1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Six: Presidents

So, let’s review the presidents we’ve had since 1998: A sexually harassing policy wonk, a genial imbecile, a malevolent imbecile, and Barack Obama.

I don’t think we do presidents well.

This assessment is bolstered by looking at the other five presidents who have been in office in my lifetime (in order, a crook, a placeholder, an ineffectual overthinker, an Alzheimer’s sufferer and George HW Bush, who was not my brand of politics but otherwise was perfectly middlin’, as far as presidents go). We could blame a lot of things for our generally less-than-excellent presidents, including the electoral college, low voter turnout relative to other countries, billionaires funding our political system, and the fact that we in general default to “when in doubt, vote for the guy you’d have a beer with” as a legitimate voting tactic. But after a while you have to suspect that the reason we don’t have great leaders is that we, or at least a large percentage of us, just plain don’t want them.

Mind you, if you had asked me in 1998, I would have been just fine with Bill Clinton, and even now I’m perfectly willing to grant he was a generally effective president whose political inclinations were (and are) largely in step with mine. He was very smart, very knowledgeable about politics, and was savvy enough that when the Republicans came for him with impeachment charges, he came out of the process with higher approval rating than when the process started. It’s not for nothing he was called “Teflon Bill.”

But hey, you know what? He almost certainly was a sexual harasser! And he did have sex with Monica Lewinsky, thank you very much, and was entirely wrong as president to have gotten that blow job from a friggin’ intern. Here in the #MeToo era we can call him for what he was, and not make excuses for him. I don’t have any issue with whatever arrangement he and Hillary Clinton may have had (if they had one) for his extracurricular activities, and I don’t care what he did with other consenting adults he consorted with. But the man crossed enough lines prior to his presidency, and as president, shouldn’t have been doing anything with the interns other than remembering their names correctly and taking a picture with them when it was time for them to leave. This is not rocket science.

I’d like to believe Bill Clinton is a different person now than he was 20 years ago on this matter; I know I am. But I also know that, failed attempt to remove him from office that did him no lasting political damage to the side, he didn’t suffer any particular consequences for his actions. Maybe he’s just happy to have been president when he was.

As for GWB and Trump, well. Most Americans who voted in 2000 and 2016 picked someone else, as well they should have, because TweedleDubya and TweedleTrump are two of the worst presidents since the Civil War. Trump is easily the worst president since Buchanan, and GWB I’d slot in probably at number three (rounding out the top five: Harding, Nixon and A. Johnson). We got GWB and Trump because of white people, specifically white dudes, which strongly suggests that if we are going to go around making it difficult for anyone to vote (which, to be clear, we shouldn’t), we should probably focus on them, since when in doubt, white dudes in particular go for the stupidest, least qualified person possible for president. This isn’t opinion; this is their actual fucking track record.

Dubya shouldn’t have been president; Trump shouldn’t have gotten out of New Hampshire. And yet here we are, dealing with the residue of one and the staggeringly awful reality of the other. If you want to do the United States a solid, the next time there’s a presidential election, find out who the general mass of white dudes say they are voting for, and then vote for the other one. Even if you’re a white dude. Especially if you’re a white dude. History tells you that you probably can’t go wrong, voting against the favorite candidate of the average white dude.

(“Oh, like Gore or Hillary Clinton would have been better presidents!” Why, yes, they absolutely would have been, and the fact that you might think otherwise appalls me. Gore would not have been the greatest president our nation has ever had, but he would have been fine. Hillary Clinton could have been the second worst president in the post-Civil War history of our nation and she still would be better than the cloddish gallstone in human form currently infesting the White House. If Gore had been president we possibly wouldn’t have had the global collapse of the economy in 2008 (posssssibly); if Hillary Clinton were president now the worst thing that would be happening would be the 300th day of investigations into her fucking emails, which would have gone like every other investigation into her, i.e., nowhere.)

Let’s talk about Obama. Obama is, objectively, the best president of my lifetime — he managed to keep the economy from crashing after GWB’s lax policies nearly instigated Depression 2: The Depressioning, he managed to pass the ACA and aside from these and other policies I generally approve of, he was decent, kind, smart and scandal-free in a way that no other modern president has managed. Was he perfect? No — there are legitimate criticisms of him from both the left and the right, and for my money he stepped too lightly at times where he should have been stomping hard. Now, I understand why he did that — because the racist chucklefucks who comprise the GOP primary pool, already in high testeria about the idea that a black man had somehow become President, would possibly have shot up the entire nation — but I think he was overcautious. Be that as it may, when he came into office, we were on the precipice of global collapse. When he left, we were… emphatically not. Obama wasn’t perfect. But he was pretty darn good.

I’d like to think that Trump is an aberration, but let’s be honest with ourselves. The time where we could rely on the GOP to nominate and run competent people for president, for the time being at least, is in the rear view mirror. Barring removal from office — which would be fine with me but let’s be realistic — Trump will run again in 2020 (even if he is removed from office I could see him running again, which should scare the shit out of the GOP, as he currently has 90% approval with Republicans), and then after that who do they have? Ryan? Rubio? That shambling carpet of squamous cells known as Ted Cruz? Fucking Mike Pence, the human personification of an actual stick up one’s ass? John Kasich is out there but he’s as exciting to the GOP primary voters as a stick of unsalted butter. The host of GOP primary voters don’t want sensible; they don’t even want insensible if it comes in a pretending-to-be-sensible package. They want racism, women forced to give birth against their will, and to shove gay people back into the closet as deep as they can go, and they want it at full screaming volume. Trump isn’t an aberration; again, 90% approval rating. He is what the GOP is now.

(It is not what every Republican or conservative person is. Let’s be clear about that. But, news for non-horrible GOPers and conservatives: You’re so very outnumbered now, guys. And maybe that’s on you a bit. Please work on fixing that. The rest of us will thank you for it.)

I can’t say I wished we picked better presidents, since as a nation of individual voters, we did. I can say that I wish our system didn’t allow such terrible presidents to have gotten in. In the last twenty years, we’ve had a sexually harassing policy wonk, a genial imbecile, a malevolent imbecile, and Barack Obama. We could have potentially had a sexually harassing policy wonk, a colorless technocrat, a humorless policy wonk, and Barack Obama. How much better we all would have been if we had.

111 Comments on “1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Six: Presidents”

  1. Hey! this one has politics in it! So, rules:

    1. Be polite to each other, please.

    2. If you come here with standard cue card talking points, you may get the Mallet. This is particularly the case with fuming furiously about H. Clinton. Reel it in, Chuckles.

    3. Likewise, anyone trotting out “both sides are equally bad” or its even more anodyne partner “both sides are the same” will likely feel the Mallet. Leave your disaffected posing elsewhere, people. There’s the whole rest of the Internet for that.

    4. Since it might come up, nothing in my criticism of Bill Clinton on the intern matter should be seen as a criticism of Monica Lewinsky, either at the time or afterward. I think in the grand sweep of time she’s handled those events as well as any victim possibly could have. With that in mind, please note that any cheap shots at Lewinsky will get the Mallet. Leave her be, please.

    More possibly later.

  2. I am trying to envision someone voting for Trump as a guy one would like to have a beer with. Perhaps one would like to be in the arena watching him ref a WWA wrestling while having a beer?

  3. “We should probably focus on them, since when in doubt, white dudes in particular go for the stupidest, least qualified person possible for president.”

    In the category of unsolicited advice: You might want to sit down first before you look in the mirror.

  4. LOL! I agree with your take…but there’s a more interesting question lurking behind the observations. Which is, why? Why does a reasonably well-educated electorate elect such people? And I’m not talking about the distortion of the popular vote caused by Federalism here; like it or not — and it is subject to change, albeit with great difficulty — that’s just the current rules of the road.

    I don’t know the answer. And I wish I did.

    I suspect part of the answer stems from an inherent conflict between a deep-seated part of American culture — “you can achieve whatever you’re able to; it’s all up to you!” — and reality. Which, IMHO, shows conclusively that everyone’s success is due, in part, to others. Many of whom we, as individuals, never know personally (e.g., taxpayers funding public education). The frame through which that support is channeled is community, of which government (of whatever kind) is a large, and necessary, part.

    Don’t get me wrong; I prize individualism. Empirically, it’s made us, collectively, far wealthier and better off than any other philosophy we’ve tried to date. But, like anything, you can take it too far. I think we’re dealing with the consequences of taking it too far, and forgetting that our success as individuals depends critically on our success collectively, as a society.

    Bill Gates didn’t get to be the richest person on the planet at one point because a few billionaires wanted to play video games. He made it because hundreds of millions of people were well-enough off to understand the value of, and pay for, the product he was selling.* Even the most dyed-in-the-wool individualist ought to be able to see that self-interest connection :).

    – Mark

    * this insults Gates, who is a pretty philanthropic fellow, so far as I can see. But it’s a good common touchstone, I think.

  5. Pedro, Scalzi’s very aware of his white-dude-ness, or did you miss his “Lowest Difficulty Setting” screed?

  6. If Gore had been affirmed, green energy would be a fact of life in the US. (I know, it’s awful to think the Koch brothers would be down several billion dollars.) Climate change might not have been stopped, but it would have been slowed. And if the 9/11 attacks had not been forestalled altogether, the response would probably have been much more measured.

  7. Pedro:

    (looks in the mirror)


    (Also: I know I’m white. I’m also aware that in Presidential elections, I vote differently than most white dudes. I do think it would be nice if more of them voted like I did, however.)

  8. “Barring removal from office — which would be fine with me but let’s be realistic — Trump will run again in 2020 (even if he is removed from office I could see him running again, which should scare the shit out of the GOP, as he currently has 90% approval with Republicans)”

    Oh, yikes. I never thought of that, although I should have because you are absolutely right. Let’s just hope he’s too busy defending himself from multiple state and federal charges having to do with money laundering, tax evasion, and, oh yeah, conspiring against the United States to even think about doing such a thing. Because again, yikes.

  9. @Scalzi: It’s doubtful Gore would have headed off the financial crisis. The groundwork for that was laid during the Clinton years by things like repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which to all appearances had Gore’s full support. But at least he would have taken climate change seriously; and he probably wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, or at least not in such a stupid and half-assed fashion.

    Out of interest: In the category of presidents-who-never-were, how do you rate John McCain?

  10. So my only real criticism with your ranking of the worst presidents is that as bad as Trump is (and it is bad) he has yet to start an unnecessary war that has killed on the order of 100k people, wounded far more, and least significantly cost the US government $2T. While the election of Trump was shocking/terrible from my perspective the re-election of GWB was far more upsetting given that by 2004 it was clear we were failing in both Iraq and Afghanistan … Kerry was no rock star but he was clearly a better choice than GWB.

    Sidebar: While I am no super fan of Romney, hardly a day goes by where I don’t think “Damned I wish he had run again in 2016”. I lived in MA while he was governor and while I don’t love the guy he did actually believe in a functional government and did not actively work to break everything in sight.

  11. My take on it is that Republican Presidents are dotards or crooks, whilst Democrat ones are intelligent but fatally flawed. Though we in Australia usually like to laugh and point when it comes to American Presidents, but we have not done so well ourselves. We do not get to directly elect our head of state of course. That honour goes to the oldest surviving Saxe-Coburg. Currently Elizabeth Windsor. But our effective head of state, the Prime Minister is the leader of the political party which is in Government. Such is the esteem with which our electorate hold these leaders that the party in power tends to swap leaders (and hence Prime Ministers) at the drop of a hat (or at least an opinion poll). So we have had seven PMs since 2013. And only one of them was any good. So our tale of woe includes a throwback to the 50s who reintroduced racism, a policy wonk who was hell to work with (twice), a diligent manager who was eventually undone by the misogynists and haters, a mad monk, a visionary who gave up all he believed in for power and lastly an evangelical christian whose greatest policy success was to imprison refugees on offshore islands to save them from drowning. Bless.

  12. No words on the ineffectual overthinker? (I remember wanting to vote for him in 1979 – not that I understood the issues at the time, but things went so badly that I felt SO sorry for him – but alas, I was 8).

  13. I hate Hillary, but can’t imagine she would have made a mess of things worse than Trump. Obama was a generally decent president though he had the chance to roll back some of the worst of Bush’s policies and didn’t take them. E.g. the surveillance state and drone strikes on people in far away countries without public scrutiny are two that come to mind.

    I tend to agree with you on Clinton. At the time, I thought he should have admitted to the affair, cried on TV and have been done with it.

  14. Iain Roberts:

    McCain: I don’t think he would have done as good a job as Obama in warding off the collapse of the global economy, and we might already have a Supreme Court willing to overturn Roe V Wade, and also, SARAH FUCKING PALIN, but otherwise he’d not have been horrible.

  15. As someone who’s been the victim of a LOT of sexual harassment, rape, and child sexual abuse, I’m having a serious problem with people calling consensual sex “harrassment” just because the man was more powerful than the woman. We know EXACTLY how consensual it was, because Monica was telling the person she considered her best friend all about it. How she gave Bill a quick flash of her panties at an event, about how thrilled she was when he approached her later. Why would a young woman want to fuck an older man? Very few straight women at the time were asking that question, let me tell you. Hell, I’d hit that now all these years later. Some women find powerful men *extremely* sexy. Monica did.

    Notice that when the Lewinsky scandal broke, there were no other incidents reported. Not ones that had substance … Kenneth Starr desperately tried to find others, and there were some women willing to talk to the press for their 15 minutes in the spotlight, but their friends were like “yeah, I’m sure she’d have mentioned that at the time if it had happened.” Meanwhile, Linda Tripp finally found someone who gave a shit about her tapes and sticky dress … not the authorities, because there was nothing illegal was going on. Oh dear, the president was cheating on his wife! And? FDR died while on vacation with his mistress.

    I’m glad that Bill Clinton said on “The Daily Show” that he’s learned a lot about life and his actions. That’s good. He grew up in a time when being inappropriate was OK, because men were never told “that’s inappropriate”, and when women objected, they were being bitches. Now he knows different, good for him. But the #MeToo movement (and Samantha Bee & Terry Crewes’ #MenToo) are too important and necessary to be diluted with non-harassment cases.

    Not that I’m ragging on just you about it – I’m sure you’ve heard all the white male interviewers confronting him about it, and you’re a good ally. This is me posting about society in general to please think about shit.

  16. Before “Teflon Bill,” Reagan was famously known as the Teflon President. I wonder if that’s something you remember or if the six-year difference in our ages is enough to make that before your time.

  17. Notice that when the Lewinsky scandal broke, there were no other incidents reported.

    Bill Clinton spent his political career having “incidents” come out, from Gennifer Flowers to Paula Jones to Monica Lewinsky.

  18. Oh, John, John… You say it all, and you say it all SO WELL.

    You and I probably differ on a number of policy positions. Also, I think Hillary has an excellent sense of humor, which she has had to shrink-wrap and store in the freezer for thirty years solely because to appear even marginally viable as a Presidential Candidate With a Vagina, she could neither make nor laugh at ANY jokes. Think about it. The evidence is out there.

    But other than that, you’re singing a song I wish I could have written. My own version isn’t nearly as pithy:

    My theory is that there are three basic approaches to leadership, and that while everyone can usually manage any/all of them, we tend to develop a go-to style that becomes our default mode. The three types are “Troublemaker” (this is a change agent, someone who promises to smash all the bad stuff and shake up all those blocking change and MAKE IT HAPPEN); “Figurehead” (this is the trustworthy caretaker of all that’s worth taking care of, who projects calm, authoritative competence at keeping the status quo quotidian) and “Pooper-Scooper” (this is the Competent Expert who will Fix What’s Wrong and clean up the messes).

    People who voted for Bill Clinton thought they were getting a Figurehead, mostly. That whole Democratic Leadership Council thing was focused on soothing the Establishment, centrist voters into believing that the Democratic Party wasn’t out to be Troublemakers, nuh-uh. What they got was a not-very-competent-at-it Pooper-Scooper who wanted to get in and Tinker With Everything in an effort to make everyone happy, and who couldn’t keep his damn’ zipper zipped.

    I have no fucking idea what people who voted for Dubya thought they were getting, but they ended up with one of the least competent Figureheads the nation’s ever known.

    So then we elected a superlatively competent Figurehead and I miss him so much. For a brief, shining eight years the rest of the world trusted we’d do what we said we would, keep our agreements, try to be a good neighbor, and generally Be Grown-ups. ::sniffle:: I miss it, I miss it…

    My explanation for [Redacted] is actually congruent with yours about the white dudes, which is essentially that the white dudes hated the whole “white patriarchal privilege ain’t what it used to be and that’s only gonna get worse on the current trajectory” and they went bald-headed for the most potent Troublemaker they could find.

    And he’s busily doing what a sociopathic, narcissistic Troublemaker always does. And here we are.

  19. Lady Brianna:

    I think there’s ample evidence Bill Clinton was a sexual harasser; independently, the President of the United States should not be having sex with a White House intern, for all the various power dynamic reasons any powerful person should not be having sexual relations with a powerless person in their organization.

  20. @Markolbert: “Why does a reasonably well-educated electorate elect such people?”

    I think part of the confusion stems from assuming that we have a high voter turnout. And we simply don’t – we have one of the worst voter turnout percentages PERIOD. We talk about who won what percentage of the popular vote in each election – but the real figure, for me, is the percentage of people who did vote vs. the percentage of people who could have voted but didn’t at all.

    Whether or not you turn up to vote isn’t down to education. It is down to a number of other factors as well – whether you have access to the polls, whether you know where your polling station even is, and whether you feel like you have skin in the game. Trump and Dubya may have been bad candidates – but they were really good at convincing their voters that they had skin in the game, and those people showed up at the polls.

    Whether voters are smart or not doesn’t matter so much as whether they know they need to give a damn. At present, 45% of the eligible voting public doesn’t think they need to give a damn.

  21. @ladybrianna: Maybe “harassment” isn’t exactly the right word. But if one party is in a position of power and authority over the other, a sexual relationship becomes unethical even if both parties enthusiastically want one.

    Examples are relationships like professor/student or doctor/patient. I’d say President/intern falls into the same category. And even in 1998, this concept was fairly well understood.

  22. Sorry to disagree, but your top five worst presidents are actually six.

    No objections to the rest.

  23. Seeing what has come out of the woodwork and been enabled by the Trump presidency, I suspect that President Obama’s election in 2008 and re-election in 2012 is partially responsible for Trump’s election — it was a wake-up call for racists that pointed to a future where “white dudes” may not be fully in charge.

  24. @Iain Roberts A a lifetime Arizonan (perhaps you’re one as well) I can say that my perception of John McCain is somewhat different than the national perception. McCain was very good at his his war hero “maverick” presentation. But, in the end, he was very much like the vast majority of successful politicians: “flexible” (or, if you think in the pejorative, a “flip-flopper”). He would play to his audience. If he was talking to the “base” he would be a staunch conservative. If he was giving a speech in a more urban area (Tucson/Phoenix), he would soften his approach to suit.

    He understood the dichotomy of the Arizona Republican electorate. The rural vote was the Republican base and the urban vote was the fiscal conservatives who were much more flexible on social issues. He adapted that understanding to his national runs. In 2000 he knew Shrub had the rural base locked up so he went for the fiscal conservative vote and softened his stance on certain social issues (primarily Roe v Wade). In 2008 he was the front runner so he courted the base more strongly (ultimately ending in Sarah Palin). He learned much from his first term with his participation in what became the S&L scandal.

    In the end he was (for better or worse) the consummate politician with his only flavoring being the “war hero” angle. And he used that angle at any opportunity to leverage his political ambitions.

  25. Looking at the US from an outside perspective, being a englishman, I think part of the problem is Fox News and cable news. Fox News told every conservative that they were noble patriotic individualists saving the world from those evil perverted liberals and all the socialists on the left, while cable news gave up being the political referees due to bashing by conservative talk radio.

    Like you said, the number one thing you see and hear on cable news, even so called liberal MSNBC, is bothsiderism. If one side of politics realise that they can behave as badly as they want and the referees (tv pundits) will blame both parties then they’ve got zero need to behave well and even a motive to behave badly.

    It doesn’t help that the reason Trump has 90% support from GOP voters is both he and they have been watching FOX news for decades, like they’ve said multiple times, “he’s saying what I’m thinking.” Not surprising at all.

  26. Very good piece, particularly the reference to Buchanan. If you look over the total list of men who have held the job, probably half of them could be argued as no better than ineffectual seat fillers. Too many of them have been actively bad. We had the presidential equivalent of the Three Stooges between 1850 and 1860.

    Since Watergate, the scrutiny given to candidates has become so intense that I’m amazed that any sane, rational person would consider running for the job. I agree with Arthur C. Clarke (I think it was in Imperial Earth) if you want the job, that should automatically eliminate you. The president should be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the job!

  27. Why is anyone still using “GOP” for Republican? Doesn’t GOP stand for Grand Old Party? The Republicans are not grand. Is it so much trouble to type the extra 7 letters in Republican? Your phone will probably auto-complete it, anyway, no typing required! And, same with Democrat. “Dems” just sounds stupid.

  28. Much as it pains me to admit it, Bush the lesser was worse than Agolf Twitler as a president, due to the two endless wars (and associated drone strikes) that he got us into without a clue as to the outcome. In terms of the number of dead (at the very least a quarter of a million) and money, he’s far worse than Trump. As a human being, however, GWB is much better.

    Obama was much too soft on the banks for destroying the economy – a huge bunch of them should be in jail (round 2 of housing collapse coming back, liar loans are back with a vengeance), and didn’t go after the torturers. But his biggest error was in Syria, which was not to go with the least worst option (Assad staying in power) and instead helped destabalise the country, leading directly to the refugee flood which was the tipping point in the Brexit vote and the resurgence of the far right in Europe. And it didn’t even work, Assad is mostly back in charge and another half a million dead. I blame HRC for a big chunk of that too, as she was SoS at the time.

    Trump’s policies are pure Republican – tax cuts for the rich, exploding the deficit, being mean to non-white immigrants, regulatory capture. For those saying Romney would be better, I have a bridge you can buy – his surface appearance is less appalling, but the policies are the same. In fact, there would be worse outcomes as he wouldn’t have stirred up as much anger as Trump while making it OK to discriminate and making abortion illegal.

    So yeah, US presidents. Not a great track record.

  29. What I continuously want to ask people is “Are you proud of your protest vote/non-vote now?” Every voter should absolutely vote for who they want. But if you look at the landscape and see a dumpster fire, you should vote to make sure the dumpster fire doesn’t win. Politics are total bullshit, but at some point, you have to play the game so that at least not winning is better than losing. This scenario is playing out in my own home state right now, with a plucky independent candidate for governor who is likely to pull moderate Rep votes away from a perfectly good Dem, both poised against an ultra-right-wing dude who is going to end up winning in a plurality. National GOP agenda condensed on a state level for me. Yay America.

  30. Trump may not be the Worst President Ever™. He’s barely completed 18 months in office and has much scope to get there, though. He’s certainly the worst person ever to become president, and also the most unqualified.

  31. The reality-tv version of America’s Federal government was going to happen no matter what: 8 years of Obama, and all the racists rallied behind King Orangejumpsuit but, let’s say, for example, we got McCain instead. His cancer would have been exacerbated due to the strain of the Presidency, and whammo, VP Sarah sees Russia from her house Palin is new POTUS, replete with dumb criminal grifting family and cruel by nature administration. This is where we are as a country. It was always going to happen now. Let’s hope seeing the reality (!) of it is enough of an inoculation against any lasting damage, but you know, it’s going to be painful. Voting Rights Act rolled back, Roe overturned (Sorry Sen. Booker, you don’t have the votes, nothing else matters), people in the streets, and the worst thing: there’s going to be a third World War.

  32. When 9/11 happened I thought “Thank God it’s not Gore” but years later I wonder. Yes, you could have shot me full of cocaine and red bull and he could still put me to sleep, but he was more in line with the whole anthropogenic climate change thing. Plus, I could see having a beer with him. Then again, I voted for Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Hillary. What do I know?

  33. The craziest thing about people choosing DJT as the better person to have a beer with: Trump is teetotal! The cake is a lie…
    I’m also disappointed by Obama not going after war criminals. However, can anybody see POTUS #46 going after all the criminality of POTUS 45’s regime? Perhaps a Truth and Reconciliation commission of some sort will happen, but I won’t hold my breath.

  34. Theophylact:

    I know people who would argue Andrew Jackson as the worst person, and they might be right. Trump is definitely one of the worst, however. I can’t think of anyone less qualified than him, for sure.

  35. I believe it was President Harry Truman who said that the civil war only came after the U.S. had five bad presidents in a row, including Buchanan.

    It seems to me that all party members are local. Many politicians, before aspiring to the presidency, start out at a more local level than the White House. Therefore to have better presidents, people could start by taking an interest in local politics. And local civic mindedness, call it Citizenship.

    The cliche for for non-democracies would be people knowing the face and name of the Dear Leader, yet not knowing local leaders, and locally sagging their shoulders saying, “What’s the use?”

  36. [Deleted for previously mentioned cue card arguments. Dude, take your leading, simplistic, not-in-evidence-from-the-actual-text questions somewhere that people are not smart enough to know they’re a waste of time, thanks. If you want to try again here, start with better questions — JS]

  37. > “then after that who do they have?”

    There are some non-horrible conservatives waiting in the wings that could transform into good candidates. Off the top of my head Baker and Huntsman. Michael Steele has been reasonable, called out his own party for racist baloney, and has been willing to talk about gun control.

    Strangely enough, Nikki Haley. She has spent the last couple years trapped in what had to be a rather rough spot with Rex Tillerson doing a poor job as Secretary of State, and random Tweetstorms smashing into our old alliances. I don’t know enough about her to put a bumpersticker on my car, but the post-Trump landscape is going to need people with diplomatic chops and some existing relationships.

    None of them are perfect candidates, but I don’t think the bench is completely empty-slash-crazy.

  38. I think also there is a pretty good case to be made for the contention (did not originate with me) that: “We’re where we are now because Nixon didn’t die in prison.”

  39. I’m always a little bit reluctant to criticize the “who you’d like to have a beer with” criterion, because… Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were totally the ones I’d like to have a beer with. I’m not sure I’m not using it myself.

  40. John,
    I gave some thought to Jackson (the racism, the duels, the imperiousness), but they were pretty much in tune with the times, alas. Being a general may teach you how to run a large organization, but it does encourage delusions of grandeur. But he wasn’t a thief, a liar, a womanizer, a slanderer, or an ignoramus.

  41. @BryanGardner Re Gore and 9/11
    The world would have been much much much better off if Gore the Bore had been in charge of 9/11. There would have been a real possibility of dampening down the patriotic frenzy and Pearl Harbour allusions instead of exacerbating them with his cardboard personality in charge.

    And if nothing else, American forces would have gone into Afghanistan with a plan, victory conditions, and an exit strategy, to avoid getting bogged down in the Graveyard of Empires. And the whole misjudged invasion of Iraq (the key destabilising event of our era) would have been avoided entirely, because as boring as he was; Gore had a functioning brain. And frankly, we could all have used a little boring discourse to take the edge off.

    I don’t let my government off the hook, because no matter the party they always seem to play the “Me Too” to America’s plans; but the way W decided to go all in on the frenzied military response, and the enthusiastic stripping of rights and fetishising the police and military, that scared me; even an ocean away. It isn’t just Syria that lead to Brexit, it is the entire post 9/11 paradigm. Thank God that is finally starting to fall apart, it should never have lasted this long.

  42. As I’m a little older than you, I remember two other good presidents (Kennedy and Johnson) – domestically! LBJ knew that the Democrats would pay for losing the Dixiecrats, and they have (and are). And while LBJ was an awful person in a lot of ways, he could do the job. And, as somebody else wrote, the “ineffectual thinker” is the only person in US history to make the presidency a step to higher things.
    I think your rankings are spot on – Buchanan remains the worst, according to the count of dead Americans (750,000) but Trump’s reign is young.
    From my point of view, there are no non-horrible (pro-poor, pro-civil-rights, pro-choice) conservatives who have a shot at the top job. All that’s wrong with trump from the Republican point of view, is that he’s pursuing their long-term agenda in a vulgar, attention-drawing way.

  43. Maybe the problem is the job itself. The Presidency has over-evolved since back when the Constitution was written. We expect POTUS to run the entire government bureaucracy, police the world, ‘fix’ a multi-trillion dollar economy, command the world’s largest military, etc. etc. So even the best Prsident has to rely heavily on too much staff. Get a man in there who doesn’t know how to recruit and retain the best, and…

  44. When I was little, in the 60’s, Dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I hemmed and hawed, and he said, “You know honey, you could be anything you want to be. Even President.” “President?” “Yes, President, but I hope you are not stupid enough to want the job.”.
    What followed was a discussion of what it’s like to be that responsible, to answer to so many people, all while living in a fishbowl. The only President I remember NOT getting grey within the first term was Jack Kennedy, but my recollections of him are pretty dim (I mean, he died when I was 3). Just going off of photos and news clippings and movies. Forever young. All the others look like shadows of their original selves by the time they leave the post.

    Add to that difficulty rating: The number one most dangerous job in the US is President. If you take the number of Presidents assassinated, and divide by the total number, you get a fairly high mortality rate.

    So – maybe “Why do we elect Presidents so badly?” should ask “How do we make this a job that brings the best leaders to the table?” .

    Just sayin’!

  45. The problem with having great presidents is that we only truly know that they’re great because they got the nation through really shitty times. FDR – The Depression and WW II, Lincoln – Civil War, Washington – founding of a nation. I’d rather not go through colossal fuckups just to test the mettle of the person in the Oval Office.

    What I usually want is someone doing B+ work – wise enough to allow the institutions of the country, the businesses, the schools, and the people to go about their lives, and smart enough to apply their intellect to the typical problems that do arise.

    So give me a B+ person for prez. We work hard enough, we can get one in 2020.

  46. Sometimes, I think that as much as I disliked his policies, GWB and I could have had a lovely interlude drinking tea or soda or whatever, and bonding over the bizarre expectation that everyone drinks alcohol.

    Trump is also a non-drinker, but I can’t imagine any interlude with him being pleasant, or even minimally civil.

  47. Good job, John. I like it. Carter was a better man than many suppose. He led a team of Nuke sailors who dismantled a failed reactor working 90 second shifts with a stop watch keeping time, to avoid dying from the loose radiation… possibly the bravest thing anyone ever did before becoming President, or perhaps right next to JFK on a speedboat loaded with torpedoes in the South Pacific. At night, with Imperial Navy warships shooting at them. OK I’ll call that a tie.

    I’ve never voted for a Republican for president, I watched Nixon’s Saturday Night massacre come across teletypes that night, wife and I in a darkened news room, clicking and bells ringing from the Times wire, The AP, UPI, all the big news services were going crazy that night. We read the newswires until probably 3 am, no big deal as we worked nights at an AM newspaper at the time, except Saturday nights were everyone’s day off. It broke me from voting for Republicans.

    I worked in a phone bank for Hillary, most lately, and for other Democratic candidates since I retired. I worked in state government, many hours a week, and felt uncomfortable doing anything but voting then. Now I contribute quite a bit to people like Tammy Duckworth, Amy McGrath, and will volunteer for someone soon. Anyone who didn’t think Hillary Clinton was far more qualified and a nicer person than Trump, well, I gotta stop now before breaking the rules…

    Keep up the good work!

    PS, heard about this post on Balloon-Juice blog, turns out I’m not the only Juicer reads you here. Whocouldaknown?

  48. Steven C.: “So give me a B+ person for prez.”

    That would first require a genuine B+ Democrat presidential candidate. The Hill tells us maybe as many as 25 Democrats will compete for the party’s presidential nomination in 2020.


    Think about that for a moment: 25 candidates would be a crowded class, given that the U.S. national average elementary school class size is 23.1.

    Caveat Emptor: Media will probably grade them all on a curve.

  49. Favorite Nixon story – shortly have he fired the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, I saw this graffiti in the men’s room of one of my favorite bars: “Nixon is a Cox-sacker.”

  50. I don’t know whether the narrative that demands responding to a white dude who goes against the standard white-dude pattern with “Yo, look in the mirror, white dude!” is more pitiful or horrifying. It’s certainly nothing that isn’t one of those.

    @ Dominic: On the nose. The most effective thing the Republicans have done is to cultivate a large bloc of people who literally do not believe anything they don’t hear of Fox News, and believe without question anything they do hear on it. It’s an ourobouros that can’t be broken from the outside, because their first response to anything that comes from any other source (including reality in front of their own eyes!) is to say it’s a lie. And I can’t think of any way to put a stop to it without doing things that would be unquestionably unconstitutional.

    @ Not the Reddit Chris S: You’re forgetting what Trump has done on the home front. All those executive orders, hamstringing every Cabinet department he can, enabling pollution, public epidemics, and discrimination of all kinds, starting a pogrom against anyone with brown or black skin including both naturalized and natural-born US citizens — those things count too. So do all the people who have died in Puerto Rico as a direct or indirect result of his refusal to provide assistance there after the hurricane.

    And then there’s the stochastic terrorism. Trump is morally, although not legally, responsible for every person who’s been killed by the Angry White Dudes With Guns who he has verbally supported and backed since the start of his campaign.

    I do agree with your criticisms of Obama. He needed to be much harder on the people who crashed the economy, and he should have completely repudiated torture.

    @ uleaguehub: I completely agree. We let not just Nixon, but the whole kit and caboodle of them, get off scot-free, and we’re still paying for that.

  51. I wish that I would be around when these Presidents become history. It would be an interesting read, if we survive this one.

    I think part of the problem is the big block of people who are afraid of the future, losing their god on our side place and the government letting men into the women’s room. Kids scoff at that, but it is there.

    I also have a soft spot for Jimmie Carter. Too bad he didn’t learn to delegate better. He could see all of those unintended consequences and they tore him apart. I would like to have a beer with him, even if it is a Billy Beer.

  52. Carter had the bad luck to deal with both a crappy economy AND an ugly foreign crisis (Iran hostages). Temperamentally, I think he was better suited to being an executive officer than a leader.

  53. I’ve been dropping in on Whatever since Old Man’s War but don’t believe I’ve ever posted before. That having been said, I’m confused by the content of this post and the subsequent commenting instructions.

    The instructions advise that this post “has politics in it[,] so, rules: 1. Be polite to each other, please.”

    Polite is generally defined as “of, relating to, or having the characteristics of advanced culture.” It is not polite to refer to any human being, under any circumstances, as:

    1. a “cloddish gallstone in human form,”
    2. a “racist chucklefuck,”
    3. a “shambling carpet of squamous cells,” or
    4. a “human personification of an actual stick up one’s ass.”

    It is impolite to take cheap shots at Monica Lewinsky, and the application of the Mallet in that circumstance is appropriate. Despite having the power to wield the Mallet, there is no principled argument justifying cheap shots at anyone.

    I have observed POTUS tweeting various shameful and intemperate language that is “less impolite” than the rhetoric above.

    The instant post does have politics in it, and sadly, demonstrates why civil discourse is failing even in the presence of human beings who have demonstrated an ability to communicate in articulate and polite language.

  54. Monica Lewinsky doesn’t bother me. So far as I can tell she pursued him, even to the point of getting a job at the White House so she would have the opportunity. I do know about her later misgivings but I find them less than credible given the history.

    Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Leslie Millwee, and Paula Jones are another matter. Those are troubling, very troubling.

  55. I must thank Scalzi for the creation of the wonderful word “testeria”. I intend to use it extensively.

  56. @lucaswilliams0605

    I think the rule about being polite is about being polite to the other commenters here, not to never say mean or unflattering things about anyone ever.

  57. Theophylact: I would say that the genocide puts Jackson squarely in the “terrible” category. I can’t remember if he was the bigamist, or if that was his wife.

    Frankly, I can’t wait until he’s off the twenty dollar bill.

  58. Regarding Gore and Iraq:I can’t quote any documents just now, but as near as I recall, only a few men urged us into that invasion, and those same few turned their backs once the invasion was a go. Therefore it seems to me Gore would have kept us out of Iraq.

    Also, former president Ford was rumoured to be furious that Bush got us into a two front war, Afghanistan and Iraq, instead of just one front. I think Gore would have had Ford’s common sense.

  59. lucaswilliams0605: I think you’re kind of missing the point of the warning. The instruction was “be polite to each other,” not to public figures. I suspect that if Mike Pence or Ted Cruz or whoever showed up at this blog with a relevant comment, Scalzi would be polite to them. The only person he specifically told commenters to be polite about was, as you point out, Monica Lewinsky–and even that read more as a warning to avoid defending Bill Clinton by attacking Monica Lewinsky than anything else, in my opinion. (And if you are referring to Scalzi’s calling the people tempted to break one his rules “Chuckles” . . . well, he’s called people who break his rules worse than that, and–again in my opinion–why wouldn’t he? He sets the rules, we can follow them or go elsewhere.)

  60. Lucaswilliams0605:

    Katharine V and Mary Frances have noted it correctly. You might also benefit from reading the site disclaimer and comment policy, as it directly pertains to your complaints. Also, if you’ve been dropping by over the last dozen years, I’m mildly surprised that you apparently have not seen a post like this before. I’ve been writing pieces like this here for, oh, the last twenty years or so.

  61. I tend to blame many of our ills on the Reagan administration. I considered Reagan a genial idiot, put in place by GOP powermongers to be their puppet (I consider GWB and the current occupant* to be later examples). The news coverage at the time that fatuously called Reagan “the teflon president” enraged me, because they were the ones applying the teflon.

    That said, it was the Reagan administration (“Reagan” from now on, it’s easier)that fairly effectively attacked unions, education, the free press, and the idea that “government” (in the USA) is supposed to be something that works *for* you.

    As far as I’m concerned, Reagan gave us FOX when he failed to expand the Fairness Doctrine to the commons, rather than ignoring it into oblivion.FOX helped give us GWB and *definitely* helped give us the current occupant* — and maintains The Base’s devotion and resistance to reality.

  62. The ‘what might have beens’ keep me up at night. Especially Gore v Bush and Hillary v Donald.

    I have until now never truly feared for our country, even during Watergate. But I do now.

    Please write a post detailing how we might leverage ourselves out of this. Without a military coup. Seriously; I’m terrified. I am clinging to my like minded liberals. Who are not white nationalists. Who believe in the power of government by the people to counteract the power of big business.

  63. It was a bit of an eye-opener to me a year or two ago, perhaps in keeping with Steven C.’s desire for a B+ effort at the job, to realize that George HW Bush was probably the best President of my lifetime. The “probably” is because Presidents, like the rest of us, are collections of parts, and some of those parts are hard to weigh. Bush has Iran-Contra to answer for, but the overall, mostly-forgotten tenor of his tenure and an actual intelligent use of military force puts him in B+ territory for me. LBJ, whose time in office includes my birth date, has both the Civil Rights Act and Vietnam on his record, and how do you weigh that? Obama has a lot of good in the record, but there’s just too much war, invasion of privacy, and encouragement of corporate malfeasance for me to put him at the top.

    As an aside, whatever measures it took to kickstart the process, I’m delighted to have political discussions popping up here again.

  64. Obama depresses me. And to be clear, it’s not his fault. But his mere existence really rubbed in just how much we were NOT in a post racial society, how completely irrational a large percentage of people are, how much we are in no way a shining city on the hill. I mean, sure, you got problems with his policies, critique them. He probably didn’t do a great job on Syria, Obamacare was a bit of a hack job (due, to be clear, to Lieberman, he did what he could), etc. But instead what do his critics do? “Oh he’s a secret Muslim!” (wtf does that even mean?) “Birtherism!” (Seriously?) I mean a chunk of people wouldn’t even debate him as a human being. The fact that he could shrug this off was amazing. And the fact that his opponents wouldn’t even talk to him but descended to tribal insults have written them off, to me, for a generation. And then we get today, and Charlottesville, and it’s like, Gees, my grandfather fought these people and my great Uncle was shot down and died fighting them, and seriously, we are back there? Will my son have to do the same thing?

    By the way, if I REALLY want to get really depressed, I just watch Obama and Anthony Bourdain having Bun Cha in Hanoi. The symbolism is epic. You have the war from 40 years ago hanging over things, but you have the optimism and brightness to reach out, intelligent conversation, and the Vietnamese loving it. Everyone I know who’s been to Vietnam these days loved it. And we threw it all away. Seriously, THAT is what we have descended from.

  65. “GWB’s lax policies nearly instigated Depression 2”
    I’m not fan of GWB but this problem had been brewing since Clinton took office. Glass-Steagall was effectively wiped out by Clinton The “home ownership builds communities” has been a hallmark of American since forever and drove the junk mortgage market.

  66. Katherin V: Insofar as the rule requires commenters to be polite to one another, the rule is well taken. Being polite does not require one to never say truthful unflattering things about a person; it does require that one not make ad hominem “mean” statements about anyone.

    Mary Frances: I don’t think I’m missing the point of the warning; it boils down to treating one another with respect. The mere fact that public figures are–literally–public figures should not abrade civil critiques of anyone, even persons who are remarkably distasteful. The reference to “racist chucklefucks” was not of rule-breakers. They are words that Scalzi chose and were lifted directly from his text. Your point is well taken: this is Scalzi’s site, he wields the Mallet, and he sets the tone for discourse within it.

    John Scalzi: Thank you for the link to your disclaimer and comment policy. I have been dropping in from time to time over the years. I have seen posts that were excellent and have seen posts that I would not be proud of writing. “Being Poor” is powerful and very well done; this particular piece struck me as unnecessarily boorish and damaging to its own message.

    Finally, on a continuum between the vulgarity of President Donald J. Trump and the eloquence of Barack Obama, this post is much more Trump than Obama.

    I’ll continue dropping in now and then, and hope to see more of your excellent work product like “Being Poor.”

  67. Except the problem wasn’t home ownership per se, but the packaging of bad loans into bonds with unverifiable risks. The packaging drove the offering of loans to people ill-suited to receive them, and passed along the (extreme) risks to people and institutions unable to factor for them (or, in the banks’ case, unwilling). I don’t think the fantasy of home ownership drove the problems as much as the ability of banks to create instruments to sell risk untransparently, which is on Clinton and GWB and deregulation,

    The GOP’s slate of presidential candidates was unimpressive, and they chose almost the worst of them, and yet it didn’t matter, because he got elected and their dreams came true. On one hand, having no principles (other than “Take what you can, and screw everyone else”) will get us as a country dead, but on the other hand, it seems to work really well at getting people elected. If that doesn’t stop. it won’t matter who anyone chooses.

  68. In general, you try to be polite and kind to people. If politeness and honesty are mutually exclusive, then (in most cases) politeness needs to go.

    With the long list of Trump’s public behaviors as President, I’m not sure that any polite description of his behavior would be anything other than fiction, and implausible fiction at that. Calling him “Toddler-in-Chief” is unfair to toddlers, who are often capable of love and empathy, and who have had little time to develop the character to temper their emotions. Most of the people in his party have spent their time normalizing deviance (don’t like economic figures? or perjury? or funny meetings with foreign powers? just ignore them!) and enabling Trump’s misbehavior and sense of entitlement. They should not get credit for not behaving as execrably as Trump – they just haven’t been willing to accept the public cost in perception of what they want to do, and so outsource it to the President. .He’s the apotheosis of their “principles”. In both cases, polite language and truth appear to be at odds. Perhaps if impolite language had been used earlier, to make concrete things they wished to avoid or to leave unsaid. worse consequences than what we face would have been avoided,

    In addition, civility, let alone kindness or empathy, have not applied to Republican discourse for some time – their standards only apply to other people. Why would anyone freely consent to discourse under those rules, while maintaining the pretense of honest discussion?

  69. “I wish our system didn’t allow such terrible presidents to have gotten in”

    Our system is an exercise in rampant disenfranchisement.

    The presidency is given to the candidate with more than 50% of the Electoral College vote. If no candidate gets more than 50%, congress votes on who wins. This forces the nation into a two-party system. Because if there are three parties, roughly equal in popularity, the vote splits three ways, no one gets 51% and congress votes on who becomes president. The two-party system that arose out of this means anyone who doesn’t identify with the two main categories feels unrepresented by their government.

    Each state decides how they will award their Electroal College votes, and the vast majority of states award their EC votes on a “Whoever gets the most votes from our people, get ALL of our EC votes”. This means that voters in the minority party have little incentive to vote. If you are a Democrat in a red state, or a Republican in a blue state, you feel little incentive to vote for president, because most states have an “all or nothing” rule for awarding EC votes.

    Mathematically speaking, the best thing every voter should do is vote for whichever of the two leading candidates that is closest to their political position. But people don’t think mathematically. They don’t think logically. They do “protest voting”, which means they don’t vote at all. They justify this with a “That’ll show them” response that is complete idiocy. Protest-not-voting does nothing, while the non-voter has convinced themselves they are better than voters. Voting for a third party presidential candidate, with the current set of rules, is equally moronic.

    protest voting is an exercise in reverse banishment. The protest voter convinces themselves that they are banishing the two main parties to the frozen tundra until they come around to their line of thinking. But the reality is the two main parties dont’ give a fuck about non-voters or third party voters. The protest voter ends up banishing no one but themselves.

    The “candidate with most people-votes gets all our EC votes” also leads to disenfranchisement of people in the majority party as well. Because the candidates don’t even bother campaigning in solid red or solid blue states. They spend the vast majority of their money campaigning in battleground states, ignoring the vast majority of voters.

    political parties with their primary elections tend to only see the more extreme voters and die-hard voters show up. This means that extremists are more likely to control who wins the party ticket. And once you get an extremist win the primary, the party will push voters to support their extreme candidate, rather than voting for the other party even if the other party candidate is better.

    Lastly, the Electoral College, a demand put into the constitutional design by slave states before they would support the constittuion, gives many small states more voting power than one large state. And small states tend to be rural, and rural states tend to be Republican. Which means republicans tend to have an advantage in presidential elections. Which is why we end up with 2 recent republican presidents who lost the popular election, but by the fucked up design of the constitution, won the electoral college vote and became president.

    Unfortunately most of this presidential election design is written into the constitution, meaning its hard to change most of it.

    However, there is one solution that can solve most of these problems. States get to decide how they award their Electoral College votes. The constitution only controls the requirement that the president must get 51% of all EC votes to win. States could implement different rules other than “winner gets all EC votes”.

    For example, the National Popular Vote movement is pushing for states to award all their EC votes to whomever would win the national popular vote. This would mean that every vote matters in every state. A democrat in texas still has reason to vote.

    I believe this could be taken a step further so that states could implement ranked-choice voting for president and then the state awards all EC votes to whoever would win the ranked-choice popular vote. This would allow third parties to run without a spoiler effect, which would make voters not in the republican/democrat line feel included in their government. It would also make the protest no-vote look even more idiotic, and the protest third-party candidate vote do no damage.

    Instant runoff voting means that we dont have just the extremists voting in the primaries giving the voters in the general election shitty choices. Instant runoff with the winner fo the national popular vote means there are no “battle ground” states. Every vote is equally important. A democrat voting in texas has just as much voting power as a republican in california, has just as much voting power as anyone in Ohio.

    The current system is something that extremists love. The system disenfranchises and discourages anyone with moderate views from voting. But extremists are encouraged to take over primaries and focus on battleground states where one vote could decide the fate of teh presidency. Changing to a system where voting is instant runoff and the most popular winner wins, would mean that moderate voters are encouraged to vote and extremists would be overwhelmed by the general populace.

    If you don’t want racists to keep getting elected, get rid of primary elections that are decided by extremists and get rid of the “most votes gets all EC votes” that disenfranches so many voters.

    The United States was born out of the ideas of democracy. But the specifics of how the law implements that system can have massive effects on the results of elections. And the US was essentially the first democracy, and as it turned out, the Founding Fathers got quite a few things wrong.

  70. Language policing is one of the top go-to tactics for concern trolls and other people who want to distract everyone else from engaging with the topic of what’s being discussed. Just sayin’.

  71. That’s a pretty good writeup. As a fellow alternatively voting middle class white guy, my opinion on Bill Clinton is this: When I vote, I’m voting for competent management of the ship of state. I’m not voting because I want him to come over for beer. Was Bubba a douche? Absolutely. Did I vote for him twice? Absolutely.

    I wouldn’t have him in my house, mind you, but I’d like him back in office.

  72. I can almost see Trump lining up his top advisors and requiring them to swear personal oaths of loyalty. Is ‘Zoe’s Tale’ going to become real life?

  73. @JustaTech, 7:07 PM

    I would say that the genocide puts Jackson squarely in the “terrible” category. I can’t remember if he was the bigamist, or if that was his wife.

    Frankly, I can’t wait until he’s off the twenty dollar bill.

    I think you’re going to have to wait a while. The plan for the Harriet Tubman $20 bill, scheduled for 2020, was quietly scrapped by the Trump administration. Can’t imagine why they’d cancel a plan to put a strong Black woman on our money.

    (also, the Tubman $20 wouldn’t have actually meant a $20 without Old “Trail Of Tears” Jackson, though he would have been bumped from prime position to the other side of the note)

  74. It’s rather telling that some of the people rallying to the defense of Bill Clinton’s legacy are resorting to some of the same tactics used by the apologists today.

    1) Impugning the credibility of the women who later accused Clinton of harassment when he was governor for not martyring their futures in a more timely manner.

    2) That some of the people leading the cause against him were themselves shitheels (Kenneth Starr, Linda Tripp, Newt Gingrich…).

    3) Accusing the women who came forward after the scandal broke of being shills (AKA crisis actors) looking for money and fame.

    4) Suggesting that because they’d “hit that” it means everyone else who did wasn’t actually harassed..

    5) Excusing inappropriate behavior because that was what powerful men did when the accused was growing up.

    6) Eliding Clinton’s out-of-court settlement of $850,000 to Paula Jones.

    7) Conflating the consensual experience of Lewinsky with the other women who did accuse him of exploiting the power he had over them.

    No. Just no.

    Bill Clinton is off doing his charity work like a good ex-POTUS and fine for him. I think we all know if Trump isn’t done in by cheeseburgers or the extremely unlikely event of prison, he’ll spend his time after office getting back to the same grift, shameless self-promotion and petty bigotry he’s always occupied himself with.

    But whitewashing Bill Clinton’s troubled legacy because some people don’t want it tarnishing his image is brazen hypocrisy.

  75. @Greg: The reality of the Electoral College even makes it hard for states to change their method of allocating EVs. The NPV compact aside, most of the methods people consider depend on the vote within that state–splitting by district like Maine and Nebraska, or proportionally, etc. But of course that reduces the influence of that state on the total. And if states dominated by one party start the trend, that’s a free gift to the other party. If just Democratic-governed states split their EVs that way it would hand all Presidential elections to the Republicans (which is why Republican governments try to do it in blue-leaning states whenever they can).

  76. @Dorothy Winsor: I think the conclusion is that being President is a really hard job. It’s nearly impossible to do it really well and you’ll never please everybody. The Presidents considered the greatest are the ones who led through such terrible times that just ensuring national survival was considered a major achievement.

    A typical random person off the street could undoubtedly be a better President than Donald Trump. I suspect it may take a person of unusual talents to do better than, say, Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford, and a certain degree of luck.

  77. Mathew: “most of the methods people consider depend on the vote within that state”

    But no law says it has to be done that way.

    “If just Democratic-governed states split their EVs that way it would hand all Presidential elections to the Republicans”

    Which is why the National Popular Vote has a clause that it wont kick in until more than half the EC votes worth of states have approved it.

    On another note, i think Bill Clinton takes a chunk of blame for the second Iraq war. Apparently, spies in the weapons inspectors teams were so busy trying to find and kill Hussein in the 90’s that the real inspectors couldnt do their job. And then Bill made “regime change is more important than disarmament” with the Iraq Liberation Act. We could have disarmed saddam instead of going to war in that quagmire, lost so many lives, cost a trillion dollars, created isis, and weakened america.

    Certainly, W was itching to get saddam even before 9/11, but he could point to the ILA and argue that regime change wasnt his idea, it was the democrats’.

    As for Obama, his “dont look back” argument to not prosecute torturers and war criminals just emboldened the fascists that much more. Cheney and W should have been dragged before the Hague and should be rotting in jail. Instead, the lesson fascists learned was that they were “too big to fail”. So when an actual fascist-for-president showed up, they all shrugged ‘sure why not’ and voted him into office.

    Obama also didnt seem to give a flying fuck about the democratic party. He wasnt as bad as Hillary. Hillary actually used the DNC to launder money to her own campaign to the detriment of any candidate in the party. But Obama seems to have just gone on vacation.

    Obama: B-
    Clinton: C
    W Bush: F
    Trump: expelled

    We should be electing better presidents. Obama should be an “OK” president outshone by an actual A+ president. How the hell we ended up with the “Breakfast Club” just boggles my mind.

  78. Obama: B-
    Bush Sr: C+
    Clinton: C
    Carter: C-
    W Bush: F
    Ford: F
    Nixon: expelled criminal
    Reagan: institionalized war monger
    Trump: expelled klansman
    And on

    So, the pattern seems to be that we dont elect the president we need, we elect the president we deserve, and we deserve crappy presidents because we’re crappy people.

  79. As for your list of other bad presidents. Just finished reading “White Rage” by Carol Anderson. Having never really thought about Andrew Johnson other than he was the first president to be impeached AND having seen a generally positive old Hollywood movie, I was floored by her description of him. If her descriptions of his actions are only half true, he clearly merits being much higher on the list of bad presidents. Perhaps #1. But Trump still has time.

  80. @Snowden:

    A a lifetime Arizonan (perhaps you’re one as well)

    Ha! Not even close. Canadian/Brit married to a Washingtonian (DC, not Seattle). But thanks for the perspective.

    Nobody stays in Congress as long as McCain did without being flexible and adept at tailoring his words to different audiences. And he was a Republican, in many respects a fairly conservative one, not the cuddly almost-Democrat of some media fantasies. That said, he appeared to have some principles, a functioning brain and occasional glimmers of conscience, which puts him head and shoulders above the sorry bunch running his party now.

  81. Lots of words in a detailed analysis. I agree with some and disagree with more. Seems to be a strong flavor of TDS shining through. I strongly support Trump’s policies but not all of his personal traits .. but I understand that is a part of his alpha-male persona. But overall any interesting take.

  82. I only have one issue with your essay. As an older white guy, I am getting a little sick of taking the blame for this shit show. Some disgruntled, Fox news loving, white ignoratti did change their votes for El Duce L’Orange, but by and large these are thee same schmucks we have always had, the ones for Nixon, Reagan, Bush^2, and the ever-popular Mussolini lite.

    In former life I ran an engineering failure analysis group. The key principle was to identify the root cause of the failure. Most untrained people observe various levels of symptoms and assume they are the cause of the observed problem; rarely the actual cause. If you don’t identify that actual root cause of the problem, it is very unlikely to be solved. The severity may be mitigated, or the probability of occurrence reduced by shear luck or bulk process, but the problem still exists and has not been solved.

    Minorities who felt they had no skin in the game, millennial’s butt hurt by Wasserman-Schultz’s power plays with Bernie, and a general sense of “that guy can’t win what’s on TV” got us here. Yes, voter suppression, gerrymandering, Russians and general propaganda hi-jinks all played a part, but that squishy magenta middle (those that don’t know who they are going to vote for 8 weeks out) really sunk the putt. If we just blame the deplorables then we really have missed both the point and the lesson and will be doomed to repeat this clown show once again. I expect the next joker will sport a deeper, more sophisticated political tool kit and may have the capacity to really take things to the dark side (from Burgess Meredith to Heath Ledger). We have an Emperor, a Czar, why not a new class of Oligarch to rule our one-time democracy, invested and enabled by our own ignorance.

  83. Remember when then candidate Jimmy Carter got in trouble for admitting (in a Playboy interview no less) to having looked at women with lust in his heart? Now that’s just a given for the current POTUS.

  84. I wonder if most Americans have even read the Constitution. It’s not a long document. It’s also pretty clearly a kludge (as in, “We need to have SOMETHING that most of us can mostly agree on, and we need it Tuesday.”
    Amazingly, our system of government could be worse – we could be operating under the Articles of Confederation – although by this time we wouldn’t be the United States any more, just a region of Independent and Sometimes Warring States, some of whom practice slavery.

  85. Hilary:

    Speaking as a white dude myself, sure, okay, #notallwhitemen, but you know what, I’m not inclined to let white dudes in general off the hook. It not anyone else’s fault white dudes have (and continue to) vote for incompetent racist shitshow politicians. What you’re basically saying here is the equivalent of the serial killer leaving a note for the cops saying “Stop me before I kill again!” And, well, you know. That’s not a really compelling argument, now, is it?

  86. Well, Clinton’s sex scandals were only the tip of the iceberg and, in their usual fashion, that is what the mainstream media focused on. There were many other terrible policy aspects to the Clinton presidency. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Chris Hedges (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2018/09/fear-loathing-mostly-loathing-chris-hedges-harvard-club.html) that I think sums it up nicely,

    “JS: The Democrats are now the party of —

    CLH: The less overtly racist billionaire class.

    JS: But now we have RussiaRussiaRussia —

    CLH: Well, the problem is that it fails to focus on social inequality — grotesque social inequality — and economic stagnation for the working class, which, I think, led two insurgencies within the major parties: with Bernie Sanders — and the Republican Party to Trump. I mean that is the root cause. Did Russia interfere in the elections? It wouldn’t surprise me. We interfere in elections all the time. I was a foreign correspondent; I saw it. But I think pushing the whole idea that Trump was elected because of Russia ignores the much more important issue, and that is the rise of corporate oligarchy and the impoverishment of now over half the country.

    JS: And that’s not discussed by —

    CLH: No, and that’s because the Democrats were, especially under Clinton, the architects of it. It was Clinton who pushed through NAFTA, it’s Clinton who destroyed the welfare system, it’s Clinton who passed the 1994 omnibus crime bill that saw the prison population explode from 700,000 to over two million. It’s Clinton who passed these draconian drug laws — three strikes you’re out — and increased the lengths of sentences, militarized the police, deregulated the FCC so a handful of corporations control what most Americans listen to and watch — this is all Clinton.

    JS: And as we look back on Clinton, how do we want to judge him? Was he just purely —

    CLH: Well, Clinton understood: if he did corporate bidding, he’d get corporate money — so that by the end of his presidency the Democratic Party had rough parity in terms of corporate money with the Republican Party…. That was all Clinton — including the rolling back of the opening up of the Democratic Party establishment that had been possible because of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition — dog-whistling, you know, super-predators — appealing to a racist white base — this was all Clinton. I think Clinton did tremendous amounts of damage because he continued to speak in the feel-your-pain language of liberalism and yet betrayed working men and women.”

  87. Hilary: “As an older white guy, I am getting a little sick of taking the blame for this shit show… Minorities who felt they had no skin in the game”


    Question, o ye great and wise engineering failure analysis wizard: what are the control inputs into the feedback system known as “american democracy”? What is the biggest control input to the system? Who exerts the biggest control?

    Because it sure as fuck isnt “minorities”.

    You preach about how youre so rational, about how we need to find the “root cause”, how you are tired of being blamed for this shit show. But then the first group you blame for why DEMOCRACY in america is failing is MINORITIES. MINORITES, acording to you, are the first to blame for why a system that awards power to whoever gets the MAJORITY VOTE is a complete and utter shit show.


    I would offer that the reason this nation’s democracy is a shit show is because the people with actual power refuse to take responsibility for the outcome of exercising their power and want to blame everyone else.

    The last 150 years of american history could be summed up as “white racists blaming blacks and Northern Aggression for the civil war rather than admit fault”.

  88. To be frank, I think Lucaswilliam raised questions worth exploring: Is the use of boorish language doing a disservice to the message? Does that use of violent epithets contribute to the general divide in society and degradation of the civil discourse?

    Also, Greg’s oh-so-valid rebuke notwithstanding (of course it’s the majority’s fault, duh!), Hilary also had point to remember: not all (old) white men are “shitbags”. We should “judge” people by the content of their individual character, not condemn categories of people for the color of their skin or their origin or their gender. And repeatedly belittling white men as “deplorables” may not be the most effective opening for an attempt to appeal to the better instincts that we know they have, somewhere deep down. (Yes, I am a hopeless, naive idealist…)

    As a side note: I live in a country with multi-party system. It’s not better: never a clear winner in elections, coalitions of multiple partners and endless compromises. Once no agreement could be reached and we stayed more than 500 days without government, to no noticeable ill effect. In fact, no system is inherently better than another, any system is only as good as the people that sustain it.

  89. I don’t recall much of FD Roosevelt — I was a little kid then — but I remember all the presidents since. Obama was the best of them, easily beating our Kennedy and Eisenhower. GW Bush the worst, barely beating out Trump, because Bush deliberately killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Americans and legitimized torture, probably worse than kidnapping kids from their parents.

    The only WMD that could affect this country in 2002 was a nuclear weapon. Bush invented evidence that the Iraqis had or were developing nuclear weapons using the phone yellowcake from Niger and the aluminum shells Bush claimed was for centrifuges when his own Energy Department said no.

    Trump is a piece of shit.

  90. Dear Bob,

    W did more than that. He started TWO illegal and immoral wars. The war against Afghanistan was predicated upon falsehoods and the “justification” was that Afghanistan wouldn’t fulfill a physically-impossible demand, one that they COULDN’T fulfill. Bush just wanted an excuse, a lot of people did.

    He also gave us the Department of Homeland Security. (Homeland?! Oh geez, why not just call it the Fatherland.) And the Patriot Act, which among other things makes nonviolent civil disobedience a terrorist act (yes, look it up). And unilaterally redefined the legally accepted meaning of “enemy combatant” to justify removing all civil rights, domestic and international, from individuals. And Guantánamo Bay. And and and.

    – pax / Ctein \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com 

  91. There is a problem with saying Gennifer Flowers, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Leslie Millwee, and Paula Jones raise an issue with ‘Slick Willie.’ (Side Note: Has anybody seen this nick before his first Presidential run? As far as I can tell the national media came up with this and ran.)

    According to ‘The Hunting of the President’, President Clinton was known as a horndog, both by Democratic pols and Republican pols, at least by 1989. Enough so that one his staff was put on alert to prevent any ‘bimbo explosions’ [sic].

    And yet Ken Starr, failing WhiteWater case (Note: he sent Susan McDougal to prison for failing to support her husbands version of events.), Rose Law Firm, TravelGate, and TrooperGate cases (Gennifer Flowers), now successful nailing the President during the Paula Jones trial. For consensual sex with Monica Lewinsky. Aside from Juanita Broaddrick (who claimed no involvement then, and later said that was because she thought the President would kill her), Ken Starr could prove no sexual harassment or rape by the President. Ken Starr! who sent Kathleen Willey’s (I believe) friend to prison for not confirming her story about harassment.

    And now they are standing with President “Grab Them By the Pussy” Trump against President “Slick Willie” Clinton. Tough Choice!

  92. Errr. Grammar issue. Ken Starr could not do anything, much less show harassment, about Juanita Broaddrick’ interactions with President Clinton given that she said nothing happened.

  93. zibelyne: “Is the use of boorish language doing a disservice to the message”

    Depends on whether the message is trying to convince entrenched racist shitbags to stop being racist shitbags, or, if the message is trying to convince “undecideds”, third party voters, independents, and other bench warmers to get their ass in the game.

    After trump was elected, i had someone tell me “all we have to do now is get rid of the blacks”. Pray tell, what message would you deliver to them?

    Be specific.

  94. Hey Greg,
    I did not pretend to have pre-cooked ready-to-use talk-pieces for each and every trolls or genocidal pos. In fact my point was not for “them”, but for “us”: it is tempting to use such language to make a strong point – is it really the best way to convince undecided to join the frey, or will it convince them that politics is anyway for the bullies?
    I think there are no predefined answer to this & that it is important to question ourselves on a regular basis, lest we run in the circle of our own certainties.

    We can of course discuss at length how to best answer murderous dumbass, as i believe there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Don’t get me wrong: i am not for moral relativism. Respect for all human life, freedom and equality is non-negotiable. How to make it come across differ depending on the audience. So if you want me to be specific, you’ll have to be specific – and i guess this would have to take place outside of this forum, as both slightly off-topic and outside of timelimit (i am surprised already the comments are still open). But somehow i believe this was a rethorical question. (I’d be happy to be wrong, wouldn’t be the first time.)

    Recently here a weather forecast woman had a breakdown: a woman had called the station because she was “too black, all you can see is her clothes”. This was the last drop or last straw in a string of abuse for this forecaster & she took to facebook to voice it. The reaction was a national thunder of support. This is the kind of positive vibes that gives me hope that humanity can be brought to do better.

    I do believe in Michelle Obama’s “high road” concept. Now, you can reply that Obama’ politeness is what prevented him from being more effective a president. Indeed, that is a notion i find worrying. I am still searching for a way to make politeness more effective, and my comment was also part of that search.


  95. zibelyne: “I did not pretend to have pre-cooked ready-to-use talk-pieces for each and every trolls or genocidal pos.”

    Genocidal piece of shit???? How boorish. You cant even play by your own rule here.

    “is it really the best way to convince undecided to join the frey, or will it convince them that politics is anyway for the bullies?”

    But why are they undecided? If they know people are out there saying “get rid of the blacks” and stay on the bench, then they are supporting “get rid of the blacks”. Which makes them supporters of homicidal shits. They arent changing their mind.

    The only undecideds who are available to swing are the folks who due to privilege and isolation believe that racism isnt a problem. And the message is for them to point out loud and clear that racist homocidal fucks and their supporters are large enough in number to elect a president. The message is, no seriously, this problem is real and you need to get off the bench.

    Being a benchwarmer is an indulgence. People who dont vote generally dont vote because they personally have little skin in the game. They arent going to be affected by the racist fucks in power, so they dont care. And then they tell themselves some bullshit story about “tweedledee tweedledum” to justify their benchwarming status.

    My message is to destroy that bullshit.

    You didnt vote? You enabled this to happen. You voted third party in a presidential election? You helped this happen. You think your vote doesnt matter? You helped create this. You want to tell me bush/gore are tweedledee/tweedledim? Fuck you because you helped make this bullshit happen. You voted third party because hilary gave you a bad vibe? Fuck you, you helped make this happen.

    You either vote for one of the two main party candidates or you helped whoever ends up winning. If you voted for bernie in the general election, you helped trump and tge racist fucks get into power.

    The biggest lie the benchwarmers tell themselves is that their nonvoting and their third party voting do no harm, so as to allow themselves the “indulgence” of being better than the rest of us sheeple.

    Fuck that. You voted third party or didnt vote at all? You helped this clusterfuck of bigotry come to power. You helped these homicidal shits elect a president. And the message is for these indulgent, privileged people. Get off your ass. Get in the game. This shit is real.

  96. zibelyne: “I do believe in Michelle Obama’s “high road” concept.”

    In a world where benchwarmers convince themselves racism isnt a thing to justify staying on the bench, I would argue that she had little choice.

    Now that we have seen nazis and klansmen march en masse and commit murder and shoot into a crowd in charlottesville, the benchwarmers cant deny their existence.

    ” I am still searching for a way to make politeness more effective”

    Nazis and klansmen proudly marching en masse in charlottesville, committing murder, and your concern is to not name call them so that benchwarmers dont mistake us for bullies?

    If a benchwarmer makes actual murder morally equivalent to c as lling someone “racist chucklefuck”, then they are a lost cause anyway

  97. Here’s something interesting that Obama mentioned yesterday:

    We won’t win people over by calling them names or dismissing entire chunks of the country as racist or sexist or homophobic. When I say bring people together, I mean all of our people. This whole notion that has sprung up recently about Democrats needing to choose between trying to appeal to white working-class voters or voters of color and women and LGBT Americans, that’s nonsense. I don’t buy that. I got votes from every demographic. We won by reaching out to everybody and competing everywhere and by fighting for every vote.

    Well said.

    Yelling at one another is not advocacy. Characterizing “the other” as evil is ineffective. One can stand out alone, crying out at the heavens and have more hope of changing others’ minds than by classifying everyone who does not confirm to one’s worldview as “the problem.” Reach out–civilly and politely. Don’t set a rhetorical tone wherein the only persons you are communicating with are like-minded and overtly angry.

  98. Again, i was not here pretending to set rules (there is only one here to do that), i just thought we were engaging in open discussion where different point of view are welcome. I do hope it is the case.

    And yes, i do believe there are cases were civility is not enough – the one you mentioned is breathtaking. I must indeed be priviledged, i have never faced such aberration.

    For the record (though i don’t think the “you” in your charge was addressed to me) I do vote. But then here, it is, comparatively to the US, very easy. All adult citizens automatically (and some registered residents depending on rules) are registered on voting roll calls, receive convocation, and have to present themselves to designated poll area in local schools or administration buildings where their id is verified against the list. No lenghty registration process, provisional ballot, voter disenfranchisement, no voting station in grocery store or swimming pool, etc. Some gerrymandering, but quite limited. As I said earlier, multi-party system has its own set of perversions – but one rule remain true: protest vote or blank vote is a waste, better make your vote count.

    My questions are not driven (only) by wide-eyed idealism on civility. There is a true efficiency concern here. The objective being to shock those who voted for and are supporting Trump (in your case) to back to reason, and to shock the apathic priviledged into action, what is the best way to do that? Honestly i do not care about the apathetic’s feelings – i just have an inkling “cajoling” (as in appealing to their better sense, not coddling) them will get them moving more surely than hitting them.

    English is not my native tongue, so i may not be making my points as clearly as i want & some interpretation may be required. And for those who would worry, i am not trying to intrude in US politics: mutatis mutandi, what we are discussing here are universal concerns. We have the same crazies and apathics, only the name change.

  99. John nobody gets off the hook for voting for Trump, I for one will keep a very long memory. My point is that these guys are nothing new, they have been around a long time and will continue for exist for the foreseeable future (unless you want to kill’em all (not my preferred solution)). It is simple to point over there and say it “their” fault, and if one approaches the next election as if that were the problem, well put your head between your legs and kiss our collective asses good bye.

    I Googled “minorities voting in the last election” looking for an article I read a couple of month ago on the final voter breakdown. I am currently not finding that piece easily, but the Pew, Reuter, Brookings all have reports supporting low minority turnouts (I am not promoting fringe, Fox or anything Jonesy here). Each article your find takes a slightly different position (viva la difference) and when you add in the Russian meddling gerrymandering etc. is becomes way too complicated to point the finger at any one thing, yet of course, that is what many are doing.

    And that is my point, to blame it on “white guys” is simplistic. I’m in CA, in the 5th largest economy in the world, we have a lot of white guys here, I don’t believe most of us voted for him; NY? A significant proportion of the country with a voting block made up of predominately, though not exclusively, blue color white men, voted for Trump; there are your white guys (and their wives and offspring). They carried the day because everyone else screwed off for one reason or another. Nobody believed Trump could win (including Trump I think), and thus motivation to vote, with or without suppression barriers etc. lagged.

    Alabama and subsequent contests proved what can happen when you get the minority voters to turn out. We have this stilted idea that that American politicians are required to woo us into voting for them and if they don’t tickle our fancy, it is morally acceptable to just stay home or protest vote. To that I say bullshit. Our obligation as citizens is to vote for who we believe to be the most qualified candidate; holding our noses the entire way if the field I sub-optimal. The idea they need to seduce us rather than we are obligated to pick them, needs to change period. Democracy is a nonoptional contact sport in a functioning democracy (and functionality of our current democracy is certainly up for debate).

    We have nazis and kkk morons trying to foment a race war (nothing new there), we have fringe elements on the left making background noise seeming to promote similar divisions (only white men can be racist). You want to stoke the racial fires rather than solve the problem, well be my guest. Was the civil war against “white guys” or was it fought against racist over-class oppressors; pretty sure a significant proportion of the Union was white? Thus, the root cause was racist slave owners, not white guys; proper attribution of causality is essential to create an effective solution.

    Greg grade school snark – not responding.

  100. As an after thought, I will just leave this paragraph from Obama’s speech yesterday.

    “But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void. A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold. And demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. They promise to fight for the little guy even as they cater to the wealthiest and the most powerful. They promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability, try to change the rules to entrench their power further. And they appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all.”

    This guy gets it, always has.

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