Great Moments in Presidential Leadership
by Nathan Empsall, Sun Sep 20, 2009 at 01:02:49 PM EDT
For a change of pace, I thought I'd reach into the history box instead of the politics box - ie, let's let where we've been inform where we're going. Adapted from a post at Blue Moose Democrat.
The office of the presidency has generally been occupied by strong individuals, but with big pros come big cons. Johnson passed sweeping and positive domestic legislation of the sort most presidents can only dream, but micro-managed and lied his way into the deepest jungles of Vietnam. Reagan sped up the end of the Cold War and restored a sense of national optimism, but also racked up record deficits, encouraged an immoral culture of consumerism, and allowed Iran-Contra to occur. Still, there are a few bright spots. Here, in my opinion, are the six greatest displays of presidential courage from the latter half (or so) of the twentieth century. I am defining "courage" as a decision where the president intellectually weighed pros against cons and decided to risk his own political future to make an unpopular move that has since been proven best for the country.
#6) Kennedy taking responsibility for the Bay of Pigs, despite the risk of seeming weak to American voters and to Khrushchev.
#5) Bush Sr. raising taxes, putting the nation's need for a balanced budget ahead of his own need for a second term.
#4) Truman desegregating the military, ignoring the day's racial tensions and the possibility of harming "unit cohesion" to do what was moral, just, and right.
#3) Ford pardoning Nixon, putting the nation's need to heal its wounds ahead of his own need for a second term. It was unpopular and may have furthered injustice, but it was necessary to avoid unproductive further rancor, and the history books will judge Nixon far more than any court could have done anyway.
#2) Kennedy ignoring the Joint Chiefs during the Cuban Missile Crisis, despite the seeming naïveté of ignoring military advice on military matters. I do not believe it is exaggerating to say that Kennedy and Khrushchev's level-headedness may have saved the human race from the nuclear annihilation "duck and cover" was meant to prevent.
#1) Truman canning MacArthur. General Douglas MacArthur is one of the greatest generals in American military history and may have been the nation's most popular public figure in 1950, but come the Korean War, he gave poor strategic advice and found himself guilty of insubordination. Had he chosen, he just may have been able to pose a threat to the republic and stage a coup against Truman, but Truman took that risk and fired him. MacArthur, like the good soldier he was, stepped aside, thus preserving and cementing America's unique tradition of civilian control of the military. Both men deserve an honored place in the canon of American history.
My questions to you: Would you change the order of this list? Take anything off? If Barack Obama successfully passes substantive health care reform despite the anger of the Glenn Beck fringers, will he belong on this list? Above all, what moments would you say are missing?