…as we continue through this election year, we’re reposting from the last presidential election year: a list of U.S. presidents that could be considered radical in one way or another.
We first posted this in 2012 because of an angry complaint in the news that President Obama was “the most radical president in American history.” Today, in 2016, “radical” has morphed into a positive word for most voters: it means an outsider ready to tear up Washington and change the country, whether that’s Sanders or Trump. (Somehow a potential first woman president is no longer radical; the powers of sexism have made sure that Clinton is depicted as just another politician).
As we consider who may end up being our president next year, let’s review:
We heard someone involved in the campaign of a Republican primary candidate recently state that President Obama is “the most radical president in American history.” One is accustomed to hyperbole during an election season, but this was a particularly arresting case of myth-making. I assume this person meant “radical” as a negative, although radical change can be positive or negative. Whether well- or ill-intentioned, though, the claim that our current president is the most radical ever does not hold water. Even an extremely brief glance over presidential history brings to light many other candidates for that title:
George Washington: Radical in a good way. Encouraged a radically new form of government, one without a monarch, even when offered the post himself. Supported our new democratic system, represented it with honor and dignity to the world, and set crucially important precedents, including stepping down from office after his second four-year term. Tried to prevent political parties from forming—if he had been successful, we’d have a radically different political scene today.
Thomas Jefferson: Radical in mixed ways. It’s hard to picture Americans today admiring a president who supported a violent dictatorship and felt the U.S. should provide military support for it (as Jefferson did in France during the Reign of Terror). Jefferson also overrode the Constitution to make the Louisiana Purchase (Congress, not the president, should likely have carried out any geographic expansion).
Andrew Jackson: Radical in a bad way. Sponsored intense corruption within his Administration by appointing cronies to high political office, legislated through the veto, broke the law by dueling, put his own sense of personal honor above the law, and, most importantly and unforgivably, demanded and carried out the removal of the Native Americans of the southeast, even after the Supreme Court found in favor of the Cherokees’ remaining on their land.
Abraham Lincoln: Radical in a good way. He ended slavery in the United States by writing the Emancipation Proclamation, and refused to negotiate an end to the war by agreeing to allow slavery to continue in a restored Union. Pushed the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery through Congress. Planned to move an Amendment giving black men the right to vote through Congress as well. Went from racist to abolitionist in a few short years.
Woodrow Wilson: Radical in mixed ways. Promoted legislation to end child labor, pushed for the creation of the League of Nations and for U.S. membership. On the other hand, an entrenched racist who kept civil rights legislation at bay, helping to ensure that the 1910s extended the nadir of civil rights in this country by another decade.
Franklin Roosevelt: Radical in mixed ways. Tried to govern bascially without Congress, tried to tamper with the Supreme Court to make it his tool, pursued a series of economic policies that helped lengthen the Depression. On the other hand, he understood that the government had an obligation to protect vulnerable categories of citizen, such as the elderly, children, and the poor. Provided a reliable federal safety net to these people for the first time in U.S. history.
Lyndon Johnson: Radical in a good way. The series of civil rights acts passed not only during his Administration, but because of his untiring efforts, finally put the nation on the track Lincoln had envisioned for Reconstruction. Education reform, Medicare, urban renewal, conservation, space exploration, and a war on poverty, all pushed forward by Johnson. His failure to see through the advisors who pushed the war in Vietnam is the blot on his record.
Ronald Reagan: Radical in a bad way. Set in motion the anti-government movement amongst conservatives, made cutting taxes and running a federal deficit a battle-cry of the Republican party, was generally unmoved by opportunities to negotiate an end to the Cold War.
George W. Bush: Radical in a bad way. Pursued war with Iraq based on misinformation about Iraqi arms manufacture from advisors, trampled on civil rights in the name of homeland security, and moved aggressively to stop taxation of the wealthy, immobilize the federal government, remove the federal safety net for vulnerable citizens, and pay for the war through deficit spending.
So there’s a short list of some radical presidents. We could use a few more who are radical in good ways.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum has assembled a periodic table of the people and organizations that made the New Deal, 1933-8. From the RFC to the RA, FDR to Thomas Corcoran, every program and every person working on the New Deal are represented. The programs are chronological, the people are alphabetical. On the back of the chart are brief explanations of each. This is a fantastic tool, doing exactly what a graphic organizer should—making the scope of a project immediately clear, while harnessing its near-chaotic size and mess of acronyms into a smooth and instantly comprehensible order that can be taken in at a glance.
Check it out at the FDR Library website! You can hover your mouse over each block and get the information. We tip our hat to the people who came up with this great idea.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
I was watching a little of the PBS documentary on FDR last night and by chance I saw the part where they talked about his 1936 re-election campaign. In a speech Roosevelt took on what he called “big money,” the businesses that were not only keeping workers on starvation wages but, according to Roosevelt, trying to take over the government.
“No business which depends for existence by paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country,” he said; “big business and big money are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred.
“I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match; I would like to have it said of my second administration that in it these forces met their master.”
It is sadly difficult to think of a politician who would make that speech today. Politicians today seem much more timid, very frightened of angering anyone who has any power. Having the commitment to our founding principles to acknowledge and to welcome the hatred of those who want to alter–or simply ignore–our Constitution for their own profit is rare today.
Today, on the contrary, we are often told that big money/big business is critically important to the growth and maintenance of democracy, and must be allowed to do whatever it wants. FDR had an answer to that, too:
“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.”
FDR’s words are a reminder of how rarely you ever hear a major politician today 1) stating that the defense of our Constitution is her main priority; and 2) that s/he will cling to our founding principles no matter what opposition s/he faces; because 3) anyone who opposes our founding principles is no American, and therefore 4) those who oppose her/him can stuff it.
Actually, you will hear fringe nuts make these statements, but I’m talking about mainstream politicians.
Let’s remember FDR as our current presidential election campaigning goes on, and cast a vote for the person who comes closest to his courage and guts.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )