Opinion

A Presidential Hall Of Shame

Brent Smith The Common Constitutionalist

When I first saw the title of Brion McClanahan’s 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America: And Four Who Tried To Save It, I thought, okay, here we go with yet another rehashing of the same 20th century progressive presidents we already know. The author won’t be telling me anything I’m not already aware of or haven’t heard a thousand times.

Well, I am man enough to admit that I was wrong – dead wrong. Mr. McClanahan has a hit on his hands, or should. He lays out a case, in plain English, how each of nine presidents “Screwed up” our country. It is a fascinating and factual accounting of presidential usurpation of power.

If I may use a tired cliché, the book is a “page turner,” but not just for history buffs and those who enjoy reading about politics and the Constitution. Many books like this only appeal to tiny minority – mainly due to the perceived complexity of the subject matter.

However I was struck at what an “easy” read it was. Many, if not most in this genre are dry and tedious at best. They appeal, as I said, to a small cross section of readers and have the mass appeal of a doctorate dissertation.

McClanahan has crafted this book in such a way as to be attractive to geek and laymen alike.

For conservative “history buffs,” most of the nine will be obvious, but I was struck immediately by the inclusion of the man who saved the Union, Abraham Lincoln, as well as the man who won World War II, Harry Truman.

The arguments for the inclusive of these two executives are hard to deny, as he presents some rather intriguing and little known facts regarding the unconstitutional behavior of both Lincoln and Truman. He lays out, again in plain English, how even Lincoln’s reasoning for the Civil War was misguided and unconstitutional, with what the author describes as “Unilateral Executive Action” and “Flagrant Abuses of Power.” The chapter on the iconic Lincoln is a real eye-opener, even to those of us who fancy ourselves armchair historians.

The other American “Screw-ups” were more obvious, like the Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson and of course, our current president, Barack Obama. Yet I personally learned something new about each.

What I really found fascinating is McClanahan’s ability to remind us all about what he describes as the use of “The Right Presidential Yardstick.”

The author discusses presidential polls which rank the best to the worst presidents in history. He astutely asks how Americans measure presidential success. Is it popularity or effective communications skills, or maybe how much the executive is able to accomplish?

He then reminds us that presidents should only be judged by how well they adhered to the Constitution they all swore to uphold. This should be the only measure of success. Did they follow the rules they all pledged to follow, or break them for personal gain, ideology or political expediency.

Maybe more important than the nine “Screw-Ups,” were the four brave souls who tried there best to do the job as spelled out in the Constitution. After reading these chapters, we develop an appreciation of just how difficult it was/is not to be a “Screw-Up.” Of the four, only Thomas Jefferson might be considered obvious, but the author masterfully describes the intense and constant political pressure the other three had to endure just to maintain fidelity to the Constitution.

This book is entertaining and educational – a feat which is all too difficult to achieve. I must say, I am smarter for reading it.