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Ear to the Ground

Survey Says: Lincoln’s Tops

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Posted on Feb 16, 2009
Lincoln
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C-SPAN’s survey found that the presidency of Abraham Lincoln retains a special aura among historians.

It’s either a grand testimonial to the staying power of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy or a subtle put-down of his many successors, but, regardless, a survey of 65 historians conducted by C-SPAN found that Honest Abe still prevails when it comes to perception of his presidential prowess.


CNN:

Lincoln finished first in a ranking by historians of the 42 former White House occupants. The survey was released over Presidents Day weekend.

The news wasn’t quite as good for the latest addition to the nation’s most exclusive fraternity: George W. Bush finished 36th in the survey, narrowly edging out the likes of historical also-rans Millard Fillmore, Warren Harding and Franklin Pierce.

James Buchanan—the man who watched helplessly as the nation lurched toward civil war in the 1850s—finished last.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, February 17, 2009 at 11:59 am Link to this comment

It depends what you want in a president.  The writers of the Constitution apparently wanted a pretty strong executive, and they had read enough history to know that a strong executive would inevitably become a sort of emperor, king or at least dictator.  Now, this power had to be somewhat masked, because the Jeffersonians, with their love of liberty, wanted to be free to keep slaves on big plantations, and so forth, and feared a dictator who might take their stuff away.  So Hamilton and company put one over on them, hiding powers in the Constitution which Lincoln, faced with a crisis that developed directly out of Jeffersonian fantasies, used to utterly crush the Jeffersonians and their obsolete Peculiar Institution.  Sure, it took an expensive, bloody war, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.  Or maybe many eggs.

So—Lincoln took a quasi-confederacy and turned it into a unitary state, much as Bismarck did a little later in Germany.  Hardly had that state finished with the South, when it was strong enough to kick France out of Mexico with merely a word.  A unitary state is much better able to wage imperial wars than a confederacy, and to keep capitalism safe while sweeping away impediments to investment and trade, and historians like all that sort of thing, so Lincoln rates very high with them.  You may not agree with Lincoln’s vision, but it is hard to argue that he didn’t know what he was doing or how to do it.  In fact, he had an almost religious belief in the Union, that is, in the unitary state and centralized power.  It’s not an accident that his monument is based on one of the more imposing temples of Zeus or that he is still regarded with religious awe. 

On top of that, he was mighty eloquent at times, something you don’t get with cranky old Bismarck.  I don’t know if even Zeus measures up.

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By samosamo, February 17, 2009 at 8:33 am Link to this comment

Well, I just feel a lot better about this. Of course, if he were verifiably the best ever what difference does that make? Does anyone think that will help us today? Will our current president try to be like lincoln in these days and times? It might help and it might not. I consider George Washington the best because he realized and tried to warn the future americans to be very very wary of standing armies/military. And I would have to put eisenhower next to him even though he wasn’t squeaky clean himself because he warned us about the dangers of the military/industrial/congressional complex. The 2 most important warnings or pieces of advice to help maintain a well run nation and look at us now. Just shows that when truth speaks the last thing anyone in this country will do is listen. Matter of fact, it shows a very high probability of ignoring or doing the opposite of what experience tries to pass on to the future.

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Paolo's avatar

By Paolo, February 17, 2009 at 5:49 am Link to this comment

A libertarian view—

Well, I guess I have to go against the views of 60 establishment historians and tell it like it was: Lincoln was the worst president we ever had. Yup, even worse than the execrable George W. Bush. Why? Because Lincoln made Bush possible.

Lincoln, faced with states wishing to peacefully and voluntarily leave the union, could have done the wise thing and said, “go in peace.”

Instead, he opted for war. The misnamed “Civil War”  resulted in 600,000 American deaths—by far the bloodiest war in our history. In conducting this completely avoidable war, Lincoln trampled the Constitution, ignored Habeas Corpus, imprisoned opposition newspaper editors and staff, instituted a draft, and instituted an unconstitutional income tax.

Man, war is really great for increasing the power of tyrants, isn’t it? You think George W. Bush learned something from this?

This is all in addition to the fact that Lincoln was a vile racist, frequently calling for the forced deportation of African Americans so that free white workers wouldn’t have to compete with them for jobs.

And this only scratches the surface. Read Tom DiLorenzo’s LINCOLN UNMASKED for more details.

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Gulam's avatar

By Gulam, February 16, 2009 at 10:35 pm Link to this comment

Lincoln set the pattern. He took a serious problem and turned it into a war that devastated a nation, under the ruse of extending freedom. He built the military industrial propaganda complex that was then turned loose on the tribes of the West, and later on the Philippines.  Almost everyone else on earth besides the Saudis and those in the Sudan had abandoned slavery as a formal institution by the end of the nineteenth century. It was not necessary to fight a bloody war over something that obviously would have changed soon anyway. Wars only serve those who make money off supplying them and their politicians who can cloak war with a mantle of “enlightenment” rhetoric. Any nation that idolizes Lincoln has now gotten exactly what it deserves, another silver tongue that can justify war and make it sound like a moral crusade.

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By SYED WARIS SHERE, February 16, 2009 at 7:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is widely recognized that George Bush the 43rd President was a below average politician who
led his nation on the wrong track. He has recorded the lowest approval rating of any president
in the 70-year history of the Gallup Poll.
The news was equally bad for the latest addition to the nation’s most exclusive fraternity. George W. Bush finished 36th in the survey. Around the globe, the United States has never had a leader who commands so little respect. George W. Bush will be remembered as the man who launched an illegal and immoral war of aggression against another sovereign nation, on false pretenses and damaging irreparably the United States reputation in the world. George W. Bush will also be remembered who authorized torture and indefinite detention of prisoners. America’s most distinguished commentator on foreign policy, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, offers a reasoned but unsparing assessment of George Bush’s foreign policy. Brzezinski is of the opinion that the United States’ role in the Middle East under Bush
administrartion steadily deteriorated, as America “came to be perceived in the region, rightly
or wrongly, not only as wearing the British imperialist mantle but as acting increasingly on
behalf of Israel, professing peace but engaging in delaying tactics that facilitated the expansion of the settlements. ”Though the terrorist attacks of 9/11 wrought a moment of “global solidarity with America,”  Brzezinski writes, the Bush administration’s swaggering unilateralism and “neocon Manicheanism” would turn a moment of opportunity into “a self-inflicted and festering wound while precipitating rising global hostility toward America.”Indeed, he argues that the Iraq war “has caused calamitous damage to America’s global
standing,” demonstrating that the United States “was able neither to rally the world to its
cause nor to decisively prevail by use of arms.” Further more Brzezinski adds that the war in
Iraq has been a geopolitical disaster. “It will take years of deliberate effort and genuine
skill to restore America’s political credibility legitimacy.” “Nothing could be worse for America, and eventually the world”, he writes at the end of this unsparing volume, “than if American policy were universally viewed as arrogantly imperial in a postimperial age, mired in a colonial relapse in a postcolonial time, selfishly indifferent in the face of unprecedented global interdependence, and culturally self-righteous in a religiously diverse world. The crisis of American superpower would then become terminal.”, Brzezinsski concludes in his
compelling new book, “Second Chance”. According to Richard Holbrooke former U.S. Ambassador to
the United Nations, “The United States is not a helpless giant tossed on the seas of history.
It is still the most powerful nation on earth, and within certain limits, it can still shape
its own destiny and play the leading role in a multipolar world. It can still take the helm in
addressing the world’s most pressing problems. There are many issues waiting for inspired and,
yes, noble U.S. leadership, backed up by enlightened U.S. generosity that is also in the United
States’ own interest. The United States is still great. It deserves leadership worthy of its
people, leadership that will restore the nation’s pride and sense of purpose. That task must
begin at home, but the world will be watching and waiting”.  The real challenge United States in the 21st century will face is about diplomacy, economic
development, international leadership and alliances. The success will depend on those who inspire support for the common global objectives of humanity and prosperity for all.

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