U.S. Presidents - Cold War and New Millennium Edition

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funny how well a bunch of purported "communists" understood that, eh

Party Car! (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:33 (4 years ago) Permalink

(I don't count Mao among their number btw, mostly his successors)

Party Car! (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:33 (4 years ago) Permalink

Reaching out to China was more of a let's get things 'normal' thing and a way, following Vietnam and Korea, to open channels of communication w/a regional power. Plus it scared and pissed off the Russians.

Un peu d'Eire, ça fait toujours Dublin (Michael White), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:35 (4 years ago) Permalink

Deng is the one who liberalized the economy.

Un peu d'Eire, ça fait toujours Dublin (Michael White), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:35 (4 years ago) Permalink

Nixon claimed at the time that "opening a channel" to China would persuade her to stop helping the NVA, which was nonsense -- China had soured on Vietnam for at least three years.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:38 (4 years ago) Permalink

a way, following Vietnam and Korea, to open channels of communication w/a regional power

tbh this is all Mao wanted to begin with - legitimacy - and needling the Americans via those wars was simply grandstanding to this end, akin to the sabre-rattling Kim Jong Il does. He was ACTING like a regional power in the interest of achieving international legitimacy and power. He didn't give two shits whether the North Vietnamese or North Koreans won (and reportedly hated the North Korean regime from the get-go, complained about and denied their requests for greater support, etc.)

And yet, if Obama arranged a secret meeting to meet face-to-face with Kim Jong Il (whose basically like Mao 2.0, only shittier and less powerful) and say "yeah dude, yr okay, let's have some trade and btw you can keep doing whatever crazy shit yr doing within your own borders, what do I care) I dunno if I would view that as a good thing.

Party Car! (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

(and reportedly hated the North Korean regime from the get-go, complained about and denied their requests for greater support, etc.)

What?!

What about late 1950?!

Un peu d'Eire, ça fait toujours Dublin (Michael White), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:45 (4 years ago) Permalink

I've only read a couple books about Mao (neither of which I have on-hand at the moment, one of which is this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mao:_The_Unknown_Story, which I know has been controversial) but yeah that's my general recollection, I don't recall specifics at the moment

Party Car! (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

iirc Mao was eager to use the Koreans as a proxy to provoke the Americans, but he wasn't interested in actually sacrificing precious resources. he promised Jong Il a lot, but he didn't deliver on a lot of it. He wanted to project the appearance of a regional power without having to actually pay any price for it.

Party Car! (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:54 (4 years ago) Permalink

Basically, MacArthur thought the PVA wouldn't intervene and was pushing up the peninsula ready to defeat the KPA and take over the North when he ran into the PVA and had to retreat.

Un peu d'Eire, ça fait toujours Dublin (Michael White), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:56 (4 years ago) Permalink

That's the problem-- it wasn't a tough decision for Truman. His attitude was "hey, we've got a great new weapon to kill some Japs with."

I've read lots of books on Nixon, and a few on Johnson and Clinton, but I think just one on Truman, the Merle Miller book. That was many years ago, so I have no recollection of how Truman's decision was portrayed. I skipped around a bit on the web, and you seem to be more or less right--he was pretty steadfast in his intent to use it, and never recanted afterwards. About the closest I came to finding some equivocation was this:

Yet to a senator who, after the Hiroshima bombing, had urged continued attacks until the Japanese were brought "groveling to their knees," the president replied: "I can't bring myself to believe that, because they are beasts, we should ourselves act in the same manner." Indeed, after the Nagasaki bombing, Truman reportedly told his cabinet members that there would be no more such attacks because he could not bear the thought of killing "all those kids."

But just because he was adamant in his actions, I have to believe that in his thoughts, if not in his public utterances, he was aware of the moral weight of what he was doing. You make him sound like a kid playing a video game, and call me naive but I just don't believe that.

clemenza, Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:56 (4 years ago) Permalink

Also: Truman was shrewd about his give'em-hell-Harry public facade, which Merle Miller does his best to preserve without once probing.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 22:59 (4 years ago) Permalink

I can't rank Truman very high because, beyond his executive order desegregating his armed forces (rooted in his "inherent" Comm in Chief powers) his domestic achievements are nil. His SCOTUS appointments, including chief justice, were a total joke too.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:01 (4 years ago) Permalink

Nixon definitely the most fun to read about - Nixonland, All the President's Men, The Boys on the Bus, The Selling of the President, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail - but not someone I'd vote for here. Hard to set aside Republican-hate and objectively recognise Reagan's achievements. Conversely, fond of Carter but he was objectively a disaster. I feel that my in-depth knowledge is too localised: mainly 1960-1974 and 1990>

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:02 (4 years ago) Permalink

The reevaluation of Truman as a near-great president is a result of presidents stepping into the Oval Office and realizing what super-cool powers he bequeathed them.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:02 (4 years ago) Permalink

After Nixon, Reagan most fascinates me. The ultimate Jay Gatsby: the man from nothing whose soul was a compendium of Reader's Digest anecdotes, Hollywood stories, and some Hayek for spice, with spectacular PR skills. I give him credit for realizing how batshit his foreign policy advisers and trusting Gorby, going so far as to reach an agreement at Reyjavik to categorically -- to the horror of his advisers -- ban ALL strategic nuclear weapons. You should read Reagan's press clippings in 1988 -- the likes of Krauthammer, Gingrich, et al thought he was Neville Chamberlain.n

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:05 (4 years ago) Permalink

*how batshit his foreign policy advisers WERE

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:05 (4 years ago) Permalink

Have you read Lou Cannon's Reagan biography? An amazing piece of work - equally good on his strengths and weaknesses. Only after reading that did I feel I really understood the man and the presidency. His genuine horror of MAD surprised me, having grown up on the 80s left-wing idea that he was basically Slim Pickens at the end of Dr Strangelove.

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:07 (4 years ago) Permalink

Yup. Still the best. I'm very, very fond of Edmund Morris' Dutch though. It got a LOT of flak in the late nineties for basically approaching Reagan as if he were a character in a novel, but the transcripts of the chats b/w Morris and Reagan are hilarious, and Morris still writes beautiful narrative prose.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:09 (4 years ago) Permalink

Apparently the turning point happened in 1983: Grenada, Beirut, the shooting down of the Korean airplane, and attending a screening of The Day After.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:11 (4 years ago) Permalink

The way Cannon describes detente with the USSR makes you realise how much luck was involved. Those 1983 events you described > Chernenko dying and letting Gorbachev in > Iran/Contra driving a lot of the hawks out of Reagan's orbit and letting cooler heads prevail.

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:14 (4 years ago) Permalink

so let's see some rankings then

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:17 (4 years ago) Permalink

After becoming very interested in presidential politics through high school in the late '70s, I tuned out altogether through Reagan. He didn't hold any interest for me whatsoever. All my favourite bands hated him, but he just didn't register. His inaction on AIDs--I seem to recall in the Randy Shilts book that he didn't say the word publically until deaths had reached 50,000--was probably as reprehensible as anything you can pin on anybody else on the list. (Willful inaction, to me, seems like a more grevious transgression among politicians than well-intentioned action that turns out badly.)

clemenza, Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:19 (4 years ago) Permalink

Ehhh. I'm gay and don't think it's as reprehensible as you claim, considering that it took the death of Rock Hudson to mobilize any sort of mass public interest in the disease as an epidemic. Reagan was as blinkered as Walter Mondale would have been; nothing in that generation's DNA suggests they would have bee comfortable discussing condoms, gay sex, blood transfusions, etc (that's why congressman and senators around when Roe v Wade was upheld get a pass from me; do you think FDR's second generation of New Dealers were prepared to discuss a woman's right to an abortion?).

Reagan gets some points for appointing C. Everett Koop, who's as conservative as it gets yet recognized the threat from the get-go (and he made some headlines a few years ago for lamenting the Bushies' inattention to science).

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:23 (4 years ago) Permalink

Also: Reagan was the first prez to allow an openly gay male couple to spend the night and share a room in the WH, if that means anything (probably not).

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:24 (4 years ago) Permalink

But just because he was adamant in his actions, I have to believe that in his thoughts, if not in his public utterances, he was aware of the moral weight of what he was doing. You make him sound like a kid playing a video game, and call me naive but I just don't believe that.

― clemenza, Wednesday, August 4, 2010 10:56 PM (12 minutes ago) Bookmark

Well I think part of it was that Truman was so out of the loop that at first he didn't realize exactly what this weapon was. So when he first heard about it, his feelings were much less complicated by how horrible nuclear weapons are. It was just: hey, we've got a great new weapon!

But there was never any question in his mind over whether they'd use it, AFAIK.

Matt Armstrong, Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:31 (4 years ago) Permalink

Dubya really stands out on this list as a fucking moron, huh?

Matt Armstrong, Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:34 (4 years ago) Permalink

I understand your point about generational inertia, but doesn't that also excuse Eisenhower's inaction on civil rights in the '50s? I think Mondale would have been much better than Reagan on that one particular issue--I'm sure he would have finessessed how any kind of governmental action was presented to the public, but I think he would have been much more pro-active. You cut slack for Reagan that you don't (on other threads and on other issues) for Obama--is that because Obama's of a generation that's supposed to know better?

clemenza, Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:35 (4 years ago) Permalink

Yeah, I'd like to think that the President of the United States would bother to mention a massive outbreak of a new deadly disease.

Matt Armstrong, Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:37 (4 years ago) Permalink

tbf it wasn't even really identified as a disease for quite awhile - it was an amorphous set of symptoms that was fatally and disproportionately striking a particular demographic. Montagnier and Gallo didn't identify HIV until 1983.

Party Car! (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

The difference between Eisenhower and Reagan is seventy years of inaction, inertia, and Supreme Court rulings gutting federal intervention. The NAACP already existed and was a powerful force. Civil rights commanded attention in a way that sympathy for AIDS victims didn't. I'm not excusing either one, btw. It's also worth noting that Reagan adamantly opposed (and even wrote a column) California's proposal to fire gay school teachers in the seventies.

As for Obama, I expect him to know better! He did come of age when gay rights mattered. I also realize that I might judge him differently if the landscape's changed for us in six years.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

also: 1983 to 1987 (when Reagan and the surgeon general publicly committed federal funds to resarch) isn't that long, even when it understandably seems so when thousands of victims are dying.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:42 (4 years ago) Permalink

*research

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:43 (4 years ago) Permalink

tbf I do think it's fairly unforgivable that Reagan didn't acknowledge AIDS until 1987 after tens of thousands of US citizens had died and the disease had already spread across the world. that this catastrophic failure of the national healthcare system happened on his watch is pretty fucking odious. There were plenty of people pressing for a much stronger national response to the crisis between '83 and '87, and the difference could have meant savings literally millions of lives down the line.

Party Car! (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:44 (4 years ago) Permalink

AIDS is one big strike against Reagan, apartheid another which I find even more unforgivable.

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:47 (4 years ago) Permalink

anyway, rankings:

Ike tied w/LBJ
Bill Clinton
John F. Kennedy
Jimmy Carter
Gerald R. Ford
Ronald Reagan
Harry S. Truman
George H.W. Bush
Richard M. Nixon
George W. Bush

but yeah all these guys did some loathsome shit, I'm not excited about any of them really

Party Car! (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:48 (4 years ago) Permalink

Clinton did a lot of lame shit but at least he didn't annihilate any other countries/embroil us in wars and the economy more or less functioned well

Party Car! (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:48 (4 years ago) Permalink

Why Clinton so high? Not that I disagree, just that his failures spring to mind far more readily than his successes. [oh wait, you've just answered that, sort of] And I'm surprised you rate Carter and Ford so highly, but I'm sure there's stuff I'm forgetting.

Really hard not to put George W at the bottom, whichever angle you're coming from.

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:50 (4 years ago) Permalink

As the Morris and Cannon biographies stress, by 1987 Reagan was in his early seventies, visibly aging, and his attention only held by (a) negotiating with Gorby (b) freeing the hostages. You could legitimately argue that Alzheimer's was already showing itself. It's a stretch for me to imagine a man of his age and generation to talk openly about gay men and hemophiliacs.

This sounds like I'm forgiving him, but I'm not as outraged. I just don't think any presidential candidate (Ted Kennedy excepted) would have given this crisis an evangelical force. Had Carter won reelection in '80, his political appointees wouldn't have done much either.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:51 (4 years ago) Permalink

Shakes, your list is fascinating. Why Ike tied with LBJ? Why Reagan over Truman?

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

otoh I hold Reagan responsible for, yes, apartheid, and his batshit Central America policies.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:54 (4 years ago) Permalink

it's more like Carter and Ford were the LEAST BAD as opposed to any good - maybe would've been more reflective of my actual opinion to include a "fuck the rest" category as Alfred did.

I've always kinda had a soft-spot for Jimmy due to his energy czar/"we must pursue renewable energy" schtick, even if it went nowhere. Ford's a jackass but he didn't really do anything bad afaict apart from pardoning Tricky Dick. The bottom four are there for being war-mongers, basically. I give Reagan credit for the Cold War management, which in hindsight really is remarkable. But that's as far as I'll go with him. Reagan never nuked anybody, ergo he beats Truman. In general I'm not down with the American war machine, LBJ's embrace of it is easily his biggest failing - it's just that in his case I think his other accomplishments almost (but only almost) make up for it

x-post

Party Car! (Shakey Mo Collier), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:55 (4 years ago) Permalink

Great bit in the Cannon book where he mixes up El Salvador and Nicaragua when he's talking about who the US is backing. Adds a note of black comedy to the whole cynical mess.

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:55 (4 years ago) Permalink

haha -- I have to remind myself too. "Oh, right, El Salvador had the right wing junta ruling, while the Contras were the American-backed militia."

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:57 (4 years ago) Permalink

I think I'd rank them like this, with some ambivalence about how to weigh up general ineptitude against real achievements + evil shit. Seems to me that Reagan was in most senses a better president than Carter or Ford, even though he did far more things I disagree with. Otherwise, pro-Dem bias a given.

LBJ
JFK
Ike
Truman
Clinton
Reagan
Carter
Ford
Nixon
Bush Snr
Bush Jnr

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Wednesday, 4 August 2010 23:59 (4 years ago) Permalink

Reagan was in most senses a better president than Carter or Ford, even though he did far more things I disagree with.

That's how I come down too. And I do accept the argument that, the reality to the contrary, Reagan was the most "transformational" prez since FDR. His continued popularity is not something anyone can sneeze at; it reminds me of the love some people's grandparents felt for FDR. And, of course, conservatives (and liberals) have real problems with FDR too.

Not much talk about JFK here, and deservedly, I suppose.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 5 August 2010 00:03 (4 years ago) Permalink

The thing about judging Truman for the atomic bombs is a red herring: after tests in the US, he had been briefed on the likely destruction. He knew it wouldn't be any greater than the Tokyo firestorms that March, but he also knew that (as long as it worked) it would be certain. Tokyo, was a precedent that made Hiroshima and Nagasaki OK. It's only in hindsight (with many of us growing up during Cold War years) that we think that nuclear is substantively different.

paulhw, Thursday, 5 August 2010 00:15 (4 years ago) Permalink

eisenhower wins this pretty easily; even his flaws (nixon as VP, CIA coups) seem minor compared to what his successors got away with. of the rest, johnson stands out for his domestic record -- as flawed as the great society was (robert sherrill's "the accidental president," from 1968, is eye-opening on this), it's still a more ambitious set of policies than any other president in history, even FDR, ever tried. on the other hand, he was a lying warmonger and a pretty repellent human being on a personal level. par for the course with presidents, i guess.

i'd rather hang out with truman than most of these guys, but he rates low in my book for illegally waging a war in korea (a pretty unnecessary one in my view, though i'm sure there're plenty of "global strategy" types who disagree), setting the stage for too many of his successors.

what did all those mao-loving students think of nixon/china? funny that nixon didn't seem to see any contradiction in sitting around swapping jokes and compliments with the world's most prominent communist leader whilst accelerating a vicious war allegedly started in order to contain "world communism."

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Thursday, 5 August 2010 00:19 (4 years ago) Permalink

Yeah, I mentioned the Nixon-Mao shit-talking sessions above because it's obvious each found a kindred spirit.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 5 August 2010 00:23 (4 years ago) Permalink

Funny how Ike was for thirty years dismissed as the Reagan of his time, until Stephen Ambrose's (excellent) bio. Dude was the most preternaturally self-possessed prez of the last fifty years.

Gucci Mane hermeneuticist (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 5 August 2010 00:26 (4 years ago) Permalink

Jean Edward Smith's new Eisenhower: In War and Peace is so far the best definitive bio on Ike I've read. Thanks to his knowledge of U.S. Grant, Smith is able to compare and contrast the general's performance historically. He's also written the first thorough analysis of Ike's tenure as president of Columbia.

About to start the presidential years.

a regina spektor is haunting europe (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 3 September 2012 13:49 (1 year ago) Permalink

5 months pass...
1 month passes...

read "this" a couple days ago: one of the best popular histories I've read (Frank is a novelist). I agree with Russell Baker's judgment: it's impossible to regard Ike's insistent contempt for the young Dick Nixon without feeling a wee bit sorry for the bastard.

the little prince of inane false binary hype (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 22 March 2013 17:40 (1 year ago) Permalink

6 months pass...

IDK if there's a better thread to put this in, but I found this interview with the author of a new book on the Dulles Brothers fascinating:

http://www.npr.org/2013/10/16/234752747/meet-the-brothers-who-shaped-u-s-policy-inside-and-out

What really struck me was that you had a guy openly saying that the entire goal of US foreign policy at the time was to cynically further the interests of US corporations -- the kind of stuff you'd expect to hear on Pacifica but not on an NPR station.

#fomo that's the motto (Hurting 2), Monday, 21 October 2013 14:29 (10 months ago) Permalink

3 weeks pass...

^^^Yeah, the NYTBR piece on that Dulles book last week began "If you want to know why the US is hated across the globe," read it.

The critic also wrote that Truman abjured interfering in/toppling foreign govts, but Ike was gung ho -- I guess that's true. So fuck rehabilitating the general.

eclectic husbandry (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:25 (9 months ago) Permalink

Ike in essence empowered the CIA. It got him out of invading Iran, Hungary, and so on.

the objections to Drake from non-REAL HIPHOP people (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 13 November 2013 22:26 (9 months ago) Permalink


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