Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: The Potus Geeks Presidential Rankings

In September and the first part of October of 2019, potus_geeks conducted an online survey in which we asked people to rate each President of the United States on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being best), based on their performance as President while in office. Links to the online poll were contained in this community in the article posted on each president, as well as on Twitter. Every day people were given a summary of each President's legacy, in chronological order of their presidency. People were allowed until midnight Pacific time of October 23, 2019 to cast their vote. After the polling had concluded and the results were announced, which are now reposted, in order from worst to last.

There were a few surprises, especially in the ranking of one of the founding fathers who scored even higher than expected.

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Thanks to all who voted.

Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: The Second Term Curse

In January of 2019 we examined the second term of each of those presidents who had served multiple terms in office in an effort to determine whether or not those Presidents winning election to a second term suffered a "second term curse" as some historians assert. In the final entry in this series, posted on January 31, 2019, we examined the second term of the last three two-term presidents before stating our conclusions on whether or not the alleged curse was real or imaginary. Here is a repost of that article.

Other than those previously discussed this month, three other Presidents served two full terms as president. Those each was successful in his re-election bid, each also encountered his share of challenges during the second term.

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Bill Clinton came the closest to losing his job in his second term thanks to some bad choices involving a White House intern. Clinton was the first Democrat to be elected to a second full term since Franklin Roosevelt. In 1998, Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice following allegations that he committed perjury and obstructed justice to conceal an affair he had with 22 year old Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. His integrity suffered a severe blow after he had at first indignantly told the nation on national television that "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." This proved to be a lie that let to Clinton's impeachment on charges of obstruction and perjury. In his deposition in a lawsuit brought by Paula Jones, Clinton had denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky. The independent evidence proved this to be false. Specifically, a blue dress worn by Lewinsky was stained with Clinton's semen. The dress was provided to Special Prosecutor Ken Starr. It led Starr to conclude that the president's sworn testimony was false and perjurious. In the impeachment proceedings Clinton was acquitted by the Senate. He completed his term in office.

During the last three years of Clinton's presidency, the Congressional Budget Office reported a budget surplus. It was the first such surplus since 1969. Clinton also ordered U.S. military intervention in the Bosnian and Kosovo wars. He participated in the 2000 Camp David Summit to advance the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, and assisted the Northern Ireland peace process. Despite the injury to his reputation caused by the Lewinsky matter, Clinton left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II.

George W. Bush was re-elected President in 2004 and in his second term. He faced a spate of problems and challenges in his second term that must have made him feel is his term was in fact cursed. After his re-election, Bush faced increasingly heated criticism over his handling of the Iraq War. Hurricane Katrina struck early in Bush's second term and was one of the most damaging natural disasters in U.S. history. Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana on August 27 and in Mississippi and Alabama the following day. He authorized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to manage the disaster. The eye of the hurricane made landfall on August 29, and New Orleans began to flood due to levee breaches. Bush declared that a major disaster existed in Louisiana, authorizing FEMA to start using federal funds to assist in the recovery effort. As the disaster in New Orleans intensified, critics accused Bush for his administration's flawed response to the disaster. Bush was criticized for having appointed incompetent leaders to positions of power at FEMA. His critics claimed that the federal response was limited as a result of the Iraq War. Bush responded by accepting full responsibility for the federal government's failures in its handling of the emergency.

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Bush would face an even more challenging problem in December of 2007, when the United States entered its longest post-World War II recession. The problems included a housing market correction, a subprime mortgage crisis, soaring oil prices, and a declining dollar value. In February, 63,000 jobs were lost, a five-year record. Bush signed a $170 billion economic stimulus package which was intended to improve the economic situation by sending tax rebate checks to many Americans and providing tax breaks for struggling businesses. In September 2008, the crisis became much more serious with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and a federal bailout of American International Group for $85 billion. The situation became the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. In November 2008, over 500,000 jobs were lost, the largest loss of jobs in the United States in 34 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in the last four months of 2008, 1.9 million jobs were lost. By the end of 2008, the U.S. had lost a total of 2.6 million jobs. Bush went from being one of the most popular Presidents in history, having received the highest recorded presidential approval ratings in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to one of the most unpopular, with one of the lowest approval ratings during the 2008 financial crisis.

After winning re-election in 2012, Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term in which political polarization seemed to swell. Divisive issues that pitted liberals against conservatives included Obama's support for same-sex marriage, which was fully legalized in 2015 after the Supreme Court ruled that a same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. Obama called for increased gun control in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, including a ban on assault weapons. In foreign policy, he ordered military intervention in Iraq in response to gains made by ISIL after the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq. He continued the process of ending U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan in 2016. He also supported the 2015 Paris Agreement on global climate change, and initiated sanctions against Russia following the invasion in Ukraine and again after alleged Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. He also, brokered a nuclear deal with Iran, and normalized U.S. relations with Cuba.

A number of things went wrong for President Obama in his second term. These included difficulties in the launch of the HealthCare.gov website and numerous other issues with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The administration was also embarrassed with the leak of confidential government information by Edward Snowden, a technical contractor for the NSA. Snowden was charged with theft and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information to columnist Glenn Greenwald. Snowden's disclosures were met with mixed reactions from those who called for Snowden to be pardoned, to others who called him a traitor.

President Obama also faced a federal government shutdown in 2013 as Republicans and Democrats were unable to agree on a budget. House Republicans passed a budget intended to defund Obamacare, but Senate Democrats refused to pass any budget that defunded the Affordable Care Act. The two sides eventually agreed to a continuing resolution that re-opened the government and suspended the debt ceiling. The administration faced a number of other criticisms in its second term that included a controversy over the IRS targeting a number of conservative organizations, criticism of the administration's disease control efforts in the wake of the West African Ebola virus epidemic and 2015–16 Zika virus epidemic, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, including the 2015 San Bernardino attack and the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting and the NSA's unauthorized surveillance on a widespread scale that included listening in on the private cell phone calls of West German Chancellor Angela Merkel.


In the final analysis, it seems more likely that, rather than being any sort of a curse, the woes faced by most presidents in their second term come about as the result of a combination of three factors:

(1) Familiarity breeds contempt-Most presidents are unable to control Congress or the economy to the degree necessary to give effect to their lofty campaign promises and vision that attracted voters to them in the first place. For or six years into a president's term, it is unlikely that those voters will continue to be enamored with the candidate turned president and more likely that they feel disappointment over the failure to bring about the better world they believed that they were promised when they first elected that candidate.

(2) Partisanship-The nation has failed to heed George Washington's warnings against political factions and the politics of the nation continue to be more divisive and nasty. The existence of partisan media has made the problem worse such that even the most sainted of presidents is likely to be deluged with repeated public pronouncements that the administration is a dismal failure.

(3) The President's Lame Duck Status-Since the passage of the 22nd amendment, a president can not run for a third term and from the day he wins election to a second term, his days are numbered. It becomes impossible for a president to hold the support of even his own party as those in Congress become quick to jettison the President's agenda for their own self-interest.

In reality, any "curse" that might exist isn't limited to the second term. Just ask all of those presidents who found their first term so challenging that they never got a chance at a second term.

Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: On the President's Desk, a Summary

In November of 2018 our daily posts looked at a series of international and domestic problematic areas that every President has had to deal with. The series was called "On the President's Desk". It illustrated how difficult the problems of the presidency are, even though social media likes to mock presidents of every political stripe, implying that there are sound-byte sized answers to complex problems. After studying such complex issues as immigration, racism, relations with totalitarian nations, income inequality and mounting debt, the essay reposted below, originally posted in this community on November 30, 2018, sums up what conclusions can be drawn from a considerating of the magnitude of the daunting task of being President of the United States.

Today polarization has become the norm in politics at every level. This is not a new phenomenon. It has existed since the days of Hamilton and Jefferson and probably long before that. Today media presents complex problems in sound-byte form, implying that these problems have sound-byte solutions, when in reality, there are no quick fixes to things like trade deficits or how much protectionism is just right. No one knows for sure if a complete withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan would make the nation more or less safe. When will deficit spending reach the tipping point, and is either party really motivated to do something about the debt? Does a large amount of defense spending deter hostile nations with nuclear capability, or does it bring the world closer to world war three? These are not answers with quick fixes. They are made much more difficult when there is hostility in a two party system.


Many Republicans have expressed personal vitriolic hostility towards Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Many Democrats feel the same way towards Ronald Reagan, both Presidents Bush and now towards Donald Trump. Yet through the lens of history, it is remarkable how many issues these presidents pursued very similar path on, with only subtle differences. Defense spending changed very little under Democrats or Republicans. Candidate Obama promised radical changes in getting American troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan while President Obama kept troop levels similar to those of President Bush, even increasing troop levels at one point. Candidate Trump promised cancellation of trade deals, but ended up keeping them with only minor tweaks. Nations like India, Pakistan, Iran or Saudi Arabia fell in and out of favor with various administrations, not because of political ideology, but because of the exigencies of current circumstances.

But today, vilification of the president of one party by the elected officials, supporters, and supportive media of the other party continues to be a millstone around the necks of those who seek solutions to the problems. The ubiquity of political news, ever since the invention of electronic media, 24 hour news channels, and the internet, have conspired to appeal to emotion rather than reason. The have led to the mass production of hatred and hostility against political leaders, to the point where many people actually believed Barack Obama to be the anti-Christ spoken of in Revelations, and where "Trump Derangement Syndrome" has become a neologism. Social media has created a climate for those who find gratification and a sense of self-importance by making negative public pronouncements. It has not only eroded civility, but also serves to discourage many qualified and capable people from entering public service.

An examination of the problems that have littered the desks of presidents for over two centuries demonstrate the fundamental problem of governance. It was one that George Washington warned about over 220 years ago in his farewell address, especially in his warning against parties or factions. Among Washington’s main themes was the conflict between the unity of the public mind and the public’s tendency toward these “parties,” or “factions” (terms he often used interchangeably). Washington defined “party” or “faction” as the union of individuals who desire to rule without consideration for the lasting common good. He wrote that, without unity of public mind, prosperity and security are impossible. By "unity", Washington wasn't speaking about complete agreement on every issue. He was imagining that citizens would first and foremost consider themselves to be Americans, as opposed to members of a party or faction, whether geographical, ideological, or otherwise.

Washington warned about domination by the spirit of party or faction. He called it a republic’s “worst enemy.” He said that for these factions, their cause “is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind.” In other words, the passionate attachment to particular parties distorts judgment and obscures rational consideration of the nation’s long-term interests.

Washington wisely predicted that the rule of one party would inevitably result in a spirit of “revenge” on the part of the opposing faction, creating permanent “hatreds” and “jealousies” among the factions. He warned that citizens would cease to look upon one another as fellow citizens and that fanaticism would result. He cautions that government would becomes divided and would be unable to perform its duties. With greater and greater disorder, it was more likely, he warned, that the public would be prone to give over its liberty to a powerful individual.

Washington also warned that the spirit of party would contort or distort the rule of law, which depends on the people’s belief that all citizens are equal before the law. Washington pointed out that factional hatreds corrupt this belief by persuading adherents that only one group is right and just. The result of this is demagoguery. Factions erode the constitutional separation of powers, as a faction finds its home in one of the branches. This leads to what Washington called a “spirit of encroachment.” Many believe that Washington's warning about this has come to pass, with members of the judiciary appointed on the basis of ideological and political belief as opposed to a spirit of complete independence. For example, it has been common for judges on the Supreme Court to vote in blocs according to which party has appointed them. Neither party appears willing to end this practice. Washington said that Constitution has mechanisms for its own amendment. But rather than the nation’s voting to amend it, opposing factions on the court have the ability to control the Constitution's application through its interpretation.

In January 1862, a large group of Philadelphia residents signed a petition requesting Congress to commemorate the 130th anniversary of Washington's birth by reading his Farewell Address "in one or the other of the Houses of Congress.” It was first read in the United States House of Representatives in February 1862, and the reading of Washington's address became a tradition in both houses by 1899. The House of Representatives abandoned the practice in 1984, but the Senate continues this tradition to the present. Washington's Birthday is observed by selecting a member of the Senate to read the address aloud on the Senate floor, alternating between political parties each year.

It is perplexing why the vast majority opts for factionalism, in effect sabotaging solutions to perplexing problems when those solutions are proposed by "the other side". This seems to be a product of human nature. It has been the case since Federalists sought closer ties with England while Republicans sought closer ties with France, both ignoring the wisdom of Washington's admonishment of "foreign entanglements." Today issues such as budgets, appropriate tax levels, reasonable gun control, reasonable health care, and how best to aid Americans in the manufacturing sector are being debated not on their merits following a careful study of the issue, but on sound bytes, tweets and ideology. Washington would not be pleased.

While ordinary people can not apply solutions to the perplexing problems on the president's desk, like a person hitting the Staples "that was easy" button, there is one thing ordinary people can do, something that Washington would approve of. They can restore civility in political discourse. A few simple rules can help immensely:

1. Put principles above personalities. Don't be that guy whose contribution to the discussion is a negative comment attacking the individual. Criticize policies, but give every elected official credit for putting himself or herself out there and for being willing to try to work at solutions to these problems.

2. Don't be against a policy just because your party or faction is. Be a true independent and a thinking person. Be against something because you understand an issue and because you can justify how being against that issue is somehow contrary to the public good. Be able to explain your position in a calm and rational manner and be able to truly tell yourself that your position makes sense to you.

3. Take the time to understand an issue. Don't be for or against something because of what CNN, Fox News or MSNBC tell you in a sound byte or because someone says that "most economists agree". "Most economists" said that globalization and free trade would be good for most Americans. Do you agree with that statement? Understand the issue, and understand the argument of those who take the other side. When you make up your mind on the issue, be able to comfortably and calmly explain why your position makes sense and why it better for the public good.

4. Respect the right of those who hold an opposing point of view to do so. Disagree agreeably. Be civil to those on the other side of an issue, and if they are not, refuse to play their game.

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George Washington continues to be revered and admired for his leadership and wisdom. Maybe it's time for the House of Representatives to start reading his final address once again.

I hope this series has helped you to understand the complexity of the problems on the President's Desk, how there are no sound-byte answers to them, and how their solution lies in rationality rather than in emotion.

Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: Investigating the President

In June of 2018, we looked at past incidents when special prosecutors, Congressional committees and others have investigated the President, starting with the first Congressional investigation into George Washington's handling of the failed expedition of General Arthur St. Clair, to the Muller Investigation of President Donald Trump. On June 30, 2018, the following summary of what had been learned from all of this was made, which is reposted below.

For most of the first two centuries of American history, Congressional investigations of the President almost never happened. When they did, the President was usually on the periphery and not at the center of the investigation. All of that changed with Watergate. Examples such as as Iran-Contra, the investigations led by Special Prosecutors Ken Starr and Robert Mueller have proven that Richard Nixon would not be the last chief executive to risk the loss of his presidency in the face of a Congressional investigation.

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A review of the history of those times that the legislative branch has stuck its nose into the business of the executive branch tells us little about the extent to which Congress is able to use the investigative authority of its committees to serve as part of the system of checks and balances on the presidency. One lesson than can be gleaned, especially from the examples of the Impeachment trials of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, is that the use of Congressional powers are often motivated in large measure by political motives as opposed to purely legal ones.

Congressional investigations by committees do not require the assent of both chambers, nor the president’s approval to investigate. This is an important consideration in an era of intense partisan polarization and (real or imagined) institutional dysfunction. Congress can investigate even when it cannot legislate. While investigations cannot, on their own power, compel presidential compliance, it can still be used as a political weapon to focus public scrutiny on the executive branch and bring public pressure to bear on the White House in ways that can adversely affect the President's ability to govern. Put another way, Congress can use its investigative power to weaken a president politically. The threat of investigation can limit presidential autonomy.

There is a legitimate function regarding Congressional power to investigate. Historically presidents have tested the bounds of their authority in a number of ways: by shifting policy unilaterally, by the use of executive orders and executive privilege, by tightening their control over the bureaucracy, and by making broad assertions of wartime power in both the international and domestic matters. The Constitution gives Congress a number of powers, but Congress is nevertheless limited in what it can and can't do in response to presidential power plays. Congress is made up of hundreds of members, each with his or her own political agenda. Having Congress act in unison is not an easy maneuver. Passing legislation typically is a cumbersome process which requires the coordinated efforts of committees and leaders in both the House and the Senate. Even if Congress succeeds in obtaining majorities in both the House and Senate, sixty votes are still required to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Even them, the president has the veto that requires only thirty-four senators to fall in line in order to prevent it from being over-ridden.

Even the constitutional power of the providing money for presidential decisions has proven to be less effective in theory than in practice. One of the best examples of this is the failed efforts by congressional Democrats to force the second Bush administration to begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq through the appropriations process in 2007.

Congress faces poor odds when it tries to defeat the president legislatively. This is often why the power to investigate is the best weapon for legislators to expose wrongdoing, force executive-branch officials to answer difficult questions, and draw public attention to allegations of wrongdoing, mismanagement, or abuse of power. Investigations can be commenced by the decision of a committee. All Senate committees have the power to issue subpoenas. On the House side, subpoena power is given to certain committees such as Appropriations, with the power to extend this ability to the rest of the committees in 1974.

Congressional investigations of the executive branch have produced some of the most memorable events in American political history. These include the impeachment and near conviction of President Andrew Johnson; the Credit Mobilier corruption scandal, which targeted both a sitting vice president and future president as the 1872 election season was playing out; the McCarthy hearings; Watergate; Iran-Contra; and the impeachment of Bill Clinton.


Are congressional investigations of Presidents mere political theatre and opportunities for the committee members to garner some good press? Or do they serve a legitimate societal purpose? Are they merely a tool to inflict political damage on the president? Or do they contribute to the betterment of government?

In his 1885 treatise on government entitled "Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics", then-Professor Woodrow Wilson praised congressional interrogations of the executive branch, calling them a valuable tool to inform the public. But he also expressed skepticism concerning the utility of most Congressional investigation. He wrote:

"Even the special, irksome, ungracious investigations which it from time to time institutes in its spasmodic endeavors to dispel or confirm suspicions of malfeasance or of wanton corruption do not afford it more than a glimpse of the inside of a small province of the administration.”

In other words, the effect of such investigations are more often theatres for political drama and innuendo, rather than the transparent illuminating of important issues that they are meant to be. The sensational, headline-grabbing character of many investigations can justify the skepticism that often accompanies them. Journalist Walter Lippmann once described such investigations as “that legalized atrocity, the congressional investigation, where congressmen, starved of their legitimate food for thought, go on a wild, feverish manhunt, and do not stop at cannibalism.” As polarization in politics increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for the objective observer to discern what is proper accountability and what is political sport.

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Speaking of political polarization, if you'd like a break from it, our July* theme may be just what the doctor ordered as we look for Islands of Civility in Presidential History.

(Referring to the theme of the entries in this community in July of 2018)

Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: 1968

In April of 2018 the theme for this community was the year 1968. It was fifty years later, and we looked back on one of the most epic years in recent world history, with much of the events of that year summarized in the journal entry reposted below, but originally posted on April 1, 2018*.

This month we turn the clock back fifty years* and look at what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting years in recent history: 1968. It was an election year and in the White House, President Lyndon Johnson was beset with difficulties, as his hopes to build the Great Society were pushed aside by the quagmire in Vietnam. A political Lazarus named Richard Nixon, prematurely pronounced politically dead six years earlier, was making an inconceivable and unimaginable political comeback within a Republican Party divided by Barry Goldwater's Conservatives (now touting Goldwater's successor, California Governor Ronald Reagan), and Nelson Rockefeller's liberals. The vast stockpile of political capital bequeathed to the Democratic Party following the assassination of John F. Kennedy was quickly depleting as an unpopular war raged on in Asia and Americans at home struggled to understand why their young men were dying in swamps and jungles on the other side of the world for reasons they couldn't understand.


As the war in Vietnam progressed with no end in sight, and as casualties mounted and as the war was brought into everyone's living room, Democrats lost faith in Lyndon Johnson's presidency and saw an opportunity for new leadership in the party. The race to replace Johnson was on, with Eugene McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern battling for the heart and soul of the party.


It was a violent year, not only in Vietnam, but at home too. It was a year of assassinations, violent protests against the war on college campuses, and violence in the streets of Chicago when the Democrats met to choose a candidate. The world was changing in other ways too, as the first Prague Spring sought to shake off the bonds of communist rule in Czechoslovakia, the first wave of Trudeaumania hit Canada, and Pope Paul VI made a bold pronouncement on what women could and couldn't do with their bodies. The space race was on between the two super-powers as these two world powers waged a technological battle to determine who would be the first to get to the moon.


The news wasn't all bad, as a monumental Civil Rights Act was passed, and an epic seven game World Series pitted two pitching sensations against one another, Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals, and thirty game winner Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers. Dan Rowan and Dick Martin launched their quick-sketch comedy show Laugh-In, in which Richard Nixon made a brief surprise appearance to utter the show's catch phrase "sock it to me" in the form of a question. TV's Star Trek broke a television barrier as it featured the first interracial kiss between Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Lieutenant Uhuru (Nichelle Nichols). The war did not prevent the Olympic Games from going on, with the Winter Olympics taking place in Grenoble, France, and the summer games happening in Mexico City, where athletes made political statements along with breaking records.

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1968 would feature one of the most interesting presidential election campaigns in history, with allegations that Richard Nixon committed treason by sabotaging the Paris Peace Talks in order to gain an electoral advantage and stunt the momentum of his opponent. As we proceed through the 50th anniversary of many of these epic historic events, we will profile many of these events this month in this community, which most of you will be too young to remember, and which others will have lived through.

(*If you're curious about perusing some of the articles that were posted that month, links to all of them can be found here).

Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: Summarizing Presidential Highs and Lows

In January of 2018, we did a series of articles on the high points and low points of various presidencies. At the end of the month, on January 31, 2018, the summary that is reposted below sought to sort out what lessons could be found in a consideration of what could be learned from times when things went right for presidents and times when they went wrong. Here are our takeaways from that series.

Great presidents are pragmatic. They realize that before great change can be effected, elections and re-elections must be won. Even Abraham Lincoln, dubbed "Honest Abe", knew this. A journal entry written in this community on April 15, 2015, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's death, entitled Lincoln's Relevance Today, makes this point:

Lincoln was no saint. He was not a mindless idealist. On the contrary, a study of the man and his actions make it clear that he was first and foremost a pragmatist. He was a man of principle, to be sure, but he was practical and politically shrewd when it came to achieving those principles. For example, be believed in the rights enshrined in the Constitution, but he was not above restricting those rights when he felt doing so was necessary to achieve the greater good. He disallowed a free press when he believed that doing so would impede those seeking to break up the union. He removed the right of habeas corpus (judicial review for some of those arrested and detained) when he felt it necessary. When it looked as if he might lose a close election in 1864, he allowed leave to union soldiers in swing states so they could come home and vote for him. For Abraham Lincoln, lesser principles gave way in favor of the greater.

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This has been true of all successful presidents. They have their eye on the big picture, their ultimate goal, one which will survive the test of time and one for which the citizenry will come to see that it was for the betterment of the nation. For Washington and Lincoln it was the survival of the union. For Theodore Roosevelt it was progressive reform that would protect the common man against the power of corporate conglomerate interests. For Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan it was emergence from economic hardship and the maintenance of global security. For Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower, it was preservation of the peace.

Many will disagree about the degree to which each of these presidents have achieved these goals. It is a measurement best taken through the lens of objective history, cleansed from the distortion of political ideologies and partisan politics.

Are there strategies or common characteristics that can be learned from the presidents who have achieved popular support and can these be applied generally or are they unique to their time? Here are some lessons learned from a study of presidential popularity:

1. Popular Presidents are great communicators. Franklin Roosevelt used his fireside chats to successfully bypass the media and Congress and speak directly to the people. Theodore Roosevelt cultivated a very friendly relationship with the media, something that William McKinley, Warren Harding (a former newspaper editor) and Dwight Eisenhower also did very well, but that William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover never learned. Abraham Lincoln used communication in the press as a weapon in war (this story is very well told in Harold Holzer's excellent 2014 book Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion, reviewed here in this community). The jury is still out on whether or not Donald Trump's use of Twitter as a means of controlling the media agenda will be seen by history as a success or failure. Lessons will be learned from the 2020 election.

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2. It's the economy stupid: This was a slogan used by the Clinton Campaign in 1992 to defeat a president who had once enjoyed a 90% approval rating. For Clinton, his success in turning deficit budgets into surplus budgets and the success of the dot-com economy kept Clinton's popularity high even as he was the subject of impeachment proceedings. While Presidents can not unilaterally control the economy, it had better be a president's first priority if he or she wants to win the hearts and minds of the electorate. However once again, a healthy economy will not, by itself, make a president popular, and once again, there are still lessons to be learned from the Trump administration which has a president with declining popularity presiding over low unemployment numbers and a very healthy stock market. Lessons are waiting to be learned by those who can set partisan sentiment aside in favor of objective study.

3. If you're going to war, you'd better win it, and quick: It was a prompt victory in the First Iraq War that catapulted George H. W. Bush to 90% approval ratings (only to have the air let out of its tires by the economy - see lesson 2). Early victory in the Spanish-American War, along with a strong economy, insured William McKinley's re-election. Conversely, lingering wars with daily reminders of casualty rates and lack of success contributed to the undoing of Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman and George W. Bush. Military success can swell national pride, while loss of life in foreign wars where the objectives are unclear can deflate a president's popularity very quickly.

4. As much as possible, make peace with Congress: This one appears more difficult in the modern age when polarization in politics seems to be past the point of no return. But as history shows, this is not a new phenomenon. It dates back to the time of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, and was very prevalent during the antebellum period when the political polarization and resentment was sectional. Jimmy Carter went to Washington as a proud Washington outsider. While this position was initially popular, he soon found himself legislatively neutered and a one-term president. Harry Truman won an upset election in 1948 by campaigning against the "do nothing Congress", and while the strategy won him the White House, he left office with a record-low approval rating. Once again, it will be interesting to learn what history will show as the Trump Presidency continues its vocal criticism of those in Congress who fail to tow the party line.

5. Own up to mistakes: This was one of John F. Kennedy's greatest strengths. The nation quickly forgave him for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion after he took personal responsibility for its failure. Ronald Reagan left office with strong popular support despite his admission about his administration's participation in the Iran-Contra Scandal. Even after the Tower Commission personally cleared Reagan himself, he still took responsibility for his administration's actions, telling the nation:

“Now, what should happen when you make a mistake is this: You take your knocks, you learn your lessons, and then you move on. That’s the healthiest way to deal with a problem. You know, by the time you reach my age, you’ve made plenty of mistakes. And if you’ve lived your life properly — so, you learn. You put things in perspective. You pull your energies together. You change. You go forward.”

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Presidential popularity and approval is a fickle friend. It can be lost by circumstances beyond a president's control such as world economic phenomenon or political forces. For those that manage to retain it, history demonstrates that their possession of it is anchored in a strong over-riding goal, the compromise of lesser principles for the greater goal, and an ability to get this message across directly to the people.

If history is an accurate guide to predict the future, the success of the current administration in 2020 will be tied to the maintenance of a healthy economy and keeping the nation out of foreign wars. It will also be based on the ability to communicate this message directly to the people. Leaving aside the potential for scandals or other similar impediments, if it fails in 2020, this will likely be the result of significant losses in this year's mid-term elections and a resulting lack of progress as a result of hostilities with Congress. Looking at the issue purely from the perspective of the study of history, divorced from any partisan or ideological distortion, there are still a lot of unknown factors which prevent accurate crystal ball gazing into 2020.


That's the wonderful thing about history: the more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. And that's why it never gets boring.

Happy Birthday President Obama

On August 4, 1961 (59 years ago today), Barack Hussein Obama II was born, not in Kenya as some have claimed, but in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was the 44th President of the United States, and the first African American to hold the office. President Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree and he worked as a civil rights attorney and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. He served three terms representing the 13th District in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004. In 2000, he lost a Democratic primary race for Illinois's 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives to four-term incumbent Bobby Rush.

In 2004, Obama received national attention during his campaign to represent Illinois in the United States Senate with his unexpected victory in the March Democratic Party primary, and his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July. He was elected to the Senate in November. Halfway through his first term as a US Senator, he began his presidential campaign in 2007 and, after a close primary campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008, he won the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. He then defeated Republican nominee John McCain in the general election, and was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009. Nine months after his election, Obama was named the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

During his first two years in office, Obama signed into law economic stimulus legislation in response to the Great Recession. This included the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. Other major domestic initiatives in his first term included the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as "Obamacare". The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was also passed during his first term. The Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 was also passed as well.

In foreign policy, President Obama ended U.S. military involvement in the Iraq War. He also increased U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, signed the New START arms control treaty with Russia, ordered U.S. military involvement in Libya, and ordered the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. Despite these accomplishments, in November 2010, the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives as the Democratic Party lost a total of 63 seats. After a lengthy debate over federal spending and whether or not to raise the nation's debt limit, Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

Obama was re-elected president in November 2012, defeating Republican nominee Mitt Romney. During his second term, Obama has promoted stronger gun control legislation in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and his administration filed briefs which urged the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 and California's Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. In foreign policy, Obama has continued the process of ending U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan.

In 2015, the centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy was an agreement on nuclear arms with Iran. In 2013, Obama's administration opened negotiations with Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Negotiations took two years with numerous delays, with a deal being announced July 14, 2015. The deal, titled Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, saw the removal of sanctions in exchange for measures that would prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. While Obama hailed the agreement as being a step towards a more hopeful world, the deal drew strong criticism from Republican and conservative quarters, and from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

President Obama's presidency ended on January 20, 2017, when he attended the inauguration of President Donald Trump. In May of 2015 it was announced that a site been selected for his Presidential Library. It will be built on the south side of Chicago. In July of 2016 he spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, strongly endorsing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who he described as being more qualified to be president than "me or Bill" (referring to the candidate's husband, former President Bill Clinton).

In February of 2017, Obama went on a holiday which included kite-surfing with billionaire Richard Branson. On March 2, 2017, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum awarded its annual Profile in Courage Award to Obama "for his enduring commitment to democratic ideals and elevating the standard of political courage." The following month, on April 24, 2017, Obama made his first public appearance out of office, at the University of Chicago aimed at the engagement with a new generation as well as an appeal for their participation in politics. On May 4, 2017, three days ahead of the French presidential election, Obama publicly endorsed Emmanuel Macron, stating: "He appeals to people’s hopes and not their fears, and I enjoyed speaking to Emmanuel recently to hear about his independent movement and his vision for the future of France." Macron went on to win the election. He has recently traveled to Europe, delivering a speech in Milan, Italy on May 9, 2017, at a food innovation summit. On May 25, 2017, he made a joint public appearance with Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was at Kensington Palace in England where he met with Prince Harry on May 27, 2017. He offered condolences following the Manchester Arena bombing that occurred five days earlier.

On June 1, 2017, after President Trump announced his withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, Obama released a statement disagreeing with the decision. During an appearance at the Seoul conference on July 3, Obama said the Paris Agreement "will still be a critical factor in helping our children solve the enormous challenge in civilization."

On September 5, 2017, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. President Obama released a post on Facebook that was very critical of the decision. On September 7, 2017, Obama partnered with former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush to work with One America Appeal to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma in the Gulf Coast and Texas communities.

Obama went on an international trip from November 28 to December 2, 2017, visiting China, India and France. In China, he delivered remarks at the Global Alliance of SMEs Summit in Shanghai and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. He then went to India, where he spoke at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit before meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over lunch. He also held a town hall for young leaders, organized by the Obama Foundation. He met with the Dalai Lama while in New Delhi and ended his five-day trip in France where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, former President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, later speaking at an invitation-only event on climate issues.

On October 31, 2017, Obama hosted the inaugural meeting of the Obama Foundation in Chicago. He plans to make the foundation to be the central focus of his post-presidency. He has also been working on a Presidential memoir, in a reported $65 million deal with Penguin Random House. As well, the Barack Obama Presidential Center is Obama's planned presidential library. It will be hosted by the University of Chicago and located in Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago. In August 2018, the Chicago Park District began construction of the project, but it suspended in September. The District stated that construction will not restart before a dialogue with federal agencies confirms that work is appropriate. On June 11, 2019, a court granted judgement dismissing the lawsuit to block construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

A package that contained a pipe bomb was sent to the Obama's home in Washington, D.C, on October 24, 2018. The package was intercepted by the Secret Service during routine mail screenings. Similar packages were sent to several other Democratic leaders. On October 26, 2018, Cesar Sayoc was arrested for the offense. On March 21, 2019, Sayoc pleaded guilty to 65 felony counts, including using weapons of mass destruction in an attempted domestic terrorist attack abd was sentenced to 20 years in prison on August 5, 2019.

In 2019, Barack and Michelle Obama bought a home on Martha's Vineyard. Earlier this year, on April 14, 2020, Obama endorsed his former vice president Joe Biden for president in the 2020 election. The following month, in May of 2020, Obama criticized President Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, describing President Trump's response to the crisis as "an absolute chaotic disaster." Trump retaliated by accusing Obama of having committed "the biggest political crime in American history", though he refused to say what he was talking about, telling reporters "You know what the crime is, the crime is very obvious to everybody."

On May 16, 2020, Obama delivered two commencement speeches on behalf of the graduating youth who were not able to go to their physical graduation ceremonies due to the COVID 19 pandemic. He spoke about systemic racism and the coronavirus pandemic, and also on racism. He said "The fight for equality and justice begins with awareness, empathy, passion, even righteous anger. Don't just activate yourself online, change requires strategy, action, organizing, marching, and voting in the real world like never before".

Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: Presidents and Populism

In March of 2017, our theme was Presidents and Populism. Each day we looked at a different incidence of populism is US Presidential history. When the month was over, we collected our thoughts on the subject on March 31 in the essay that is reposted below.

In this past month we have been looking at the phenomenon of populism and its many incarnations in the history of presidential politics. As has been noted by author John Judis in his recent book The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics (reviewed here in this community), we live in an age when populism is on the rise around the world. It merits some understanding. Edmund Burke said that "in history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind." So what can we learn from the past examples of times in history when populist movements gained national and international attention?

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1. Populism is not the same thing as popularity. Populism describes a political movement in which those supporting the movement unite behind a common cause, typically one that adversely affects ordinary persons, those in lower and middle income groups. Populists purport to do battle against an elite, corrupt, and undemocratic power base. Sometimes its the banks or the financial and corporate power base, and sometimes its the elected politicians themselves. They don't often win elections, and they frequently fuel third party campaigns (such as Theodore Roosevelt's Progressives, the Know-Nothing Party, the Greenback Party or Ross Perot's Reform Party). Sometimes they comprise a movement within one of the two major political parties (such as William Jennings Bryan's Silverites, Huey Long's "Share Our Wealth" Society, Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats, or those supporting Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul or Bernie Sanders).

2. Populism follows on the heels of an economic panic. The theme of Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign was "it's the economy stupid", and it is especially pertinent in preceding a rise in populist sentiment. The panic of 1819 ultimately led to Andrew Jackson's populist victory in 1828. The panic of 1837 was followed by the Log Cabin and Hard Cider campaign of 1840, and by the rise of nativism. The panic of 1873 was followed by the Populist Party and by the rise of the Free Silver movement, the latter becoming stronger following the panic of 1893. The panic of 1893 also highlighted the differing interests between mid-western agrarian America and the eastern corporate establishment, and would continue to spawn populist movements well into the 20th century, including the Progressives and southern populists like Pitchfork Ben Tillman and Thomas Watson. The Great Depression would lead to populists Huey Long, Father Charles Coughlin, Wendell Willkie, and the most successful of them all, Franklin Roosevelt. In response to the high interest rates and rampant inflation of the 1970s, the Reagan Revolution would take place, and later populists like Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan would strike out against the establishment trend towards free trade and the globalism that came with the birth of the internet. In more recent times, in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the bail-out of the big banks, populist outrage has prismed into the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, and most recently into the political success of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

3. The shock of populism can reverberate for decades after the panic. As the examples in the previous paragraph show, populist response to the panics of 1873 and 1893 were alive and well up to the first fifteen years of the 20th century. Voters still distrusted their politicians long after the great depression as the 1948 election demonstrated, with voters rejecting the safe choice, as Democrats split in three directions, before supporting Harry Truman, the man who called out the "do-nothing congress" and gave them hell. Even after the economic squeeze of the late 1970s, voters were drawn to populism despite the good times that were emerging in the 1990s. And while the market has rebounded from the crash of 2008, voters both on the left and the right have found populist outlets for their outrage.


4. Populism frequently sees immigrants to blame for the nation's problems. This was the message of the American (or Nativist) Party in the first half of the 19th century, of Tillman, Watson, Coughlin and more recently in Donald Trump's message on the negative effects of illegal immigrants. Supporters of those positions justify the opposition on economic grounds, arguing that protectionism is necessary for the economic security of Americans, while opponents try to characterize it as a form of racism.

5. Populists also frequently target banks, large corporations and members of congress who are supported by corporate interests. This has often puts the populists at an electoral disadvantage because those are the people who finance ever expensive political campaigns. The election of William McKinley in 1896 is a powerful illustration of this. It will become even more of an obstacle following the US Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. Yet, as we have recently seen in the 2016 election, the candidate who outspends the other isn't necessarily the winner, and populist candidates can get their message out by other means beside money.

6. Populists are almost never incumbents. Because populism is by definition an attack on the establishment, populists are almost never incumbents. Those who get elected as populists quickly learn that it is easier to attack than to govern and in order to remain in power, they must cultivate support from those in Congress or else fail to implement their agenda. Thus far, probably the only exception of an incumbent who campaigned as a populist is Harry Truman, who turned his guns on the do-nothing congress, a message that convinced voters to give Truman another try as President.

7. Populists are usually seen as a protest movement, but they do win sometimes. They will probably win more often as nominations for president are put in the hands of the rank and file voters. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Democratic party keeps the Super-Delegate structure in place, or opts for the more "democratic" model used by the Republicans. While some populists are marginalized, many like Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan have been able to garner sufficient support to carry them on to victory either by simultaneously attracting support of party insiders and the financial establishment, or by convincing the party that they are the most electable option that the party has. Donald Trump's recent victory is unique in that it was achieved despite widespread opposition from the party establishment.

What is the future of populism and the Presidency? Much of this will depend on whether or not the Democratic Party establishment is willing to depart from the Super-Delegate status that was a roadblock to the momentum of Bernie Sanders. Financial boom and bust that has been present throughout history will continue and populism will follow in its wake. The populism that followed the panic of 2008 will not end with the 2016 election. It has become a global trend, as seen in the Brexit vote and with the rise of populist movements in France, Spain, Greece, Denmark, Austria, Italy, and in the Netherlands. Populism may be a factor in the 2020 election, especially within the Democratic Party, where many feel betrayed by the super-delegate structure. Opponents will look for any failures in the Trump administration to convince voters of the folly of populist reactions.


If history continues its past patterns, voters will eventually look for a member of the political or government establishment, as they turned to James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower or George H. W. Bush in the past*. How soon that will happen is difficult to predict, and the 2020 election may put the appeal of populism vs. small-c conservatism to the test once again.

(*This was written in 2017. Will Joe Biden be the next example in this phenomenon of returning to an experienced establishment candidate after flirting with populism? Stay tuned.)

Remembering Warren Harding

On August 2, 1923 (97 years ago today) Warren Gamaliel Harding, the 29th President of the United States, died in San Francisco while on a west coast tour as President. He was 57 years of age.

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Harding was born November 2, 1865, in Blooming Grove, Ohio. He was the eldest of eight children born to Dr. George Tryon Harding, Sr. and Phoebe Elizabeth (Dickerson) Harding. It was rumored in Blooming Grove that one of Harding's great-grandmothers might have been African American. Harding's great-great grandfather Amos claimed that the rumor was falsely began a thief, who had been caught in the act by a member of the Harding family.

Harding became an accomplished public speaker in college, and graduated in 1882 at the age of 17 with a Bachelor of Science degree. As a youth he was an accomplished cornet player and played in various bands. In 1884 his Citizens' Cornet Band won the third-place $200 prize at the highly competitive Ohio State Band Festival in Findlay.

On July 8, 1891, Harding married Florence Kling DeWolfe, the daughter of his rival Amos Hall Kling. Florence was a divorcée, five years Harding's senior, and the mother of a young son. Her first marriage, to an alcoholic, had led to her being disowned by her father.

Harding was newspaper publisher in Ohio. In 1893, his newspaper the Marion Star, replaced the Independent as the official paper for Marion's governmental notices, after Harding exposed the rival paper for overcharging the city. In 1896, the Independent ceased doing business and its owner was his father-in-law, Amos Kling wasted no time in financing and launching another rival paper, the Republican Transcript. In 1900, a political opponent, J.F. McNeal, with the help of Kling, secretly bought up $20,000 in loans owed by Harding, and immediately called them due in full. Harding just barely succeeded in securing the funds to pay off the debt.

Harding served in the Ohio Senate, as the 28th Lieutenant Governor of Ohio and as a U.S. Senator from 1915–1921. He was the first incumbent United States Senator and the first newspaper publisher to be elected President. He was selected as a compromise choice at the 1920 Republican National Convention. During his presidential campaign, in the aftermath of World War I, he promised a return of the nation to "normalcy". In the 1920 election, he and his running mate, Calvin Coolidge, defeated Democrat and fellow Ohioan James M. Cox in the largest presidential popular vote landslide (60.36% to 34.19%) since popular vote totals were first recorded in 1824.

Harding rewarded loyal friends and supporters, but scandals and corruption, including the notorious Teapot Dome scandal, eventually pervaded his administration. His Attorney-General Harry Daugherty was later tried, convicted, and sent to prison for bribery or defrauding the federal government.

In foreign affairs, Harding rejected Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations, and signed a separate peace treaty with Germany and Austria, formally ending World War I. He also strongly promoted world Naval disarmament at the Washington Naval Conference, and urged U.S. participation in a proposed International Court. Domestically, Harding signed the first child welfare program in the United States and dealt with striking workers in the mining and railroad industries. The nation's unemployment rate dropped by half during Harding's administration. In a show of political courage, he made a prominent speech in the heart of the south, in Birmingham, Alabama, condemning racial discrimination.

In the summer of 1923, Harding boarded a naval transport ship, the USS Henderson, and became the first President to travel to Alaska. Rumors of corruption in his administration were beginning to circulate in Washington. While in Alaska, Harding was profoundly shocked by a long message he received detailing illegal activities previously unknown to him. The purposes for Harding's visit to Alaska was to encourage colonization of the state. He hoped that with the completion of the Alaska Railroad, World War I veterans would return to their home territory and any impoverished workers in the lower states could come to Alaska and make or find their own employment. President Harding brought along with him to the territory the Secretary of Interior Hubert Work, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, and Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace.

Harding arrived in Alaska on the USS Henderson on July 7, 1923. He visited Metlakatla, and Ketchikan on July 8, Wrangell on July 9, Juneau on July 10, Skagway and Glacier Bay on July 11, Seward, Snow River on the Kenai Peninsula, and Anchorage on July 13, Chickaloon, Sarah Palin's home of Wasilla and Willow on July 14, Montana Station and Curry on July 14, Cantwell, McKinley Park and Nenana on July 15. On July 15, 1923, President Harding drove in the golden spike on the north side of the steel Mears Memorial Bridge that completed the Alaska Railroad. The trip continued to Fairbanks on July 15. The President and his wife returned to Seward and they took the Henderson to Valdez (July 19), Cordova (July 20) and Sitka (July 22).

On July 26, 1923, having departed Alaska on the USS Henderson, President Harding toured Vancouver, British Columbia; the first sitting U.S. President ever to visit Canada. President Harding played a round of golf at the Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club, after which he complained of nausea and upper abdominal pain. His doctor, Charles E. Sawyer, believed Harding's illness to be a severe case of food poisoning. Harding's pulse and breathing rate were rapid and he was given digitalis. President Harding met with British Columbia Premier John Oliver and Mayor of Vancouver Charles Tisdall at the Hotel Vancouver. Harding spoke in front of 50,000 people at Stanley Park. He inspected The Vancouver Regiment honor guard accompanied by Canadian Brigadier General V.W. Odlum.

Coming into Seattle, Washington, President Harding's transport ship, USS Henderson, accidentally rammed into a U.S. naval destroyer due to fog. While in port, Harding reviewed the U.S. naval fleet and visited the Bell Street Pier. In Seattle, Harding greeted children and led 50,000 Boy Scouts in the Pledge of Allegiance. President Harding gave his final speech to a large crowd of 25,000 people at the University of Washington stadium in Seattle. Harding had rushed through his speech not waiting for applause by the audience. He then traveled by train from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. Harding's scheduled speech in Portland was canceled because he was not feeling well.

The President's train continued south to San Francisco. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover sent a telegram from Dunsmuir, California, to his friend Dr. Ray L. Wilbur, asking Wilbur to meet and to personally examine the President. Arriving at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, Harding developed a respiratory illness believed to be pneumonia. A severely exhausted Harding was given digitalis and caffeine that momentarily helped relieve his heart condition and sleeplessness.

On Thursday, Harding's health appeared to be improving, so his doctors went to dinner. His pulse was normal and his lung infection had subsided. Unexpectedly, during the evening, Harding shuddered and died suddenly in the middle of conversation with his wife in the hotel's presidential suite, at 7:35 p.m. on August 2, 1923.

Immediately after President Harding died, word quickly spread to the San Francisco streets that the President was dead. People rushed into the Palace Hotel and rapidly crowded into the hallways. The San Francisco chief of police, Daniel J. O'Brian, finally was able to clear the hotel of the unruly mob and members of Harding's official party could come see him.

After some discussion, the doctors issued a release indicating the cause of death to be "some brain evolvement, probably an apoplexy". Mrs. Harding refused to allow an autopsy. Naval medical consultants who examined the president in San Francisco concluded he had suffered a heart attack.

Harding was succeeded as President by Vice President Calvin Coolidge, who was sworn in while vacationing at Plymouth Notch, Vermont, by his father, a Vermont notary public.

Historians have been unkind to Harding due to the multiple scandals during his administration and as a result, Harding has received low rankings as President. This year's recent release of more of Harding's "love letters" to his mistress Carrie Phillips haven't helped. But his reputation has increased among some historians, who give him credit for his conservative financial policies, fiscal responsibility, and his endorsement of African American civil rights. Harding's creation of the Budget Bureau was a major economic accomplishment that reformed and streamlined wasteful federal spending. President Harding contended with racial problems on a national level, rather than sectional, and openly advocated African American political, educational, and economic equality inside the Solid South.

Author James David Rosenalt has a more complimentary assessment of Harding in his 2009 book The Harding Affair (reviewed in this community here). It's one I tend to agree with. Robenalt writes at pages 3-4:

He had a rare political attribute: courage. In his first address to Congress, he asked for the passage of an anti-lynching law. Six months after taking office, he was the first sitting president to travel into the deep south to make a bold civil rights speech. Democracy was a lie if blacks were denied political equality, he told an enormous crowd separated by color and a chain-link fence in Birmingham, Alabama. A few months later, on his first Christmas in the White House, he pardoned Socialist leader Eugene Debs, who was rotting away in an Atlanta prison. Debs's crime? He spoke out against the draft and the war after America entered the conflict.

Potus Geeks Summer Reruns: Presidents and Immigration

This is a repost of an essay posted on February 28, 2017, summarizing lessons learned from that month's series of entries on the subjects of Presidents and Immigration.

From the formation of the thirteen colonies into the United States, there was a general consensus that immigration was something that could be of benefit to the nation, provided that certain preconditions were met. Many of the original Americans were either recent immigrants themselves or not far removed from immigration. They recognized that it was a large land and many hands were needed to make it habitable. George Washington was open to the nation receiving immigrants, including what he termed "the poor the needy and oppressed of the Earth". He expressed two reservations, firstly that those arriving make a contribution to their new home and not be a burden, and secondly that, as he put it, they " get assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws: in a word, soon become one people."


Early Presidents did not limit the immigrants that they welcomed to those from English speaking nations. A considerable amount of immigrants from Germany were present, as were lesser numbers from France, the Netherlands and Sweden. Nor was immigration restricted to Christians. Early immigrants included many Jews and even a small number of Muslims.

The nation's history will be forever scarred by its complicity in forcing a large number of immigrants to come to the United States against their will, separated from home and family by force, namely the slaves. That it took so long, and demanded a war for the nation to end this "peculiar institution" and that even after the war, many failed to see the moral repugnance of slavery and of racial discrimination, leaves a sad and ugly legacy.

Deportation of immigrants is not a recent concept. John Adams faced the issue when he was faced with the threat of war with France. Many subsequent presidents have struggled with this issue in times of war. Wartime has also raised the issue of how America treats immigrants from the nation it is at war with. In retrospect, the notion of internment and forced segregation of American citizens and pending citizens from an erstwhile enemy nation is looked upon as draconian and offensive, but in the fog of war, when the potential for danger is high, the issue is not so clear or obvious. Cooler heads do not always prevail in times of fear, especially when the flames of those fears are fanned by those whose self-interest is served by doing so, whether it be a news media seeking to increase circulation by creating a crisis, as the Hearst media chain was prone to do, or by populist politicians courting the support of a frightened public.

If the history of immigration to the United States has demonstrated anything, it is that policy is often first and foremost driven by economic factors. While it is noble to imagine that immigrants have been welcomed with open arms when in need of refuge from oppressive regimes in their homeland, this has not really been the case. The strongest examples of this can be found in the actions of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's State Department's obstruction of the acceptance of Jews seeking to escape Hitler's persecution, and in today's reluctance to accept Syrian refugees. In both cases, the argument made against the acceptance of refugees has been that opening the doors for these immigrants is also opening the doors to spies and terrorists.

History has shown that it has been economic need that has spawned increased immigration. When the nation has been in need of laborers to clear its land, or to work in its farms and in its factories, or when added wage earners were seen as a means of expanding the tax base and feeding the economy, immigration has been encouraged and welcomed. Conversely, in recessionary times, a constant cry has been that immigrants are taking jobs from American citizens and the cry has gone up for more deportations, a cause that many populist politicians have been willing to champion.

Today we have come full circle. As America slowly recovers from the 2008 financial crisis, as income disparity continues to rise and as manufacturing jobs move to countries with cheaper labor costs, tighter immigration policies continue to be called for, just as was the case following the Great Depression and in the aftermath of many other "panics" in American history. Once again, at a time America is at war with terrorist organizations, a large segment of the population calls for a blanket rejection of immigrants from the nations believed to be spawning those terrorists, much like when FDR concluded that all Japanese, whether or not they were now American citizens, posed a danger that needed to be controlled. Once again, refugees are refused because of the fear of letting in those who would harm America, much like FDR's State Department did with the Jews seeking to escape the death camps.

Now as then, history repeats itself, and the same difficult questions are confronted. Opponents to expanded immigration argue that the wrong people are being kept out, not terrorists, but victims of terrorism, the "oppressed of the Earth" that George Washington spoke of. This side argues that by forcing America to reverse its former benevolent position on giving aid to refugees, the terrorists have achieved their goal of fundamentally altering a core principle of the nation. Those on the other side of the argument note that, after France increased the number of Syrian refugees it accepted, it also saw an increase in the number of terrorist attacks on its soil. No one wants to be responsible for failing to prevent another 911. Those who support President Donald Trump's Executive Order 13769 genuinely see this as a life-saving measure.


It is valuable to understand that both sides in this debate are taking positions that are rooted in history, and that seek to learn from the lessons of history. It is unhelpful for each side in this debate to label the other side's argument as insignificant or totally lacking in merit. Both points of view should be considered in arriving at a safe compromise.

Consider the following ugly hypothetical, and imagine that you have to choose between one of two options. You are the "decider" who must set your nation's policy. You can either (a) adopt a generous and benevolent policy of accepting large numbers of refugees, knowing that by doing so, you may be condemning innocent people in your country to becoming victims of terrorist acts, in the same manner as those persons in Nice, Paris and other locations in France; or (b) refuse to accept immigrants from certain areas of the world, knowing that many of them may die in their homeland at the hands of oppressive regimes. You must make this decision without the benefit of hindsight.

It's not an easy choice, is it?