Many of you know Rumpole to more than a competent trial lawyer. Blog writer, dart thrower, consumer of moderately fine wine, literary critic and avid reader, admirer of the Bard, student of history and political junkie.
Herewith, upon the request of many, and in honor of our holiday, Rumpole ranks the Presidents.
1. Lincoln. Savior of the Union; author of the emancipation proclamation, President in some our darkest hours. After hearing the horrific losses at Antietam, which ranks as the bloodiest single day in American History (over 23,000Amercians were killed in a single day of fighting) , his was over heard to remark: “My God, what will the Country say?” He suffered from depression, had a mesuganah wife, and still managed to bear a load few ever have. He’s number one, and he's earned it.
2. Roosevelt. (FDR). Brought the country out of the depression; brought the country through the dark days after Pearl Harbor; whipped the Nazis and the Japanese, and did it all from a wheel chair. Created a political culture and view of Government as a partner with business, that while we might personally disagree with, has lasted six decades. The consummate realist, he was once asked what he would do if his policies didn’t end the depression. “Why, try something else.” he responded.
3. Roosevelt. (TR). This was a close one. You could make a really good case for Washington here. But TR has a warm place in our heart. Outdoorsman, creator of the National Park system, advocated living “the vigorous life”, and as a young man, thwarted ruffians in the wild and escorted them under arrest during a long river trip to the authorities back in town. A great Man, not just a great President.
4. George Washington. General, statesman, President, and wise enough to avoid the offer of becoming king. Father of the country has to make the top five, and in a way, isn’t the amazing greatness of his successors all due to him? He should stand alone in his own category.
Now things start to get tough.
5. Thomas Jefferson. Wrote the Declaration of Independence. Advanced the doctrine of separation between church and state. President John F. Kennedy welcomed forty-nine Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962, saying, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House—with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." He achieved distinction as a farmer, horticulturist, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, and he founded the University of Virginia. Loses some points for owning slaves and probably sleeping with them, but was by far and away our most introspective and intellectual president.
6. Ronald Wilson Reagan. Created a whole new dynamic in politics. Whipped the Soviets, began the expansion of US power after a decade of failures in the post Vietnam era, and ended years of high inflation and high interest rates. Very misunderstood President. The last true “Lincoln Republican” in our opinion. Had nothing in common with these lunatic right-wing religious neo-fascists that claim to be Republicans. Want to know how misunderstood his is? When he became Governor of California, he signed the largest tax increase in State history (to deal with a deficit that had been covered up by the previous administration) and followed that up by signing into law the most liberal abortion laws in the nation. A true “conservative” who believed in keeping Government out of people’s lives, Reagan was a much deeper political thinker than his enemies painted him out to be. An amazing communicator and leader; who can forget him saying “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” or his touching speech after the explosion of the Space Shuttle?
7. T. Woodrow Wilson. Created the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission, the League of Nations, and led the country through WWI. Underrated President.
8. Harry S. Truman (The “S” was a political addition and didn’t stand for anything.) Assumed the presidency in the most difficult of circumstances. Said he felt like a ton of bricks had dropped on him. Was kept surprisingly out of the loop by FDR and had to get up to speed quickly on things life the atomic bomb, Churchill and Stalin, and a economy about to be beset by strikes and turmoil. Dealt with MacArthur and the North Koreans (probably in order of difficulty.) Truman was a plain spoken man. Truman oversaw the creation of the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, and NATO. Truman once threatened to “kick the ass” of a critic who panned the singing of his daughter Bess. He also called the cad a son-of-a-bitch. Got to like a President who is not afraid to roll up his sleeves, curse, and kick some butt.
9. John Adams. Perhaps the most effective of the founding fathers, we admit to a bias for our only president who was also a criminal defense attorney. His successful defense of British Soldiers in pre-revolutionary Massachusetts, who were accused of manslaughter by killing 5 citizens when they fired into a crowd in 1770 (referred to as the Boston Massacre), remains a celebrated example of criminal defense to this day. There is an annual criminal defense award given out in his name. He was the Massachusetts representative to the Continental Congress. Adams is also credited as the Father of the US Navy. His writings entitled “Thoughts On Government” were as influential as any on the founding fathers. He was selected to negotiate the peace treaty with England in 1779, and his defense and protection of US fisheries along the eastern seaboard was crucial to the survival of New England, and thus the country. He was the first vice president of the US by virtue of finishing second in the electoral college to George Washington. As President, Adams skillfully maneuvered the country between the war between France and England, and his much discussed decision to keep the cabinet of Washington has come to be seen as an act of self assured statesmanship, not since seen until Lincoln brought most of his critics into his cabinet. Adams is the only one term president to make our top ten, mostly on the virtue of his work as a founding Father.
10. Nixon. One of our favorite lines in a Star Trek movie was when Spock is asked why he is doing something that appears out of character. And he responds that there is an old Vulcan saying : “ Only Nixon could go to China.”
Nixon could have been in the top five, but for the fact that his demons destroyed him. But he did go to China. He started the age of détente with the Soviets and signed the first of several nuclear arms treaties that have led to a true reduction of nuclear arms between the US and Russia. Another Republican in the mold of TR and Lincoln, he created the EPA and OSHA and the OMB. Can’t imagine George “global warming..global shmarming” Bush doing that. He also created the DEA, the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI Payments) and the Office Of Minority Business Enterprise. Nixon funded the war on Cancer. Nixon remains the only person ever twice elected vice president, and president, and of course, the only president to resign the office. Not many people know that it was Nixon who used the power of the federal government to enforce the desegregation of public education in the south. From 1968 to 1970 over 2 million black school children in the south were able to attend public desegregated schools in the south because of his direct efforts. And yet, he choose his Vice Presidents largely on the belief that they would be so bad, no one who want him to quit. He schemed against his enemies, abused the power of the presidency, and brought the country to the precipice of a constitutional crisis. Uniquely American, he was a master at foreign policy and intrigue, he was underrated in his domestic achievements, and he was for all intents and purposes a crook. Bit he also makes our top ten list.
Honorable mention. Rutherford B Hayes. We don’t know beans about his administration, but we love the name Rutherford, and it’s a safe bet he will be our only president named Rutherford.
JFK. We love the fact that he was often taken to citing poetry. He was a skillful politician, who had the foresight to call for a lunar landing, and the fortitude and skill to avoid world war III. His decision to remove missiles from Turkey in exchange for Khrushchev’s capitulation in the missile crisis is a study in allowing an opponent to negotiate an honorable surrender. He probably would have made the top ten if he had more time in office.
Madison. Another founding father who ranks right up there with great minds that changed the course of history.