Monday, April 18, 2011

Polk vs. Truman

James K. Polk
11th President of the United States
Served 1845-1849
Ages Served: 49-53

PROS: Young Hickory — Polk earned this nickname because he was the protege of Old Hickory, fellow Tennessean Andrew Jackson. Yeah, people saw him as the next Andrew Jackson. Maybe he didn’t have the temper or thirst for pummeling people that Jackson had. But really, how many of those kinds of people do you want running around at any given time?

Did he duel a lot? No. Actually, when he was 17, Polk became very sick. It turned out he had urinary stones. You know how they dealt with this sort of thing 200 years ago out west (Tennessee/Kentucky)? Surgery sans anesthesia. “Here’s some brandy, kid. We’re about to cut into your junk.”

The Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™ looks simple after something like that.

He got stuff done — Polk’s Inauguration Day speech could have been boiled down to: “I have come here to chew bubblegum, re-establish the Independent Treasury, reduce tariffs, get the southwest from Mexico and get the Oregon Territory from the British... and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

Actually, bubblegum was yet to be popularized in the U.S., but that’s besides the point.

Polk went in with the intention of serving only one term, but that didn’t matter. He got it all done in four years, and he did it while keeping harmony between the states — something every president after him was unable to do leading up to the Civil War.
And look at what he added to the U.S.; everything west of the Louisiana Purchase with the exception of the 30,000-square-mile piece of southern modern day Arizona and New Mexico. I’m eyeballing it here, but it looks like it’s pretty close to as much land as the Louisiana Purchase. People make a big deal because of how great Jefferson was because of the Louisiana Purchase — all he did was cut Napoleon a check.
To get this land in the West, Polk had to complete the annexation of an independent republic, negotiate with Britain and wage war with Mexico. But he did it all. Yet, as the They Might Be Giants song says, he’s often forgotten.
If it weren't for James K. Polk, nostalgic 20- and 30-somethings wouldn't be able to make Oregon Trail jokes.
By the way, on the back of that tab that was ripped off reads “You have died of dysentery.” Speaking of diseases we learned about in Oregon Trail...

CONS: Cholera
— Polk’s wife, Sarah, spent a considerable amount of time worrying that the stress of her husband’s political life was wreaking havoc on his health.

Polk died of cholera in June 1849, 103 days after leaving office. He has the shortest retirement of any president. At 53, Polk was also the youngest president to die of natural causes. Point being, his wife was right to worry. Clearly, he was not in good health.

By the way, all that worrying seemed to do no damage to her health — she lived to the age of 87.

Nerd cred — As previously mentioned, They Might Be Giants wrote a song about Polk, making him — along with artist, James Ensor — a favorite among TMBG-fan nerd-types. Okay, "nerd-types" may be redundant there.
Belgium's famous painter, apparently, has a message for you.
The Onion once wrote a story about how the VH1's Behind the Music fictional episode centered around TMBG lacked anything “juicy.”

When I was 14, my parents allowed me to go to a TMBG show, my first concert without parental supervision. Why? 1) I was going with my older brother and 2) It was a TMBG show; what was going to happen to me?

Fair or not, by virtue of having a TMBG song about him, Polk is kind of King of the Nerds. No one has ever been given that title for fighting ability.

Harry S Truman
33rd President of the United States
Served: 1945-1953
Age during term: 60-68

PROS: Slightly ornery — Let's start out with a little anecdote from Truman's service in World War I. Truman enlisted in the Missouri National Guard, and wound up a battery commander of an artillery unit known for having discipline problems. When the unit came under attack by the German forces, Truman's soldiers started breaking formation and retreating. This, obviously, would not do, so Truman marched out and berated his soldiers using "curses he learned from working on the Santa Fe railroad."
Can't imagine any of these guys getting too salty, but there ya go.
His soldiers not only fell back in line, they managed to get through the entire war without taking any casualties. Probably because they were so afraid of Truman, their fear created a space-time warp around their bodies. Anyone with that much piss and vinegar in them would probably make for one hell of an opponent in the Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™.

Quick-thinking — Of course, Truman should never have been let into the Army to begin with. Why? Let's take a look at a photo of Truman as a young doughboy:
Now, we're wondering who came up with that fantastic fake background. But we digress.
Hello, four-eyes! When Truman first attempted to enlist, his eyesight was revealed to be an unacceptable 20/50 in his right side. His left side? Hardly better at 20/40. What was Truman to do? Well, he somehow managed to memorize the eye chart, whereupon he took the eye test again, and passed. This was a dude who really wanted to kill Germans (and put a pin in that thought, because we'll be coming back to it later).

Truman possessed the classic confidence and intelligence of your prototypical American self-starter, and appropriately so, as he was the last U.S. president to come to office without having first graduated from college.

Cold-blooded — And then, we come to this.

Okay, so, you're Truman. You've served your country with distinction during a rather bloody overseas war, which also happened to coincide with a rather nasty flu pandemic. The word comes down that an armistice has been signed with Germany, directing both sides to lay down their arms on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. As the deadline approaches, do you take it easy on the opposing forces, given that the war is pretty much over? Hell, no! Truman ordered his artillery unit to keep shelling up until the very end, making them one of the last American units to stop firing. In a letter home, written during this final bombardment, Truman had this to say:
"It is a shame we can't go in and devastate Germany and cut off a few of the Dutch kids' hands and feet and scalp a few of their old men but I guess it will be better to make them work for France and Belgium for fifty years."
"Wait, what?" - The Netherlands
However, even this would pale in comparison to a little incident we here at HttCttD headquarters like to call "dropping the motherfucking bomb." Yes, it was Truman, who only having heard of the Manhattan Project months before when he succeeded FDR, ordered the first use of nuclear weapons in war in August of 1945. In the years following the strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, considerable controversy erupted over the beginning of the atomic age. Should Truman have given Japan more of an official warning about what was to come? Did the civilian casualties incurred outweigh the targets' value in military terms? Would an American-led invasion of the Japanese home islands have turned out to have been a far costlier option?

In the face of all the controversy and criticism, Truman never wavered, never apologized. When he finally met J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who had led the Manhattan project, Oppenheimer told Truman, "Mr. President, I feel as if I have blood on my hands." Accounts of Truman's reaction vary; in some, Truman said that the blood should be on his hands instead, so stop whining, while in others, Truman offered Oppenheimer a handkerchief to wipe off the aforementioned blood. However, all versions basically end the same way, with Truman being pissed at Oppenheimer for being such a ninny. The point is clear: Truman was a stone cold badass.
"What's cooler than being cold? Oh, Truman, right."
CONS: Needed a bit too much help from his friends — Truman's political career might never have gotten off the ground in the first place had he not fallen into the orbit of Missouri political boss Tom Pendergast. Pendergast served as a democratic political patron, and after Truman ran into Pendergast's son while serving in the Army, the elder Pendergast soon began grooming the future president.
Like a boss.
Thanks to Pendergast's connections, Truman was elected as a county judge after he returned from the war. And let there be no doubt who was pulling the strings; following the judgeship, Truman wanted to run for either the Governorship of Missouri, or for the U.S. House of Representatives, and Pendergrast squashed both ideas. Only after running out of potential candidates for the 1934 Senatorial election did Pendergrast begrudgingly offer Truman a shot.

Truman won in 1934, but faced stiffer opposition, especially within his own party, in 1940. So, Truman reached out to yet another political boss, Robert E. Hannigan. Even the combined efforts of Hannigan and Pendergrast weren't quite enough to ensure victory, and he had to turn to another powerful and shadowy organization: the Freemasons. Truman had been initiated back into Freemasonry back in 1909, and in 1940, was elected the Grand Master of the Missouri Freemason Lodge.
Truman, keeping the Martains under wraps.
Wait... that's something different? Huh.

I... I don't quite know what that means, but it sounds impressive, and Truman later credited this move with helping him retain his Senate seat.

And oh, by the way, when President Roosevelt needed to figure out someone to name to his ticket in the election of 1944, guess who was in the room pulling strings? Robert E. Hannigan. Let there be no doubt: Truman would have gone nowhere without the help of some powerful friends, but those friends will not be able to help him in the arena.

Possibly a bit too impulsive for his own good — Have you ever had a boss who would seize on particular ideas, no matter how stupid, and railroad them through despite any and all opposition? Truman was like that, sometimes. And occasionally, it didn't entirely work out well.

Take, for example, Israel. As the new Jewish homeland prepared to establish itself as a state, many of Truman's advisers (and diplomats from England, the State department, and the Arab world to boot) were cautioning the president to move carefully, fearing that recognizing Israel would seriously destabilize the Middle East. However, eleven minutes after Israel was made official, Truman gave the new nation diplomatic recognition. And everything has been hunky-dory in the Middle East ever since!
Everything, with the possible exception of... well... everything.
That, however, was nothing compared to the brouhaha that erupted when Truman fired General MacArthur. This was during the Korean War, where MacArthur had added to his already impressive credentials by spearheading an amphibious assault near Inchon, which had turned the tide against North Korea... at least until China decided to get involved. Since then, the war had devolved into a casualty-heavy stalemate, with MacArthur and Truman straining to find common ground. After a series of leaks in which MacArthur's criticisms of the president were leaked to the press, Truman gave MacArthur the boot.

It was a massively unpopular decision. How unpopular was it? Bad enough that the Chicago Tribune published an editorial calling for Truman's impeachment. So... rather unpopular. Now, making unpopular decisions is one thing. Making unpopular decisions that blow up in your face? That's behavior that will land you a quick exit from the Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™. Truman best watch himself.

The Fight
Doug: I'm sure Polk appreciates TMBG's efforts of getting his name out there. Really, the man added almost a third of the contiguous U.S. Jefferson's manifest destiny? Polk fulfilled that. He didn't just get a sliver of the Pacific coastline, he got what we have today. Yet people still lump him together with Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce. Or they did until the TMBG's song.

Ozzy Osbourne gave Alastair Crowley a pretty good following. What does Polk get? A nerd following. C'mon. He's Young Hickory. He used to pal around with bad ass Andrew Jackson, and now only nerds know who he is.

This must piss Polk off pretty badly. I bet he'd take all of this out on the first four-eyed dude he sees.

Enter Harry S Truman.

Tony: Okay, I'm going to go ahead and give Polk his propers for the whole, "adding a third of the contiguous United States" thing. But... come on. Nerd rage? You think that's going to be enough for Polk to take down Harry S Truman? The man who wanted to end World War I by chopping limbs off of Dutch kids?

Look, Truman obviously had a somewhat combative streak to him, and he tended towards taking that combat to extremes. You can't tell me that some TMBG song is going to turn Polk into a fighter; he's not Triangle Man, after all. Polk's going to get his rage on, rush Truman, and then Truman is going to both give him  and send him to  Hell. End of story.

Doug: Yeah. About that. Why was Truman bummed about not being able to dismember Dutch children? Sadly, I'm not asking what kind of sadistic freak shows disappointment over not being able to maim children in letters to his future wife (though, I am a bit curious of that myself), I want to know why he's doing this to Dutch children. Is he  confusing the words Dutch and Deutsche? I guess that's a common enough mistake; they call it Pennsylvania Dutch Country, even though everyone who lives there has German ancestry.

Or maybe he's just going after the wrong people.
"Hey, let's kill some Dutch people today!"
"Germans. We're fighting Germans."
"Right. What did I say?"
"No, not 'whatever.' The Dutch aren't even fighting in this war."

Who's to say he's not going to enter the ring and just decide that instead of Polk, he's going to beat the piss out of some random spectator? Given how cavalier he is about disfiguring defenseless children, I'd say it won't end nicely for that random spectator. You know who's fine through all of that? Polk, who is waiting for Truman to tire himself out completely eviscerating this poor schnook in the crowd.

Tony: Apparently, he thought it was one big crusade against the North European nations. Kind of inexplicable, and also, bad news for Denmark.

However, I'm thinking this nationality confusion could wind up being really bad news for Polk. Why? Because what the hell kind of a name is Polk? I mean, we all know it's Scots-Irish, but Truman? Well, if Truman decides that name hails from, say, Liechtenstein, and that he has a beef with said principality, it's not good times. You don't know what he's going to do! He's unpredictable!

As for Polk, what is that guy really bringing to the table? Manifest Destiny? Not helpful in a fight to the death. Let's get real: he's toast.

Doug: Hypothetically, if Truman removed one of Polk's limbs, Polk truly would earn the nickname Napoleon of the Stump.

That's a fairly big "if." C'mon, war heroics/possible child mutilation aside, Truman doesn't have much on his own. Yeah, he's a big man when he's got weapons, or the bomb or his buddies to help him reach political heights. But he doesn't have much going for him on his own.

Polk obviously has a high threshold of pain, as evidenced by the anethesia-less scrot surgery. He'll let Truman get a few hits in and then Polk will give his, "Okay, you done yet?" face and then unload a barrage of fury that could only come from years of hanging around Andrew Jackson.

And Truman, like "the buck," will stop there.

The Chief: Vote! Comment! And tell your friends to do the same. Polls close Friday 9am Mountain Time.

Polk or Truman: it won't be a Good Friday for one of them.

Polk vs. Truman


  1. James K. Polk is my choice. He knew what he had to do, and he did it and left. His program was accomplished in a single term, and at a particularly crucial period in our history. He had to follow a bunch of do-nothing presidents who were a bunch of sticks. He annexed Texas, too.

    By the way, Polk died from the strain of being president -- back in those days the president also had to give orders in war. So remember that.

    As far as my comments on the Dutch (Deutsch), soldiers in the thick of battle will see terrible things and they will say terrible things. That is all there is to it.

  2. Wait?! Truman's voting Polk? Isn't this his " go to" for victory? Hey, let's hold up the Dewey defeats Truman paper, that'll show'em. If this is how Harry "Gives 'em hell," Polk will win. I'm confused, anybody else smell tacos?

  3. Wait?! Truman's voting Polk? Isn't this his " go to" for victory? Hey, let's hold up the Dewey defeats Truman paper, that'll show'em. If this is how Harry "Gives 'em hell," Polk will win. I'm confused, anybody else smell tacos?

  4. Harry Ass Truman, as no one but a 5 star general can call him, is in for a fight. Polk kicked ass, took names, then took those names, made a few phone calls, found their addresses and kicked their asses too. Or at least that is how Patton used to tell it, since he claimed to be Polk reincarnated. Patton was smoking the good stuff.

  5. Oh, don't worry, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. Also illegal munitions.

  6. And what the hell are you calling me "Harry Ass" for? You're next, Eisenhower. Maybe I never ranked higher than a colonel, but you, too, will feel my wrath. And then I will have some angel food cake.

  7. Angel Food Cake? Was that how you celebrated MacArther's ousting? If so, that makes Doug MacArthur the gayest General in American history. Truman, don't want to jinx you, but you have this in the bag, like Thomas Dewey!