(Posted by Jim Winter)
1.) Ronald Reagan
2.) Abraham Lincoln
3.) Martin Luther King
4.) George Washington
5.) Benjamin Franklin
Um… What’s Reagan doing in the Top 5? I’m sure history will judge him kindly, even put him up there with both Roosevelts as a great president. But as your charming host has demonstrated as recently as last month, Reagan’s too recent (and still too divisive) to be a good choice.
A look at the nominees’ page tells the story. Half the nominees were celebrities. Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, and Tom Cruise (WTF?) were nominated. Oprah Winfrey made the top 25, but Mark Twain didn’t? Was there an IQ ceiling for this poll? I’m amazed Reagan, who, you know, like, ran a country and stuff, even made the list, given vapid semblence of logic used to fill out the rest of it. I’m even more amazed that Reagan, along with Dr. King, Lincoln, and two founding fathers even showed up in the top 5.
Frankly, I’m embarrassed Americans voted in this poll. Tom Cruise is a great American? Where the hell was Tom Jefferson? Yeah, he owned slaves. So did #4, George Washington. I don’t recall in my history books Jefferson in the court of Versailles jumping up and down on the couch telling the Countess de Winfree how much he loved Sally Hemmings.
More disturbing, though, is how recent most of the nominees were. As I said, half of them were celebrities. Somehow, I think Reagan got on there not for destroying the most idiotic tax system in US history, nor did he make it for his part in ending the Cold War. No, I think he got on there because he died. Recently.
Which is really ashame, because it says little about him as a president, good or bad. Like I said, at least he made the top 5 along with two other presidents, a civil rights icon, and one ofthe architects of our nation. I’m assuming Franklin beat out Hugh Hefner because while he lived Hef’s lifestyle, he had that extra edge by inventing the stove and the lightning rod.
Well, Winter, if you’re so high and mighty, who would you pick for top 5?
Well, first off, I’d exclude Reagan. Not because I dislike him, but because he’s still too recent to be objective about. As I said, he dismantled a moronic tax system. (70% is just evil under any circumstance, and I happen to be all for taxing the rich. Just not robbing them.) He also played arms race chicken with the Soviets, yet read Gorbachev right, which led to the end of the Cold War. But there are too many questions left. Was he unfair to the poor? What about his delayed response to the AIDS crisis? And could he have pressured South Africa sooner and harder over apartheid?
No, Ronald Reagan needs to simmer in the stew of history a little longer. He certainly deserves to be on the long list well before vapid celebs and writers who use idiotic phrases like “simmer in the stew of history.”
So who would I choose?
Well, let’s go with the top 10, ‘cuz I’m a Letterman kinda guy.
10.) Bill Gates/Steve Jobs
These guys share the #10 slot because they’ve done more to change the way we live our lives than any other business person or inventor in the last fifty years. Argue all you want about whether Windows is evil or if Steve’s just copping other people’s ideas anymore, the fact remains that together, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs put a computer on everyone’s desk and hooked it up to the Internet, making it possible for office workers everywhere to download porn on company time. God bless ‘em.
9.) Thomas Edison
Long before JP Morgan bought out his company and turned it into GE, Thomas Edison brought good things to life. Without Edison, there would be no modern technology. Sure, the pieces were all there, but Edison put ‘em together. And like Bill Gates, Edison had some questionable practices of his own and screwed his competition whenever he could. But think about it. We listen to music now on compact disc, which evolved from the LP, which… Well, you get the point, oversimplified as it is. I’m typing this by electric light with a keyboard that’s a quantum leap from the telegraph key from whence much of Edison’s technology sprang. Look around you. You can’t swing a dead cat with hitting something Edison either invented or inspired.
8.) Theodore Roosevelt
From Nixon to Carter to W, presidents always look to TR for inspiration. More often than not, I find myself wishing Teddy would be more generous inspiring reform and more stingy on the war mongering. Still, can you think of a president in the last 120 years who had more influence of our daily lives today? I can think of one, whom I’ll get to in a minute. Teddy Roosevelt might have swung his big stick a little too often, but he was also something rare: A wealthy patrician who nonetheless beat back the system and forced it to give more to the poor who supported it. Plus, we now have Teddy Bears as a result.
7.) Franklin Roosevelt
The most recent president I’d put on the list. Again, can you think of someone who still wields as much influence now as FDR? No, you can’t. Even his ideological opposite, Reagan, found inspiration in the man who led America through a depression and a world war, all from a wheel chair. No Frankie Bears, however.
6.) Thomas Jefferson
Architect of our democracy, which is handy, because he was an architect, among his many talents. A slave holder, Jefferson nonetheless also saw the need for the “peculiar institution” to ultimately be abolished. Had he shown the courage to free his own servants, he might have created a culture earthquake in the South where it was needed most at the time. As it is, he laid the groundwork for such change in the Declaration of Independence and through the precedents he set as president.
5.) Albert Einstein
Chances are, you’re reading this because Einstein thought a lot about quantum physics in his spare time. So much so, he once forgot to put on his pants. Everything from the Bomb to the space program and in between sprang from an equation scrawled on the back of a napkin at lunch: E=mc(sq). Because of this, fanficcers everywhere have laws of physics they can violate along with a few copyrights.
4.) Ben Franklin
Big Ben. Invented the stove. Created the lending library and the modern volunteer fire department. Negotiated independence and helped frame the Constitution. And let’s be honest, he’s the first American smart ass. For that, I’d put him at the top of my personal top 5, with Mark Twain and George Carlin coming in at 2 and 3 respectively. But this is not my personal list.
3.) George Washington
Because of George, we have a blueprint for how presidents should conduct themselves. Some of his practices – the two-term limit, for example – have been written into law, the Constitution, or official protocol. Washington was that rarest of individuals in American politics, a true moderate. Personally, though, I think the 1788 election was rigged. He’s on the dollar bill, you know, and Adams couldn’t even get his face on a wanted poster.
2.) Martin Luther King
Someone yesterday at Live 8 said, “Ghandi freed a continent; Mandela freed a nation; and King freed a people.” And King did it nonviolently.
1.) Abraham Lincoln
I wouldn’t want this guy’s job if you paid me a billion a year. Well, maybe a billion. I could at least afford better security for the balcony. Lincoln handled his office with dignity and grace at a time when lesser men would have cracked. Indeed, someone said had Lincoln lived and Robert E. Lee survived well beyond the Civil War, the history of American civil rights and reconstruction would have been vastly different, mostly for the better. Too bad we lost both of them in short order. Lee might even have made the top 10.
That’s my top 10. Now have at. Who would you put up there? And if you nominate a current celebrity, we reserve the right to say rude things about your mother.