t warn him away from The White House. As a President, Grant was a disaster. Unable to choose competent people for his cabinet or staff, he couldn’t even hire a decent chef. Every member of his cabinet got caught taking bribes, influence peddling, and embezzling. His own personal secretary was arrested for embezzling thousands of dollars. While this went on, foreign dignitaries were treated to army cooking. Grant set a precedent by pardoning everybody including the cook, who also embezzled.
Thanks to the corruption in his Cabinet, Reconstruction became a criminal’s wonderland. Gold speculation led to the US’s first bank failure and stock market crash. To give the man credit, Grant did try to provide justice for the freed slaves. However, he utterly failed in his attempt to provide justice to the conquered Native Americans. Grant handed the Bureau of Indian Affairs over to the Quaker Church, and their attempt to convert the Native Americans led to bloody revolts and fueled the Ghost Dance.
Grant died penniless from throat cancer. His own son conned him out of his life savings. In those days before Presidential pensions, Gen. and Mrs. Grant would have died in the streets had it not been for Mark Twain. He took them in, fed them, and paid Grant’s doctor’s bill in return for publishing rights to Grant’s memoirs. Grant died days after he finished the project. Twain gave the widow Grant 75% of the profits and only took 25%. Fortunately for Twain, the book became immensely popular. Twain retired to Europe on the proceeds.
Warren G. Harding
““He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.”
So said journalist H.L. Mencken about President Warren G. Harding. He was President after the first World War. His slogan “Return to Normalcy” must have made poor Mencken cringe every time he heard it. Normalcy was not a word until Harding made it up. He claimed that he liked the sound of it better than Normality. Harding has gone down in history as the first President to alter words for a campaign slogan.
Harding was the son of a newspaper publisher, and attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps. I am sure that Harding’s father did his best. Young Warren was simply born to fail. He kept one of his newspapers going by having a spirited war of words against a rival publisher, Amos Hall Kling. The stress of managing a newspaper was too much for young Harding. By the time he was 24, he had checked himself into sanitariums three or four times for nervous disorders.
Success came unexpectedly to young Harding when Kling’s daughter, Florence Kling Dewolf decided to marry him and chased him until he relented. Warren G. Harding could be compared to the fool in the Irish faerie tale who married his brains. Mrs. Harding was also the child of a newspaper publisher, but unlike her husband, she had the ability to understand the business. Within a year, Harding was a successful newspaper publisher. This was not enough for Mrs. Harding. She wanted to be the power behind the throne in Washington DC.
In earlier posts I credited John F. Kennedy with running the first modern campaign. I was wrong. The real credit goes to Florence Kling Dewolf Harding. Florence Harding was the first to employ the full media in a political campaign. She had movie cameras accompany her husband during campaigns. Harding may have so dumb he had to take off his pants to count to eleven, but he looked like a President. Florence made full use of that. Before Harding, a president could walk into any barber shop for a shave without being known. Harding was the first President who was easily recognized by the public. He was fabulously popular.
If Harding was content to simply let his wife handle things while he looked pretty for the cameras, he may have had one of the most successful presidencies in history. His wife’s philosophy was to back away from foreign political entanglements that were coming out of the end of the first World War. She was in favor of the League of Nations, but was more intent on rebuilding the war economy into a national prosperity economy.
Harding let his ego get in the way of his good sense and actually tried to become the President. He insisted on writing his own speeches which encouraged H.L Mencken to say that love was blind, but in Mrs. Harding’s case it was deaf as well. Harding also made the same mistake that Grant made by inviting the guys he partied with into his cabinet and staff. His administration became just as crooked Grant’s. However, Harding’s biggest mistake was that he was a womanizer. He had at least one child out of wedlock and at least one mistress blackmailing him since the time he was a senator. Warren G. Harding died before the end of his first term. There are many who suspect that a jealous Florence poisoned him.
There are many who would object to my placing Coolidge on a list of dumb presidents, and they do have a point. Coolidge was a bright fellow with a great sense of humor. When Dorothy Parker told Coolidge that she bet she could get him to say more than three words, Coolidge replied, “you lose” and refused to say another word for the rest of the dinner.
Then again, there are those who claim that old Cal was just barely smart enough to keep his mouth shut. That kept him from looking like the idiot he was. Those people also have a point. As president, Coolidge refused to take action to prevent the Depression of 1929. Coolidge refused to support labor, even though he was a champion of labor as the Governor of Massachusetts. Coolidge claimed that labor was a state by state problem. Coolidge refused to help the American farmer, claiming that it was a fact that farmers don’t make much money. He also refused to take action against corporate crime. So when the disaster of 1929 hit, the government was totally unable to handle the crash. By then, Coolidge was retired and it was Herbert Hoover’s problem.
Calvin Coolidge’s stupidity stemmed from a lack of vision. Coolidge was unable to realize that the world had changed from the 19th Century. The American frontier was officially closed, and the national economy had changed. There was a new interdependency amongst the states that the federal government had to make some changes to meet. In stubbornly holding on to the values of the nineteenth century, Coolidge created the Great Depression of 1929. By adopting the values of the Coolidge era, Ronald Reagan created the conditions that led to the great depression of 2008. How long is this going to go on before we learn our lessons?
Richard M. Nixon
There are many who felt that Nixon won the debates with Kennedy. Nixon argued with facts and Kennedy replied with slogans. Alas, Nixon in 1968 was not the man he was in 1960. By 1968 a fine mind had been destroyed by alcohol. By the time Nixon was elected, he was far into alcoholic paranoia. The secret service had to watch him or he’d escape and go on a bender. Nixon was once missing for three days and the nation never noticed. The President of the United States was found in a greasy spoon in the worst neighborhood in DC. He looked and smelled just as bad as the rest of the derelicts.
That was the birth of the modern presidency. Bob Haldeman and John Erlichman had the easiest three days of their lives. The government actually worked better without Nixon getting in the way. So when the Republicans regrouped after the Carter victory, they decided to select a president who would sit quietly in front of the TV until they needed him to make a speech. Ronald Reagan was the obvious choice.
There is something intrinsically dirty about the Reagan presidency. The poor man was steadily losing his faculties. He was not competent to do the job. He once said on camera that he just read his scripts. That a sick person was so blatantly exploited represents the worst of modern politics. A cabal that could do that is capable of doing anything.
George W. Bush
If I were George Herbert Walker Bush, I would blame little Georgie W on the milkman. The abysmal stupidity of the man is makes him the watermark for stupid presidents. His administration was as religiously warped as John Adams, as corrupt as Grant or Harding’s, and as destructive as Nixon’s. It was also as disastrous as Coolidge’s. I think they ran him for President because he would be another Reagan. They just hoped he would spend his time in the Oval Office farting in front of the interns. Unfortunately for the nation, Dubya let his ego get in the way, and he actually tried to do the job for which he was elected. There is some amusement in thinking over the consternation he caused amongst his handlers when he refused to sign the Financial Ethics Bill or insisted that infernal and forgettable woman be appointed to the Supreme Court. Then again, who says that his handlers were any smarter?
Despite my distrust of Barrack Obama and his connection to Chicago machine politics, it will be a distinct pleasure to have a President who speaks English. The economy may fall deeper into a depression, American jobs may continue to find their way to the Mysterious East, American troops may rock and roll through Iran, but at least our new President can pronounce nuclear. That in itself is a blessing. During times when homelessness is a bigger national disgrace than it was during the Depression of 1929, we have to take what blessings we can find.