“Uncouth, Nasty, and Often Drunk”…70 Years Of Presidents

“Uncouth, Nasty, and Often Drunk”  The Presidents

70 Years of Presidents

by L. J. Martin – http://fromthepeapatch.com

(an article in 3 parts)

PresidentThis past month I began my eighth decade on this earth.  I don’t know why I should expect to see my ninth, which may be why I write as if there may be no tomorrow.

When I was born in 1941, not too many months before we entered the largest war in the history of mankind, the life expectancy for white males was 62.4 years, which when I was young I never expected to see.  Now, in 2011 (2010 is the last year for which I have statistics), life expectancy for white males is over 77.5.  If I can stay behind the curve, I may just live forever…so far it’s going okay.  I would like to live to see this country back on a moral track of which we can all be proud.

I was born in the waning years of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our 32nd President (1933-1945).  Of course I remember little about him, as I was only four and a half when he died.  It’s hard to separate actual memories from those seen later in newsreels and even later on television.

My first real memories of a presidential presence are of President Harry S. Truman, our 33rd President (1945-1953).  I went through my early childhood years watching President Truman, with only passing interest, until he left office in 1954, just about a year before I was to become a teenager.  I do remember sitting around the radio with my mother, listening to his talks. I remember him as being a decisive, straight talking, honest man with whom I was impressed.  I didn’t like the fact he fired one of the great American heroes of WWII, General Douglas McArthur, but have come to understand why, and now agree with his actions.  And I still think of him that way, decisive and honest, and history has done nothing to dissuade me of that belief.

I do think that allowing the Korean conflict to be considered a police action, and not calling for a declaration of war by congress, was one of the great historical mistakes this country has made.  If you ask an American service person to risk their life, the country should be totally committed to see they have the unwavering backing of, and force of, the United States of America protecting them, and if that means a declaration of war, so be it.  It should be hide, hair, bones and all.  All or nothing.

I knew of and grew up with Dwight D. Eisenhower, our 34th president (1953-1961) as the Commanding General of the U. S. Armed Forces during WWII.  And he was a commanding presence in movie newsreels and, later, on the growing media that was television.  Honest and sincere, he, like Truman, looked you in the eye when he spoke, and you believed what he said.  And you believed them both to be moral and aboveboard, and beyond real scandal.  “I like Ike,” was a slogan easy to embrace. When he left office, the hippie generation was new on the scene.  I had graduated from high school, and had more than a passing interest in my classes in history and in politics, but even though I was a lousy student in school, I was an interested citizen and student of current events and politics as I realized what was happening in D.C. would directly affect me and mine in years to come.  I now wish I’d been more active.

With those three presidents, an era ended.  It’s been said, and historians have reported, that both Roosevelt and Eisenhower had their dalliances when maturing in their careers, little of which overflowed into their presidencies.  Generally, they were respected and admired for all they did and all they gave to the country…but that concept of holding our presidents to a higher moral standard seemed to end with Eisenhower.  It was the time of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, a time of clear cut good guys and bad guys.

Maybe it was the instant reporting brought on by the intimacy of television, or possibly by the cutthroat nature of late1950’s competitive journalism, or maybe just a new disregard for religion and morality.  But it seemed with a new, younger, certainly more attractive and possibly more virile president in John Fitzgerald Kennedy, our 35th president (1961-1963), a president who’s family gained fortune from Scotch whiskey, a president whose good looks and sophisticated young wife played well on television, a new moral uncertainty clouded the presidency.  Marilyn Monroe in the White House?  Naked frolicking in the White House swimming pool?  Somehow that seems less than presidential.

Other things began to darken with the ongoing leadership of Kennedy.  We failed with the invasion of the Bay of Pigs, offering then withdrawing our support of Cuban’s whom we’d trained and supplied, then left to die in the hot Cuban sand and sweaty, mosquito filled, jungle.  It was a moral mistake of the worst kind, a repugnancy I personally abhorred.

Then we/he allowed public service employees, supposedly summoned to the “higher” calling of public service to become public remoras, riding on the sustenance of the rest of us and striking and stopping public service when they didn’t gain more than their fellows in the private sector, more than those actually creating wealth and jobs and paying the taxes that uphold the public sector…Kennedy signed into law the ability of public employees to collective bargain.  Thus began the real downfall, the degrading, of “public service.”  It was a decision that only now is showing it’s true cost to America, not only in dollars but in respect for institutions and love of country.

As tragic as Kennedy’s death was, and it shocked the whole nation…I pulled my car into a service station and parked to listen to the reports coming from Dallas, and was as saddened and revolted as any in America other than his family…he did little, other than keep ICBM’s out of Cuba, to impress me politically, particularly in retrospect.  Maybe he would have, had he lived longer.  Then again, maybe his true colors would have destroyed his now revered memory.

In his great memoir of his years in the Secret Service, Ronald Kessler said, and I quote, “He was the charismatic leader of the free world.  But in his other life, he was the cheating, reckless husband, whose aides snuck women into the White House to appease his sexual appetite.”

“Uncouth, nasty, and often drunk.”  From In the President’s Secret Service, Ronald Kessler on  Lyndon Baines Johnson, our 35th president (1963-1969).  In my opinion LBJ was as close to a traitor as any president ever to occupy the office.  I don’t think I can say it in more plain words than those.  That said, he served with distinction, winning a Silver Star during WWII.  He was a contradiction, as are many powerful men.

When Johnson allowed Viet Nam SAM missile sites to be built and completed before he sent our boys into bomb them…afraid that Russian advisors might be killed if he bombed them while under construction, he said to me that American government no longer supports those who’ve offered their lives to defend the country—Kennedy’s disregard was for the lives of Cubans, Johnson’s for the lives of Americans.  Sorry, but I think that the larger crime for a president of the U.S.   When Johnson lied about the attacks in the Gulf of Tonkin in order to propagate another costly and divisive “police action,” he almost cratered the country.  One wonders if he forgot the trials and tribulations of his own service?

However, he proved later that he was an amoral pig who would pull out his penis, the size of which he often bragged about, and urinate on his lawn in front of the press corp.  The man destroyed almost two centuries of presidential respect in a single oppressive, repressive, regressive, disgusting term.  Had it not been for Civil Rights, an accomplishment far more of Martin Luther King than LBJ, his presidency could be totally disregarded and disdained.  His so-called “great society” was a great load on the backs of hard-working, tax-paying Americans, and a failure.  And I’m still suspicious of his possible involvement in the tragedy of Dallas.  I would put little past the immorality of the man.

When Johnson died, Secret Service agents guarding Lady Bird noted that among the hundreds of pictures at the Johnson ranch, there was not one of him with JFK.

LBJ was also a thief, using funds from a Secret Service account to buy fancy hunting rifles, which he and his buddies kept, and when he left office he had ten plane loads of government property flown to his ranch in texas.  He was a pig in more ways than one.

Thank God Lady Bird Johnson planted expressway meridians with wild flowers, or there would be little reason for Americans not to line up and urinate on his grave…okay, okay, that’s a little much, but I don’t admire nor respect his memory, even though I still revere the office he held, and hold great regard for the Silver Star and all it embodies.  “Johnson would come on the plane (Air Force One), and the minute he got out of sight of the crowds, he would stand in the doorway and grin from ear to ear, and say, ‘You dumb sons of bitches.  I piss on all of you,” recalls Robert M. MacMillan, an Air Force One steward.” From In the President’s Secret Service, Ronald Kessler.  So maybe pissing on Johnson’s grave would not be out of the question.

Awwww, yes, Richard Nixon, our 37th president (1969-1974).  Yes, I voted for him, three times (once for governor of California), and yes I rued every time I had to walk into that polling booth.  It was actually a vote against the uber-liberal Hubert Humphrey (and third party candidate George Wallace)—Humphrey redeemed himself only by being an avowed anti-communist.  Then again, I voted against George McGovern, who I think was a true gentleman, but a misguided liberal who would lead the country down a dangerous path.  That said, the country would probably have been better off with McGovern.  Both Humphrey and McGovern were honorable men, in my opinion and limited knowledge.  Of course neither were subjected to the magnifying glass that the presidency has become.

There was something about Nixon, the basic nature of the man, I just didn’t like, was suspicious of, and his later actions in office justified that suspicion.  He was an “end-justifies-the-means” guy of the first order.  I never looked upon him as a guy I’d like to go fishing with, or even share a beer with…except for the fact who wouldn’t share a beer with the president, if only to say he did.

Nixon was accomplished, graduating with honors from Whittier College and Duke University Law School, and he served during WWII as a Navy lieutenant commander in the Pacific.  He was also, in my opinion, was always teetering on the verge of being a paranoid schizophrenic…but then I’m no expert and am glad I’m not, as I have less respect for most psychologists and psychiatrists than for most politicians.

During Nixon’s presidency his VP, Spiro Agnew was charged with accepting bribes while a state official, and resigned.  He later pleaded nolo contendere…he should have been prosecuted as an example that “power corrupts” but doesn’t necessarily always prevail.  It doesn’t speak highly for our system that he was a gunshot or heart attack away from becoming the leader of the free world.  Agnew, like Johnson and Kennedy, was renowned for his dalliances, and in this case while in office.  Immorality is difficult to shed, no matter what part of your life you try and hide with perceived respectability and accomplishment.

Nixon’s presidency was noted for his international expertise, particularly in regard to China, and for appointing some staunch conservatives to the Supreme Court.

Watergate, was, of course, his great failing.  It was the classic example of “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  And of proving the wisdom of the founding fathers and the division of powers, and even more so of the value of the fourth estate, the press, to our system.  If only the press were even handed in investigating those in power…but we’ll get to that in greater depth with later presidents.

Nixon was a man with high morals…except for some very low ones.  He was a contradiction, in my opinion; a contradiction shadowed by mental illness, and he lived to a great extent in its shadow.  The good news was he had a sense of humor, which was probably the factor that kept him from going completely nuts when he felt the whole country was trying to lynch him.  And he was humble in his own reticent, reclusive way, decent to the “little people” on his staff, something his predecessor, Johnson, was incapable of being.

All that said, I was both saddened and elated by his resigning office.  He needed to resign, for the ultimate good of the country, but he left a vacuum in conservative confidence, or better said confidence in conservatism, among the American people that only Ronald Reagan would be able to overcome.

70 Years of Presidents

(Continued tomorrow)

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