February 16, 2009

All-time Greats

It’s Presidents’ Day! And though it might be nice for us to celebrte the holiday by not thinking about politics for 24 hours, I?d probably be remiss as an editor if I didn?t solicit some ?favorite president? picks from our contributing editors. (NRO has got a symposium up, which, surprisingly, isn?t that bad, as it features, alongside the usual paeans to Lincoln that read like a 1950s high school textbook, some notable entries from Wes MacDonald and Bill Kauffman.)
Who are the greats? Besides the obvious selections, if you?re looking for heroic national leaders, I?d go with Old Hickory, who subdued the Indians and creatures even more savage, Central Bansters. James Polk, ?the Napoleon of the Stump,? is also a good choice, as he expanded the nation and having accomplished all his goals in one term, decided to call it quits.

But, of course, in the age of the trillion-dollar stimulus packages and attempts to install parliamentary democracy in Babylon, most of us would prefer a little less Thymos among our political leaders and more lethargy and sloth. 

With this mind, in their latest book, Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin have depicted William Henry Harrison as a superb national leader:

Rare in a president, he did what he promised to do. He told voters that he would ?under no circumstances? serve move than a single term. He made good on his promise in the most conclusive way. The poor man caught pneumonia giving his inaugural address. He was dead within 31 days of taking the oath of office.


And there?s always Coolidge, who did little politically and presided over an explosive growth in economic productivity and artistic output. Mencken might have first treated Coolidge as just another Boob, but after experiencing FDR, he became nostalgic for the Coolidge light touch: 

In what manner he would have performed himself if the holy angels had shoed the Depression forward a couple of years?this we can only guess, and one man’s hazard is as good as another’s. My own is that he would have responded to bad times precisely as he responded to good ones?that is, by pulling down the blinds, stretching his legs upon his desk, and snoozing away the lazy afternoons…. He slept more than any other President, whether by day or by night. Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored…. Counting out Harding as a cipher only, Dr. Coolidge was preceded by one World Saver and followed by two more. What enlightened American, having to choose between any of them and another Coolidge, would hesitate for an instant? There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.


Mencken is, of course, a little unfair to Coolidge, who was highly cultivated and possessed a formidable intellect. We probably won?t see his like again. 

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