A Clinton-hater’s wise observation

I’m a Clinton supporter, as you know. But what may not be entirely clear is that I don’t just support her because the alternative is Trump.

That is a sufficient reason to support Clinton. That is a sufficient reason to support anyone. If the Democrats were running a chimpanzee against Trump, I’d support the chimpanzee.

And yet there’s more to it with me and Clinton. I think she’ll be a good president. Or, to be more precise, I think she has the POTENTIAL to be a good president. Maybe even one of our greatest Presidents, on a caliber with the Roosevelts and Harry S. Truman.

I got in a conversation with a Clinton-hater the other day, who declared that she is the most paranoid Presidential candidate since Richard Nixon, and her administration would quickly, like Nixon’s second term, become paralyzed by scandals of her own invention.

Since then, I’ve surprised myself to find I agree with my friend. She IS paranoid. Justifiably so, given her career of being dogged by Republicans who make up lies about her and spread them to millions of willing supporters. Republicans lied that she’s a closet lesbian, they lied that she murdered Vince Foster, they lied that she made money on insider real estate deals in Arkansas (in fact the Clintons LOST money). They lied that she faked being sick during the first Benghazi hearings, and they are lying now that she is faking being essentially healthy other than pneumonia that she’ll get over. Republicans lie that she has somehow coopted three Republican prosecutors who have cleared her of wrongdoing that would get anybody else thrown in prison. Etc. etc. etc. I’m sure there’s a list somewhere of all the Republican lies about Hillary Clinton.

And yet paranoia would be Clinton’s undoing. Even if it is justified.

There’s an old joke that goes: Are you paranoid if they really ARE out to get you? That’s supposed to be a rhetorical question, with the answer: No. Paranoia, according to the premise of the joke, is the DELUSION of persecution. No delusion, no paranoia.

But the reality is you can be both paranoid and persecuted. And that’s Clinton’s problem.

Franklin Roosevelt, through Eleanor’s eyes

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Lillian Cunningham, The Washington Post’s Presidential podcast:

Following President Franklin Roosevelt’s death, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt decided to downplay her role in his administration. She saw that as a way to help elevate and secure his legacy, according to founding editor of the Eleanor Roosevelt papers, Allida Black.

In this new episode of the Presidential podcast, Black—along with FDR Presidential Library and Museum Director Paul Sparrow and White House speechwriter Sarada Peri—examine FDR’s leadership through the lens of the first lady’s contributions to his presidency.

Eleanor Roosevelt was an extraordinary American who left a huge mark on the country and world. Truly one of our greatest Americans.

Also, I love this quote, read on the podcast:

Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.

Redemption story

Chester Arthur’s entire career was based on political patronage. He was named Vice President in a deal with the New York political machine. But once he became President after John Garfield’s assassination, he cleaned up government, replacing patronage with professional civil service and paving the way for the reforms of the 20th Century.

Arthur is one of America’s least remembered Presidents, but he turns out to be one of the most interesting. In his early career, he fought for racial equality, integrating city streetcars nearly a century before Rosa Parks.

The redemption of President Chester A. Arthur – Lillian Cunningham – Presidential podcast – The Washington Post

There are 3 million civil servants who work for the U.S. government today. Many take entrance exams, they have standardized pay scales, they work in the State Department or the Department of Energy or the Department of Homeland Security, regardless of which president or political party is in office.

But this hasn’t always been the case. For the first 100-plus years of the country’s beginning, government jobs were basically handed out as political favors to people who, in many cases, had no qualifications or relevant experience. And it was a system rife with corruption and patronage.

So, how did one of the greatest beneficiaries of this spoils system end up being the president who passed civil service reform?

Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold and Stateline executive editor Scott Greenberger tell the amazing story of Chester Arthur’s personal transformation, from a political hack in the New York Republican party machine of the late 19th century to a president who began cleaning up the corrupt system that helped him rise to the top.

Abraham Lincoln was a writer and storyteller

His life ambition was to accomplish good works that would have people telling his story after he was gone, says the Presidential podcast:

This week’s episode focuses on Lincoln’s love and gift for language, both the written and the spoken word, and how that skill not only helped him bind together a country in the midst of civil war but also forever changed our understanding of presidential leadership.

“What I saw in Lincoln that becomes almost a trademark attribute I look for in other presidents is that sense of empathy and humanity,” says Doris Kearns Goodwin, the author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Goodwin is a featured guest in this week’s episode along with Michelle Krowl of the Library of Congress, who discusses many of Lincoln’s rare handwritten poems, letters and speeches that the library has in its possession.

Rolling off the tracks

The tragic, failed Presidency of Franklin Pierce

President Franklin Pierce moved into the White House in the years running up to the Civil War. The nation needed a strong leader. Instead, it got a President who would have been weak in the best of circumstances, but was broken after he and his wife witnessed the death of their young son in a train accident a few months prior to the inauguration.

The Presidential podcast:

James McPherson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, guides our exploration of Pierce’s tenure in the White House, between 1853 and 1857; along with Edna Greene Medford, who chairs Howard University’s department of history. They discuss not only the policies that happen on the 14th president’s watch, but also the personal tragedy that unfolds right before he takes office.

Like his predecessors, Pierce supported the alleged rights of slaveowners to own other people.

I’ve been reading a bit about slavery in the past year or two, and it’s giving me fresh appreciation for what a monstrous institution it was.

Presidential conspiracy theories, from Zachary Taylor to JFK

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President Zachary Taylor. Is that a face or what?

After dying in office in 1850, President Zachary Taylor’s death was the subject of a conspiracy theory for nearly 150 years. Finally in 1991, a historical novelist convinced Taylor’s family to have his body exhumed to test for arsenic poisoning. The test came up negative.

The JFK assassination is, of course, the subject of a hornet’s nest of conspiracy theories. There’s even a conspiracy theory that the CIA conspired to discredit the phrase “conspiracy theory” – to give people who believe in conspiracy theories the reputation of lunatics. Yes, it’s a conspiracy theory about “conspiracy theory.”

Oddly, very few people use the word “conspiracy” when discussing the one Presidential assassination that’s well-known to be a conspiracy: Abraham Lincoln’s.

The Washington Post Presidential podcast, with Lillian Cunnigham, examines the Taylor administration. Taylor was a hero of the Mexican-American War who didn’t get a lot done as President, because he expected Congress to behave like subordinate officers and obey his commands. That’s not how government works.

Presidential conspiracy theories, from Zachary Taylor to JFK [Lillian Cunningham – The Washington Post]

As president, Taylor kept his distance from Congress and his cabinet, even as partisan tensions threatened to divide the Union. Debate over the slave status of the large territories claimed in the war led to threats of secession from Southerners.

Despite being a Southerner and a slaveholder himself, Taylor did not push for the expansion of slavery. To avoid the question, he urged settlers in New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft constitutions for statehood, setting the stage for the Compromise of 1850. Taylor died suddenly of a stomach-related illness in July 1850, so had little impact on the sectional divide that led to civil war a decade later.

Zachary Taylor [Wikipedia]

And that’s the root of the conspiracy theory surrounding Taylor’s death – that Southern slave-holders poisoned Taylor for blocking the expansion of slavery.

James K. Polk got it done

He served just one term, was elected with four major goals, completed all of them, and died a few months after leaving office.

In a feat basically never before or again accomplished in the White House, President James K. Polk managed to execute nearly every single goal he established for himself at the outset of his term in office. So why is he rarely considered among the great American presidents?

In the newest podcast episode of “Presidential,” we explore that question with historian Amy Greenberg, a professor at Penn State University. Greenberg explains Polk’s key traits—in particular, his intense work ethic and his willingness to lie—that made his one term, from 1845 to 1849, so effective. Yet she also reflects on why “effectiveness” may not be the right gauge for greatness.

Musician John Linnell, of the band They Might Be Giants, also makes a guest appearance to discuss the song he composed about James K. Polk and what inspired him to write it.

Among Polk’s goals were annexing California and Texas. But he had to launch an imperialist war based on lies to do it, which might account for his relative obscurity today. Even in 1846, many Americans considered that beyond the pale.

James K. Polk: Getting it done [Lillian Cunnigham – Presidential – The Washington Post]

 

The White House killed William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison had the longest inauguration speech and shortest administration of any American president. He died 32 days after taking office.

He’s famous for that, for being the oldest American President until Ronald Reagan, for his campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” and not much else. His Presidential campaign was a forerunner of modern campaigns; he ran as a Washington outsider and everyman when he was in fact a patrician and Washington insider. And he had a catchy campaign song.

Many people believe he died of pneumonia contracted when he gave his long address, but the evidence doesn’t support that. For one thing, he didn’t get sick until three weeks after delivering the address. No, modern investigation points to the White House itself as the culprit.

The White House killed William Henry Harrison / Lillian Cunningham / The Washington Post

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William Henry Harrison