1. George Washington
2. Abraham Lincoln
3. Franklin Roosevelt
4. Harry Truman
5. Ronald Reagan
Occasionally I read where historians, or some other know it all, ranks their greatest presidents or their worst. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and you are entitled to mine. I say, I say, that's a joke son. It always amazes me how some historians will rank Lincoln as first in the greatest category or somewhere near the top but leave Washington out altogether. Even worse is when I see Bill Clinton ranked as one of our greatest. This usually happens when the average person is asked to rank the presidents that they think are the greatest in popular opinion polls. I can respect someone if they think that Lincoln was greater than Washington but Lincoln or Washington or Washington or Lincoln should always be in the top two spots. Washington in my opinion, is in the number one spot for various reasons. Usually I say that no one is indispensable but I call Washington the " Indispensable Man" in American History. He truly is the Father of our country. If you just look at his presidency alone I would still rank him number one but there were three times that Washington was instrumental in the birth of our country. He led the Continental Army against the most powerful army and navy in the world for eight long years. Washington was a very wealthy man but he risked all of his wealth and his life. At the time of the American Revolution the punishment for treason was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. The offender would be drawn to his place of execution by horses, hanged to the point of death, emasculated, eviscerated and his intestines burnt before his eyes, beheaded and then his body was cut into four pieces. This form of punishment remained in effect until the early 1800's in England. At the very least he would face an English gallows if he failed.
Washington held the army together by his leadership in spite of starvation, disease, lack of proper clothing and shoes, lack of pay, desertion, and more. As a General he lost more battles than he won but he was smart enough to protect the army from total destruction. He realized that the country's survival depended on the army's survival. So his goal was not so much to win as much as it was not to lose. He was a slave owner who at first refused to use black troops in the army but was flexible enough and realistic enough to finally realize that he would have to use them as soldiers. As a result nearly a third of the Continental Army was black. Amazingly he turned down the chance at ultimate power by refusing to become a king or dictator at the end of the war by returning to private life. When the war ended many wanted Washington to become a king or dictator. After Yorktown one of his officers suggested that he should become king. Shocked, Washington rejected the offer out of hand and told the officer that his suggestion was inappropriate and dishonorable and he should never raise the subject again. He was tempted by power twice during the Revolution both in 1776 and 1777 because Congress was forced to abandon Philadelphia because of the threat of British troops. Washington was granted virtually unlimited power to maintain the war effort and preserve civil society, not unlike those powers which had been granted to Roman dictators of the past. He did what he had to do but returned the power after the danger had past. Washington was one of those great leaders that knew that he had to set the example because he was being watched, not only by his own generation but by future generations. His actions entrenched the American tradition of separation of powers and that the army and it's generals ultimately answered to civilian authority. When King George III found out that Washington would retire to his home at Mt. Vernon after winning the Revolution he exclaimed "If he does that he will be the greatest man in the world".
The second way that Washington was indispensable was in the late 1780's. Shay's Rebellion had driven home the fact that the loose confederacy of states governed by the Articles of Confederation was not working. There were many who wanted to reform the articles realizing that we needed a stronger central government, especially the power to tax, but they didn't want to abolish the Articles altogether. People like James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Washington and others wanted a new form of government. The supporters of a Constitutional Convention knew that their only chance at success was if Washington was directly and heavily involved in the process. Washington was happily retired from public life but the country looked upon him as a God. One of the reasons he supported a stronger government was because of his experience trying to keep the army fed, clothed and supplied during the war and having to deal with a weak government with no real centralized power. By attending and agreeing to be president of the convention he guaranteed its success. The Constitution was ratified because most people believed that Washington would become our 1st president.
As president Washington's primary goals was to build infrastructure, expand into western lands, increase American nationalism, reduce regional conflicts, promote commerce, and found a national capital. Washington knew America was an infant nation and needed time to grow into maturity. For this reason he steered the country diplomatically toward a closer relationship with England rather than France. This was politically courageous because most Americans favored France since they supported us in the war and England was our enemy. Washington knew however that France was in a state of chaos because of their own revolution and America shared a common language, culture, and legal heritage with England. This was part of the motivation for the Jay Treaty which was highly unpopular with many Americans. Washington also knew that a closer relationship would afford us some protection from the Royal Navy since our navy was virtually nonexistent at the time. Washington warned against foreign entanglements in his "Farewell Address" which many Americans have used to justify American isolationism. However Washington was not talking about isolation as a permanent policy but only as a means of giving America a chance to plant a firm foundation. He was hoping for at least one generation of isolation. America avoided war until the War of 1812. He established the tradition of a president only serving two terms which lasted until Franklin Roosevelt but was enacted into law by the 22nd Amendment. Washington will always be my choice for America's greatest president. Richard Henry Lee hit the nail on the head when he eulogized Washington by saying that" he was first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen".
Washington was instrumental in creating the country but Lincoln saved it. Lincoln's detractors claim that he expanded the power of the Federal government to a dangerous level and abused the Bill of Rights by unlawfully arresting people by claiming that right under his war powers because America was in a state of insurrection. This is a legitimate debate which we have not only faced during the Civil War but we faced it in World War I, World War II, and since September 11, 2001. Lincoln definitely violated the Constitution by enacting the first income tax to help finance the war effort. The income tax was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court but reestablished by the so-called Progressives in 1913 with passage of the 16th Amendment. The graduated income tax has been a plague on our society. However Lincoln as president was placed in an impossible position by Southern leaders. He was definitely ant-slavery in his views and had always felt that way. He was a pragmatic politician and if anyone knew the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution it was Lincoln. He once said that he revered these three things more than anything and in that order. He was a self educated man. Lincoln knew that the Declaration of Independence acknowledged the right of all Americans to rebel whenever they could establish that their government had become tyrannical. He also knew that citizens must establish a valid case for rebellion before it was justified. In Lincoln's mind the South had not proven their case. Regardless of his personal views on slavery he had no constitutional right to abolish it in the individual states. He did however believe that Congress had the power to prevent the spread of slavery into the new territories. He was on sound constitutional ground because of the Northwest Ordinance that had been passed by the Articles of Confederation.
Then there were the various congressional compromises like the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act even though he had been strongly opposed to the latter. I will add here that Lincoln was also a big believer in the resettlement of black people to other countries and for paying slave owners to grant freedom to their slaves. Lincoln shared a belief with many white Americans at that time that black's would not be able to co-exist with white people successfully as a free people and for their own good they should be resettled elsewhere. This idea was very popular before the war which helped lead to the founding of the country of Liberia in Africa. He held to this belief nearly to the end of his life. No Southerner loves his homeland and heritage more than I do but I am not a Southern apologist. The South had no Constitutional justification for secession. Lincoln said repeatedly that he would not try to end slavery where it already existed. The South knew that they were in danger of losing influence in Congress unless they could spread slavery into the new territories. Southern apologists claim that the war was over states rights or the tariff. I challenge them to show me one state right that Lincoln was trying to eliminate. Southern leaders both during slavery and during segregation have always hidden their real motives behind the issue of states rights. Yet their real motive was about maintaining economic and political power by keeping the black man and poor white man in their places.
The Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens stated the real purpose of Southern leaders in his Cornerstone speech in 1861. To slightly paraphrase, "our government rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition". As far as the tariff issue it was high because the South was not a producing region. Because of slavery it was a consuming region. It imported more than it exported. So you can even tie the tariff to the issue of slavery. The war was about slavery not states rights. If there had been no slavery there would have been no war. To paraphrase Grant in his memoirs he said that the South was the greatest emancipator of the slaves because by starting the war they insured the end of slavery. I will also add for those who claim that the war was fought over states rights that the South weakened the concept of states rights by causing the war. States rights is a fundamental and valuable constitutional principle that over the last one hundred and fifty years has suffered a slow agonizing death which can be traced to the Civil War and the South's resistance to integration.
Since the war was forced on Lincoln he was in a great dilemma. He never saw the South as a separate nation but as a region in rebellion. He felt that he had every Constitutional right to maintain and supply every fort in the South that was still under Union control. Ft. Sumter was one of those forts. He was smart enough to know that if he provoked a war by taking overtly aggressive actions he would lose political support in the North because the South had many sympathizers there or at least those who believed that the South was on firm constitutional ground. The South ended Lincoln's dilemma by firing the first shots. This was almost the equivalent of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor because it rallied the North. Men lined up to join the army. At first Lincoln's war aim was to preserve the Union. Freeing the slaves was not part of the equation. As time went on he realized that as long as slavery remained untouched in the rebellious states slaves were a valuable part of the southern war effort. Slaves freed Southern soldiers to fight while they dug entrenchments and planted and harvested crops for their families back home. Slaves helped provide food to supply the Southern Army. The Emancipation Proclamation was a brilliant war measure in that it freed only those slaves from states that were in rebellion. There were several northern states that were slave states and therefore they had loyal slave owners. As the Union Army moved deeper and deeper into the South more and more slaves flocked to the protection of the Northern Army. Southerners deserted because there were no slaves to work the fields in many cases.
The Proclamation was a diplomatic victory also. The aristocracy in England and France favored the South and one of the purposes of Lee's invasion of the North in 1862 and 1863 was to win a decisive victory on Northern soil in the hope of influencing foreign intervention on the side of the South. The Emancipation Proclamation ended that possibility because it changed the war aim from just preservation of the Union to a fight for human freedom. The average person in England and France favored the Union for that reason. As the war neared the end Lincoln pushed for the 13th Amendment that would end slavery once and for all. His aim first and foremost was always preservation of the Union but he had an amazing ability to grow as time and circumstances changed. As far as prosecuting the war Lincoln knew more than his Generals. He always seemed to have the best strategic vision of anyone. He went through a long line of Generals until he finally settled on Grant. Both men were made for each other and the two successfully prosecuted the war together. Lincoln was such a political genius that I think he would have been able to pull off a successful reconstruction of the South if he had lived. The more I read and study Lincoln the more I appreciate him. I love the Gettysburg Address because it not only honors the dead of Gettysburg but it talks about a new birth of freedom. The unfulfilled promise to black people that had been promised in the Declaration of Independence that all men were created equal. The following are my two greatest quotes from Lincoln. The first is prophetic and the last is from his second inaugural address which almost sounds Christlike in it's meaning.
"At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never!--- All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be it's author and finisher. As a nation of free men we must live through all time or die by suicide.
With malice toward none, with charity for all , with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nations wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan. To do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations.
I place Franklin Roosevelt in the great category of presidents primarily for his leadership in World War II more than anything else. Roosevelt evokes mixed emotions in me because I am an Adam Smith man when it comes to economic theory and for the most part reject the economic theories of Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx. I do not believe in the redistribution of wealth. To me Roosevelt's New Deal had for the most part a negative impact on American Society. I prefer free market capitalism. Under capitalism you have what is called boom and bust cycles. These cycles will come and go but they are usually of short duration. The depressions or recessions last two to three years on average followed by strong recoveries. When governments tamper with the economy as we had under the New Deal, and what we are going through now with Obama, we remain in a economic downturn with slow growth and anemic recovery at best. Although Roosevelt's rhetoric gave people hope we did not recover from the depression until the outbreak of World War II. If the war had not happened it is impossible to know how long the depression would have lasted.
Much has to be said about Roosevelt's ability to communicate with the American people. One of the most important functions of a president is his ability to use the "Bully Pulpit", as Franklin's cousin Theodore described the presidency, Ronald Reagan learned much from watching his hero Franklin Roosevelt. He inspired the country to reach new heights both during the depression and during the war. On the other hand I am of the belief that one of government's main roles is to provide emergency relief during a disaster, whether it is caused by a hurricane, earthquake, tornado or even an economic recession or depression. The help should be temporary until the emergency passes. It should not become permanent. Reagan believed this way. The problem when creating a Federal bureaucracy and entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, or Obamacare is that there is no way to reform it over time because it becomes a political football, and it simply grows more powerful, burdensome and expensive. All Democrats since the New Deal realize that these social programs represent longevity for their Party because they create virtually guaranteed blocks of voters. One can make the argument that Roosevelt laid the groundwork for economic recovery in the South by introducing electrification programs and the Tennessee Valley Authority which provided much of that electricity and helped to control rivers in the South that were prone to flooding, ruining crops and businesses. This is why so many older Southerners like my Aunts Goldie and Freddie virtually worshiped the memory of Roosevelt. The South had been in a permanent state of economic decline caused by the Civil War and our state governments being controlled by the old Bourbon and "Redneck" class of white leadership. Their segregationist policies held the South down economically until the 1964 and 65 Civil Rights Acts opened the way for northern and foreign business investments in the South.
It was the war leadership of Roosevelt where I give him the highest marks. Roosevelt knew that the American people were very isolationist in their sentiments and were dead set against going to war. World War 1 had been a horrible war. Almost 120,000 Americans died and over 200,000 were wounded. Although America was only in the war for about one and a half years, most of these casualties occurred over a span of just a few months. Many veterans came came back permanently disabled by the affects of gas warfare. Americans had decided that World War I was an unnecessary war that America should not have involved itself in and I agree with that assessment. Roosevelt on the other hand knew that Hitler had to be stopped. The war in Europe started on September 1, 1939, with Hitlers invasion of Poland. By June of 1940 and the fall of France England stood alone. The only thing protecting England from defeat was the English Channel, the British Air Force, the British Navy and the fact that Hitler had too few landing craft to mount an invasion. By themselves they were able to conduct a defense but unable to mount a successful counteroffensive. Roosevelt knew that we had to keep Britain afloat. He skillfully sold the idea of Lend Lease to the American people. After the German's invaded Russia in June of 1941 this program was offered to the Soviet's. Roosevelt was smart enough to realize that although Stalin was a butcher it was in our interest to support him. We would have suffered tremendous casualties if Russia had been defeated early on. Ultimately by the end of the war the Soviets killed seven Germans for every German that the Allies killed. Even with Lend Lease Roosevelt faced the dilemma on December 6, 1941 that Lincoln faced just before Ft. Sumter. The American people were still overwhelmingly against going to war. Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Like September 11, American's were mad at Osama Bin Laden but many could not understand why we needed to invade Iraq. After Pearl Harbor American's were mad at Japan, but not Germany. This is one of the reason's that I don't believe that Roosevelt knew in advance that the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt wanted to go to war against Hitler, not Japan. Pearl Harbor did not end Roosevelt's dilemma. It was Hitler himself that enabled Roosevelt to go to war with Germany. One of Hitler's dumbest moves was declaring war on America four days after Pearl Harbor. He hoped that by showing support for Japan they would open a second front by invading Russia from Asia. Instead, the Japanese focused on Indo-China, China, and the Pacific Island possessions of the United States, the British, the Dutch and the French. As a result all he did was open a western front against himself from the Allies, awakening the sleeping giant like the Japanese had done and insuring his ultimate defeat.
Another thing that Roosevelt did, that turned out to be vital in the war effort, is that because of the letter from Einstein alerting him to the fact that German scientists were working on an atomic bomb he began our own Atomic Bomb program. His pick of General George C. Marshall to oversee the military was brilliant. Marshall was instrumental in picking Eisenhower over many senior officers as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe which was also a brilliant move. Roosevelt put priority on defeating Hitler because he was the greater threat. His dealings with Stalin are controversial because he seemed to be naive about Stalin. Roosevelt felt he could charm Stalin and befriend him. An associate of Stalin once said that Stalin didn't need friends, only enemies. I believe that he was too willing to give up Eastern Europe to Stalin at the end of the war but one can argue that we couldn't have stopped him without fighting him and the American people were war weary. Most Americans at that time saw the Soviets as our allies. It would not be until the advent of the Cold War that we would view them as our enemies. Last but not least Roosevelt overcame his polio. He would never be able to walk without assistance but he did not allow it to defeat him. Again I look at Roosevelt with mixed emotions but if I am objective I would have to place him on my greatest presidents list.
Truman was a New Dealer like Roosevelt. He championed national health care insurance his entire life. For this reason I also have mixed emotions about him. However I identify with Truman because he was from common stock. Being from Missouri he was proud of his Southern heritage. He never went to college and only had a high school education but he was a self educated man. Truman was the inspiration when I named my blog "Reflections of an Uncommon Common Man". He was definitely the uncommon common man. I don't think that it is an accident that many of our greatest presidents were either self educated or not considered to be intellectuals. Washington, Lincoln, Truman, Reagan to name a few. Sometimes formal education inhibits leadership ability in my opinion. Truman was as politicians go, straight as an arrow. Which is ironic being that he rose to prominence as a politician working for the Tom Pendergast machine in Missouri, which was one of the most corrupt political machines in American history. Yet Truman needed a job. He was a farmer and had tried running a haberdashery with a former army buddy that eventually failed. He was elected as a Missouri judge but Tom Pendergast soon found out that Truman was not corrupt and he could not be corrupted. Rather than fire him or getting rid of him Tom came to respect Truman because of his honesty and I believe he used Truman as his token honest politician. The corruption that surrounded Truman bothered him greatly. He once said "that the difference between a crooked politician and an honest politician is that once you are bought, you stay bought".
When he was chosen by the Democratic operatives surrounding Roosevelt for Vice President in 1944 Roosevelt was a very sick man. Truman became president on April 12, 1945. Very few people had confidence in Truman. Roosevelt was a hard act to follow. The war in Europe ended several weeks after Truman became President but the war with Japan was expected to last another year or more. Truman knew nothing about the Manhattan Project until he became President. However he did not flinch when it came to making the decision about dropping the Atomic Bomb. Many bleeding hearts try to make the argument that the decision to drop the bomb was unnecessary because Japan was ready to surrender. It is true that some in the government had put out peace feelers but most in the military were not ready to surrender. They were prepared to fight to the death and the whole Japanese population had been mobilized to fight to the death. One of the myths of World War II is that the two bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war but it was a combination of things. Tokyo and many other Japanese cities had been firebombed by American planes since March and as many people died in those raids as had died from the Atomic bombs. Most people today do not know that five days before the Japanese surrendered the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria with the goal of invading Japan. From the start Russian forces rolled over Japanese forces. It could be argued that the Russian invasion forced the Japanese to sue for peace more so than the atomic bombs. However even with these developments most of the military still wanted to fight to the death. It was the direct intervention of Emperor Hirohito that turned the tide. He was smart enough to know that between the Russian invasion and American military power Japan was on the verge of total destruction with the loss of his position as Emperor. In addition he would be hung as a war criminal. The Allies had agreed earlier in the war that they would demand unconditional surrender from both Germany and Japan. Hirohito figured that he had some leverage if he agreed to end the war without a fight to the death. Japan would agree to surrender with the throne intact which was a conditional surrender. Even after the decision by the Emperor had been made a coup was attempted that very night by radical hardliners that wanted to continue fighting in spite of the Emperor. No Japanese commoner had ever heard the Emperor's voice. Hirohito recorded his voice to be played announcing the coming surrender. Their plan was to steal the recorded tape from the palace but only a blackout caused by the last American bombing raid prevented the radicals from pulling off a successful coup. Truman also reasoned that he would have been raked over the coals politically by those loved ones of servicemen who would be killed in an invasion knowing that we had atomic bombs available that could possibly have ended the war early. I believe it was the Russian invasion more than anything else that ended the war but I believe the bombs were the icing on the cake for Hirohito.
Truman had to deal with a rapid reduction of the American military. There was a fear that America would sink back into a recession. There were three big strikes in a row. In January 1946 there was a huge steel strike involving 800,000 workers, in April there was a coal strike, and in May there was a rail strike. Truman tried to have the railroad workers drafted but his attempt failed in Congress. Standing up to the Unions was not a politically popular move for a Democratic president since they have historically supported the Democratic Party. By June 1946 his popularity dropped low enough that the Republicans won both houses of Congress for the first time since 1930. He tried to pass social legislation including National Health Care insurance. The program was called the Fair Deal. He was not successful in passing his program. However Truman dealt with some of the toughest decisions a president ever had to face. Besides the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki he had to deal with the onset of the Cold War and the the formation of the Truman doctrine which was the beginning of containment as an American foreign policy. The Marshall Plan, which was really Truman's plan to rebuild Europe but for political reasons and the popularity of General Marshall it was safer to call it the Marshall Plan. The Berlin Airlift, and the decision to develop the Hydrogen Bomb in the face of intense opposition. Truman's decision to stand up against North Korean aggression. The decision to fire the most popular General in the army, Douglas MacArthur, for insubordination and the creation of N.A.T.O.
Truman showed courage on the issue of Civil Rights. Requesting a Civil Rights plank in the 1948 Democratic platform which led to the formation of the Dixiecrat Party led by Strom Thurmond. Truman was a Southerner who used racial slurs on a regular basis, even after he became president. He once considered joining the Klan to advance his political standing in Missouri but he eventually changed his mind. Even with an average Southerner's racial bias he was a fair minded, decent, and honest man. He had the political courage to speak out against the lynching and atrocities committed against black people and returning black war veterans in the South. His decision to be the first President to speak at a N.A.A.C.P. convention and last but not least his decision to integrate the armed forces by executive order. The integration of the military started under Truman but it would be Eisenhower who would truly implement the policy. Truman made mistakes, like allowing the French back into Indo-China to reclaim their lost colony after the end of World War II. This was the first mistake in a long list of mistakes that would eventually lead to American involvement in Vietnam. Truman was a man of such integrity that he always tried to do the right thing. In the 1948 campaign a man in a crowd shouted "give em hell Harry" and he shouted back " I tell the truth and they think it is hell". Many people think that character doesn't count in our elected leaders but I think integrity is a must. I can only imagine what Truman would think of the character flaws of recent Democratic presidents like Clinton and Obama. There is nothing wrong with partisanship. There was nobody more partisan than Truman. He had the integrity to go against his Party if he thought it was wrong. Sadly I don't see any Truman's available for the American people to vote for today.
I was raised in a household where my mother was a Democrat and I am not sure what my father was. He was a small businessman and I believe that he was more independent than anything. I know that he wasn't very fond of unions. He gave my Aunt Didi hell whenever she would go out on strike when she worked for the telephone company. The only election that I ever remember my parents voting in was the 1960 presidential election between Kennedy and Nixon. Mother voted for Kennedy and daddy voted for Nixon. After my parents died in 1963 I was brainwashed into believing the Democratic propaganda that Democrats were for working people and people on the lower end of the economic spectrum. In the South there were actually Democrats who held conservative views in regard to the military and on economic matters. I identified with the moderate to conservative Democrats but in the South there were no Democrats that I could support because of their racial views. I liked Wallace's views on everything but race. So as a young adult my Democrat of choice was Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington State. He was a Democratic moderate, when the Democratic Party still had them. I was able to support him with a clear conscience. However he never became the nominee for President and I was forced to vote Republican in the first election that I was able to vote in 1972. George McGovern was just too liberal for me and Nixon was the lesser of two evils in my view. After Watergate I was hoping for a moderate to Conservative Democrat that I could vote for and someone with integrity. Jimmy Carter seemed to fit the bill and for good measure he was a Southerner that had a clean record on Civil Rights. I am ashamed to admit it now but I voted for Jimmy Carter not once but twice. In 1976 and again in 1980. He is on my list of the five worst presidents in American History. I am writing this to lay the groundwork for Ronald Reagan. Reagan ran for President in 1976 and 1980. He was unsuccessful in 76 but won in 1980. To illustrate the impact that Reagan would eventually have on my life I felt like crying that night in November 1980 when Carter was defeated. I believed the Democratic rhetoric that Reagan was a cowboy that was going to get us all killed. That he was an ultra conservative, not very smart, and too old. I liked him as an actor but I didn't think that qualified him to be president. I wouldn't find out until later how smart Reagan really was and how tough he was, and how wrong I was.
My attitude toward Reagan began to change when he almost died at the hands of John Hinckley on March 30, 1981. The press at first made it sound like he wasn't very seriously wounded. Not until later would we learn that Reagan came very very close to dying. I was impressed by his humor, positive attitude and toughness. Then in August he fired the air traffic controllers. His critics have complained over the years that this marked the beginning in the slide of wages and benefits because it gave big business the courage to stand up to unions in general. This may have been an unintended consequence but Reagan was on strong constitutional ground. Air traffic controllers held a vital job and had taken an oath that they could not strike. This was Federal law and had been passed by Congress. Reagan was Chief Executive and was sworn to uphold the law. When they went out on strike they found out too late that they had messed with the wrong man. He gave them 48 hours to return to work. When they didn't he fired them. This action showed me that Reagan wasn't your typical politician that talked big but always found a way to cave. Like our present Republican Congress. This man didn't play. I didn't realize until later that the Soviets were also impacted by the firing of the controllers. They began to realize that they faced a formidable opponent in Ronald Reagan who would not be trifled with.
Although I considered myself to be a Democrat I began to take a hard look at the difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Actually I didn't realize it at the time but I was comparing the Democratic Party with the Conservative Movement. I began to take stock of my beliefs. Virtually everything I believed in was represented by Reagan and the conservatives. The Democrats supported everything that I was against. Homosexual rights, abortion radical feminism, unrestrained entitlements and welfare. They believed in gun control, and they were bleeding hearts when it came to the treatment of criminals. The Democrats believed in racial quota's in hiring and bussing. I began to seriously ask myself, why am I a Democrat? On national defense, especially since McGovern the Democrats have always been bad for the military and national defense. The Vietnam War did a job on this country in more ways than one but in addition to Watergate and the poor leadership of Jimmy Carter America was in a spiritual crisis. Carter was actually saying that America had seen it's better day's which is the last thing that I want to hear a president say. In 1979 we were humiliated by helplessly watching our embassy in Tehran taken over by a bunch of hooligans and the greatest power on earth was helpless to do anything about it. Carter had allowed Iran to fall to radical Muslim extremists. This was the event that set in motion the rise of Islamic extremism. Carter's indecision and weakness on foreign policy also led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Libya's Gaddafi claimed a 200 mile limit off of Libya's waters called the Gulf of Sirte. Rather than confront Gadaffi Carter ordered our Navy to honor it. It didn't take me long to realize that Reagan was taking us in a different direction and I liked the direction we were going. By 1983 I was firmly in the Reagan and Conservative camp and I have never looked back.
By 1981 America was in the worst recession since the Great Depression. It was worse than the 2008 recession. Several things helped to bring on this recession. At the end of World War II America ruled the world economically. Part of the reason was that our foreign competitors today were devastated by the war. Germany, Italy and Japan had been defeated and lay in ruins. Although England, France, and China ended up on the winning side they were also devastated by the war. England was virtually bankrupt. During the late 1960's and into the 70's these countries were coming back economically. Our heavy industries like the steel industry, automobile industry, and others were warned that if they didn't modernize and change their ways and improve product quality America's competitors would overtake us. They ignored the warnings. In 1973 America suffered oil shortages because of the Arab oil boycott. Our car industry lost market because Japan had focused on smaller cars, gas mileage and better quality. The Americans regained some of that market in the mid 1970's but instead of preparing for the next oil shortage they continued to build the same old gas guzzlers and cars that did not compare with foreign quality. Most American cars fell apart before you could even pay for them. The 1979 gas shortage devastated the American car industry. By the early 1980's Northern cities like Detroit, Pittsburg, and Gary Indiana were being called the "rust belt". Northerner's were moving to the South in droves looking for work. In the late 1970's inflation was out of control partly because of gas prices and partly due to the fact that the financial chickens of the Vietnam War were coming home to roost. This inflation was adding to the unemployment problem and making it hard on everybody especially the unemployed. Interest rates had gone sky high virtually killing the real estate market. Interest rates on new homes rose to nearly 20%. When Reagan took office he not only had a unemployment problem but high inflation. His economic plan was simple. Cut marginal tax rates, deregulation, and cut the rate of growth of social entitlement programs. Many of his actions were controversial. The Democrats constantly bashed him because the deficit rose dramatically during his presidency. However his foreign policy called for the rebuilding of our military and this is one thing that caused the deficit to rise. In addition the Democrats resisted cutting social spending which made up the bulk of deficit spending. It is funny to think of Democratic opposition during the eighties to Reagan's supposed deficit spending when Obama in just five short years has spent more money than all previous president's combined and yet we do not hear a peep out of them. Reagan's economic policy had us in a strong recovery by 1983 and led to the longest sustained economic growth in American history, lasting until the crash of 2008 under George W. Bush.
Reagan called the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire" in a speech to an evangelical group on March 8, 1983. This is one reason that I came to love Reagan. He called a spade a spade. Most Americans along with the majority of Eastern Europeans living under the yoke of Communism, agreed with that term. He was the first president to have the courage to call them evil and it gave many people hope especially those living under the yoke of communism. It seemed that, going all of the way back to World War II, whenever America negotiated with the Soviets we always came up on the short end of the stick. Reagan was criticized by the left because they felt that he was not willing to talk with the Soviets which increased the likelihood of war or friction between the two countries. Reagan later said that it wasn't because he didn't want to talk to them, it was because Soviet leaders kept dying. Leonid Brezhnev was Soviet Premier when Reagan was elected but he died in November 1982. The next Premier was Yuri Andropov who died in February 1984. His successor was Konstantine Chernenko who died in March 1985. Finally the Soviets picked a younger and healthier man named Mikhail Gorbachev who was in his early 50's and more progressive than his predecessors. Reagan was in no hurry to deal with the Soviets. He knew that the Soviet Union was a deck of cards on the verge of collapse and all that was holding it together was it's military power. The Soviets were not able to adequately feed their people because they were spending so much on military spending. Ronald Reagan visited N.O.R.A.D. in July 1979 and discovered what I had learned while I was stationed there. America had no way to defend itself against a nuclear attack. This was the origins of the Strategic Defense Initiative or as the Democrats derisively called it, Star Wars. Our nuclear strategy under Eisenhower was called the New Look or massive retaliation. This was primarily a plan to build up our nuclear forces at the expense of our conventional forces because a nuclear forces were cheaper than conventional forces. If a country became a threat then we would just threaten them with massive nuclear retaliation. Kennedy built up our conventional forces but a new nuclear policy was developed as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This was called M.A.D. or Mutual Assured Destruction. In my view it was not only mad but immoral because this plan had no provision for protecting the American people. The deterrent to nuclear war was if both sides were capable of destroying the other then that would be the best way to prevent a nuclear war. The left and the Democratic Party wanted more parity or equality between the Soviet Union and America in nuclear forces. They felt that if one side or the other could protect a large portion or most of their population this would embolden that country to launch a surprise first strike, upsetting the nuclear balance of power. Because of his visit to N.O.R.A.D. Reagan wanted to create an anti-ballistic missile defense that could protect the American people. Democrats derided this plan by saying it was impossible. My view was and is that America can do anything that it makes up it's mind to do. It developed the first atomic and hydrogen bombs. Nuclear forces superior to any country on earth and it placed men on the moon. Not to mention it's advances in science and medicine.
The Soviets believed that we could do it and between the threat of S.D.I. and our huge military build-up during the 1980's they were not able to keep up and at the same time provide for their people. Reagan ended the policy of containment established by Truman. He said that he not only planned to contain them but transcend them. His policies led to the fall of the Soviet Union which consigned them to in Reagan's words to the "ash heap" of history. Castro led a great push to take over Central America but Reagan stopped him by supporting anti-communist rebels in these countries such as the Contra's or those governments that were anti-communist. This policy was controversial because of the brutal characteristics of some of these forces that we supported but ultimately it was successful. The invasion of Granada nipped in the bud Castro's attempt to take over that island nation. Between Reagan and Democratic Congressman Charlie Wilson America was able to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Our support of Iraq in the Iraq-Iran War led to the ultimate defeat of Iran. These programs were controversial and had future unintended consequences but at the time we saw the Soviet Union and Iran as our greatest enemies. We were not so aware of the threat of radical Islam. Reagan's friendship with Margaret Thatcher strengthened our standing in the world. Thatcher had much the same impact, if not more so on England than Reagan had on America. She virtually saved England from bankruptcy by drastically cutting marginal tax rates and standing up to the unions. Their friendship rivaled that of Roosevelt and Churchill. With Thatcher's support he was able to successfully deploy the Pershing II missile in Europe to counter the Soviet medium range missile threat. His treatment of Libya changed from the policy of appeasement started by Carter to one of direct confrontation. Reagan ended the so-called 200 mile territorial limit off Libyan shores honored by Carter to the internationally recognized 12 mile limit. When Reagan was asked by an Admiral how far he was allowed to chase Libyan MIG's if our fighters were attacked Reagan responded "all the way into the hanger". Reagan would eventually order an air strike designed to kill Gaddafi but it was not successful. The raid forced Gaddafi underground. However Gaddafi was later linked to the Pan Am 103 bombing. Reagan ordered the capture of the Achlle Lauro hijackers by boldly intercepting them on an Egyptian airliner with American fighters. There are so many positive things that I could say about Reagan. Some of his policies were more successful than others. His Lebanon policy was disastorous. It led to the deaths of 283 Marines by a truck bombing and the Iran-Contra scandal was a mistake. Unlike Watergate and the Clinton scandals Iran-Contra was over foreign policy and not the personal interests of the president. Ultimately Reagan's main foreign policy goals and his economic policies were a huge success that have impacted us to this day. His words inspired us then and continue to inspire us today. For this reason and above reasons I rank him as one of our five greatest presidents.
My List Of Near Great Presidents
1. Theodore Roosevelt
2. Calvin Coolidge
3. Andrew Jackson
4. Grover Cleveland
5. John Kennedy
6. Dwight Eisenhower
6. Dwight Eisenhower
My List Of The Worst Presidents In American History
1. Lyndon Johnson
2. Woodrow Wilson
3. Barack Obama
4. Jimmy Carter
5. Ulysses S. Grant
6. Warren Harding
7. Bill Clinton
My List Of The Most Corrupt Presidents
1. Bill Clinton
2. John Kennedy
3. Barack Obama
4. Lyndon Johnson5. Richard Nixon