During another interminable presidential campaign, questions about the kind of president Americans want are again asked. When asked to select my favorite presidents, I name the following: Franklin Pierce, Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge, or Warren G. Harding. Then I get another question: what did they do? My answer: not much of anything. That’s why they are favorites. The best presidents are those who do the least.

Great presidents, on the other hand, have done damage to the nation from which its people have never recovered. Let us take a brief look at three so-called great presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt (TR), and TR’s cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). The Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, presided over the bloodiest war in American history: over 600,000 war deaths. People justify the carnage of the War Between the States (that’s the Civil War for those who attended government schools) as necessary to end slavery and save the union. But is that so? Slavery ended elsewhere in the hemisphere without bloodshed, but if it weren't for Mr. Lincoln, it would have ended here the same way here. Simple economic necessity would have caused its early demise. And of course, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave. Read what it says.

As for saving the union, what would have happened had the Confederate states been left alone to go their own way? Would they have detached themselves like tectonic plates and floated away? No, economic need would have resulted in eventual peaceful reunification with the United States.

Sending Generals Sherman and Sheridan to burn and pillage the farms and homes of civilians was the beginning of the modern notion of total war. Besides the violence it did to the Constitution, Lincoln’s total war made its horrors acceptable to most citizens. People now write ends-justify-means moral justifications of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the terror bombings of other Japanese cities, and the firebombing of the German cities of Hamburg and Dresden, all of which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and which had no military value. Mr. Lincoln’s war to save the Union created the modern moral justification for total war.

Then, we have candidate John McCain’s favorite, the imperialist Theodore Roosevelt (TR) who, like the current president, believed that U.S. presidents should not be reigned in by that annoyingly troublesome document, the U.S. Constitution. Teddy Roosevelt was a disciple of another imperialist, Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose magnum opus The Influence of Sea Power upon History motivated TR to send his great white fleet around the world to show the flag. Mahan’s book is a study of the British Empire at its height and suggests the steps great nations must take to be like the British Empire.

Incidentally, people who dislike President Bush’s military and foreign policy but who like John McCain should examine McCain’s national security and foreign policy prescriptions. As one wag wrote, “McCain makes Dick Cheney look like Gandhi.”

Then we have the Roosevelt (FDR) about whom I have written before. Lincoln beat him in men killed but not by much: 400,000 American men died in FDR’s World War II. People blithely slide over those deaths or else wrongly declare them necessary for the nation’s freedom. As for his domestic accomplishments, the chickens of FDR’s New Deal socialism are coming home to roost. Spare the nation. No more great presidents.

Stumptalk is published weekly in the Crossville Chronicle. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. Phil Billington serves as coordinator of this column. He may be reached at 484-2766.

Recommended for you