Monday, July 4, 2011

Johnson vs. Arthur

Lyndon Baines Johnson
36th President of the United States
Served: 1963-1969
Ages during term: 55-60

PROS: The Intimidator — LBJ was elected to Congress in 1937. He served in the House for a little more than a decade, then moved onto the Senate, where he served for another decade, eventually rising to the post of Senate Majority Leader. He was, perhaps, the greatest Majority Leader the Senate has ever seen. He knew where every single Senator (not just his fellow Democrats, mind) stood on all of the major issues that the Senate discussed, and he knew exactly what it would take to bend them to his will. The key to his persuasive tactics was something called "The Treatment." The Treatment was described by reporters thusly:
Its tone could be supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and the hint of threat. It was all of these together. It ran the gamut of human emotions. Its velocity was breathtaking, and it was all in one direction. Interjections from the target were rare. Johnson anticipated them before they could be spoken. He moved in close, his face a scant millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows rising and falling. From his pockets poured clippings, memos, statistics. Mimicry, humor, and the genius of analogy made The Treatment an almost hypnotic experience and rendered the target stunned and helpless.
The Treatment in action.
Johnson was able to keep his thrall over the Senate when he moved onto the Executive branch as John F. Kennedy's Vice President, and still after JFK was assassinated. And it was a good thing, too — the linchpin of JFK's domestic policy was a little thing called the Civil Rights Act. Once LBJ became president, he was able to use his own personal swagger to force the Civil Rights Act through Congress, even though he recognized the legislation would be poisonous to the Democratic Party's efforts in the southern United States.

In short, LBJ isn't going to be intimidated by anyone. He's going to do the intimidating, thankyouverymuch. And good luck beating someone in the Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™ when you're already intimidated by him.

Oh, and he didn't just talk the talk — In case you were worried that Johnson wasn't tough enough, his foreign policy? Was incredibly hawkish. Let's talk examples, shall we?

In 1967, a number of Arab states banded together in attempt to destroy Israel. This led to a little brush fire that would come to be known as the Six Day War, which, spoiler alert, Israel won. Now, you look at something called the "Six Day War," and you might think, "well, that doesn't seem so bad." But, it actually almost caused WWIII.
So, yeah. Bad.
See, Israel, of course, was staunchly backed by the United States. The Arab countries? Backed by a certain superpower known as the USSR. Worried that the conflict would turn into a proxy war (or worse), the U.S. redirected a carrier group into the Mediterranean to support Israel. Upon learning of this, the Soviets freaked the fuck out, and ordered their own navy into the area. In a hotline message from Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin to Johnson, Kosygin said "If you want war, you're going to get war." Johnson stuck to his guns (well, to his carrier group), and the situation eventually defused. It wasn't quite the Cuban Missile Crisis, but according to then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, "We damn near had war." Johnson never flinched.

Then, there was the whole Vietnam War thing. When Johnson came into the White House, the conflict was relatively small in scale, with the United States having only 16,000 military "advisers" in Vietnam. However, Johnson firmly believed in the Domino Theory of foreign policy (which said that the United States needed to work to contain the spread of Communism, otherwise countries would fall like dominoes). So, according to Johnson, since Communists were trying to take over Vietnam, by God, the United States needed to draw the line there. Johnson proceeded to blow the Vietnam War up, changing the U.S. military's role from "advisory" to "directly fighting the Viet Cong." By 1968, more than 500,000 troops were involved. So, yeah, Johnson was absolutely not going to back down from a fight.

CONS: Defective ticker — You know how they have that saying, "everything's bigger in Texas"? Well, Johnson was nothing if not thoroughly Texan. He lived hard, enjoying his smoking, drinking, and a diet that, just maybe, was a little high on the saturated fats. Given all of these facts, you might be thinking "I wonder how healthy his heart was." Well, surprise! Johnson suffered his first heart attack in 1955, and would be plagued by heart disease for the rest of his life.

Now, it's true that Johnson did put some effort into keeping things together following said heart attack. He gave up smoking, for one. And it's true that after his presidency, Johnson pretty much let his health go straight to hell, which led to two more heart attacks, the second of which killed him in 1973. But clearly, Johnson was not the pinnacle of health during his time in office. Fortunately, it's not like he has to deal with anything like a fight to the death. Oh...

Sketchy military record — We'll give Johnson this much—when the United States entered WWII in 1941, Johnson pulled off a maneuver that hadn't been seen much since the Civil War: he entered the military while also serving in Congress. Hell, he actually pulled a reverse maneuver from those days; if you read the biographies of the Civil War-serving presidents, you'll find a lot of them used Congress to get out of serving in the Army. Johnson, on the other hand, jumped at the chance to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He asked for a combat assignment, but was turned down.
Who could say no to that, is what we're asking.
Instead, President Roosevelt decided he could use Johnson as a liaison who could report back on the conditions America's forces were facing in the Pacific theater. Johnson and a pair of Army officers were assigned to a bombing group, and there things get... hazy. The group was ordered on a high-risk mission, bombing a Japanese air base in New Guinea. Johnson did get a little lucky, it seems, as the plane on which he was initially seated was shot down during the mission, with no survivors. The plane he did fly on, however, eventually turned back. According to Johnson, they turned back because they came under fire. According to everyone else, the plane had mechanical problems and turned back without reaching the enemy. When all the dust settled, Johnson ended up being awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest commendation handed out by the military. Johnson, by the by, was the only one on the mission so honored. That's... um... fishy.

To be fair, Johnson did ask for actual combat duty, but was never put in harm's way. And also, his duties as an inspector did lead to improvements in efficiency and general quality-of-life for American forces in the Pacific. However, a Silver Star? Really? He doesn't have the best military record, is what we're saying.

Chester A. Arthur
21st President of the United States
Served: 1881-1885
Ages during term: 51-55

PROS: Surprising — Arthur had a pretty sweet job in the 1870s. He was appointed to be the Collector of the Port of New York. It was a lucrative job, and one that was only given to the politically connected. Though Arthur ran things legally, which was a welcomed change for that post — a lot of his predecessors were corrupt — he still had the place overstaffed, to make sure that enough of his buddies and political allies had cushy jobs. This spoils system has been in place for decades in New York, and some wanted to get rid of it.
I can't really figure out why.

The issue actually split the Republicans, and it led to a deadlocked party when it came time to nominate someone for the 1880 election. It was between Stalwart (pro-spoils) Ulysses S. Grant and Half-Breed James Blaine. The party, instead went with James A. Garfield, who was somewhere in the middle, and moderate Stalwart Arthur for vice president. The ticket won the election.

Charles Gaiteau, who professed himself as “Stalwart of the Stalwarts” shot Garfield — who had been president for four months. Garfield died 2½ months later and Arthur was president. Arthur made it his mission to carry out Garfield’s crusade for civil service reform, much to the surprise/dismay of the Stalwarts. Who knew the Collector of the Port of New York would go on to eventually be known as “The Father of Civil Service Reform”?

Even cynical jokester Mark Twain admitted, "It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur's administration."

Point being, Arthur’s got a few tricks up his sleeve. You might think Arthur hasn’t a chance, but he’s surprised people before.

Another surprise: While he was in prep school, he reportedly got into a melee with a bunch of classmates who opposed Sen. Henry Clay. A bunch of kids got into a fight over politics. Kind of a surprise, right? Well, Arthur was involved, which means he's willing to get involved in scraps.

Muttonchops — I understand fashion was different back then. Today, no one would grow muttonchops like that, unless they really wanted to make it clear to the world that they were an insufferable hipster.

They were more commonplace in Arthur’s time, but it’s not like everyone rocked them. I’d have to say they’re a bold statement. Judging on a picture taken when he was about 30, he had them for most of his adult life.

I come from the school of thought that, while people are generally good, there are a lot of needlessly cruel dickheads running around. I’m sure Arthur caught shit for sporting those chops for decades. This either made him tough, or he killed the first guy to give him lip as a lesson to anyone else.

CONS: Mr. Fancy Pants — He was nicknamed “Elegant Arthur” because of his commitment to being fashionable. He reportedly owned 80 pairs of pants, and he change into several pairs in a single day. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it was NOT because of some issues regarding control of his bodily functions.

His first order of business as president was to redecorate the entire White House. Very "either these curtains go or I do," years before Oscar Wilde. Only, that turned out not be a very good idea because he ended getting rid of priceless antiques that had been in the White House since John Adams' days.

Others called him “The Gentleman Boss,” because of his kind and courteous nature.

I’m saying none of this adds up to someone who is well-versed in hand-to-hand combat.
I was going to compare it to peacocks fighting, but this is pretty bad ass.
Bright’s Disease — Arthur suffered from a fatal kidney disease for most of his presidency. It is unclear when he contracted the disease, but it was clear that he was not well. As a result, he didn’t aggressively campaign for re-election in 1884. His body just couldn’t do it. Also, he was sure that it wasn’t very likely that he would live to serve out his term. He died in 1886.

Arthur would have more of a chance had he been operating at capacity, but the sick Gentleman Boss would be entering the ring already close to death.

The Fight:
Tony: So, what you're saying is, we've got a fight between an ornery, intimidating Texan, and a courteous New Yorker with sweet facial hair. I don't want to disparage the fine citizens of New York State, but... come on. Johnson isn't going to need carte blanche from Congress to roll over Arthur like he's Barry Goldwater in 1964. The question is: will Johnson know Arthur's weak spots? I mean, most peoples kidneys are weak spots, but Arthur's kidney's literally killed the man. Johnson slips behind him and lands a few good punches, and this fight is over in seconds.

Doug: Johnson may be an ornery Texan, but he doesn't exactly have a clean bill of health either. Like you said, he lived hard and his heart was paying the price. Part of the reason why he didn't seek re-election in 1968 is because the presidency, and all of the troubles that came with it, was killing him. He feared he wouldn't survive to see the end of another four-year term, and he most likely wouldn't have. As is, he died two days after the end of Nixon's first term, and that was after four years of not being president.
Though, looking back on it, are we sure secret Hippieism didn't have something to do with it?
Tony: So I think we can safely call the health issue a wash then, right? I mean, at least Johnson had the good sense to stop smoking until after he left the White House, but you're right, he wasn't a well man. But, hey! Neither was Arthur. So, we should probably direct our focus elsewhere.
Let's see who gets this joke.
What it really comes down to is, do we have any evidence to support Arthur as a viable fighter? I can't really see it. He's a bit too much of a dandy. He and LBJ are gonna scrap, and Arthur's pants are going to incur some form of injury, and Arthur is going to sink into despair. And after that, he's going to sink into his GRAVE.

Doug: You're saying that the guy who was awarded a Silver Star for turning around in the face mechanical problems is the fighter here? I don't know. LBJ is intimidating, I'm not questioning that. Arthur doesn't seem to be easily intimidated. He spent his presidency pissing off his own faction of the party doing what he thought was right. Did he bow down to party leaders? No. Arthur doesn't get intimidated, he gets the Pendelton Civil Service Reform Act. No, that's not a very sexy cause, but probably better for our country than sending our kids to fight a land war in Asia — which is a slightly more well-known don't than "never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line." (Unfortunately, neither of these two are Sicilian, so figuring out the winner wouldn't be that easy.)

I don't really see Arthur liking LBJ's tactic of "I'm going to intimidate this guy and get what I want." I bet the Gentleman Boss wouldn't see this as very gentlemanly. However, since being a gentlemen won't get him very far, Arthur will just have to imagine Johnson as those Henry Clay-hating rapscallions from prep school. Once again, Arthur will surprise everyone.

Tony: Well, I think the guy who turned Vietnam from a police action into a freaking WAR is the fighter here, yes. Leaving aside the wisdom of such a move, Johnson is clearly no stranger to belligerency. And oh, wait, you're crediting Arthur with pissing off his own party? Johnson was brought into the ticket with JFK to placate southern conservative Democrats. Then he passed the Civil Rights Act. How d'you think that went over with those southern conservative Democrats?
The more I hear about Arthur, the more I realize that he reminds me of an American President version of Bertie Wooster. LBJ would mop the floor with Bertie Wooster. By the transitive property of floor mopping, Arthur's going to be toast faster than you can say "What ho?"
Sadly, Arthur won't have Jeeves to solve things for him.
Doug: LBJ isn't the fighter. It's not like he fought the war. No, he drafted soldiers into the war. Sending other people's kids to fight his war doesn't make him a fighter. It kind of makes him a dick.

So, what have we got? We have two presidents of failing health who won't be intimidated and who won't doesn't care about pissing off their respective parties. When you boil it down, things are kind of even. This is what I mean by saying Arthur is surprising. Who knew that former Collector of the Port of New York would become president and do away with the spoils system?

In addition to Gentleman Boss and Elegant Arthur, I'm going to give him a new nickname: Sir Surprising.

The Chief: *sigh* Yes, that's an excellent nickname.
Anyway, as always, polls close Friday 9am Mountain Time. We wish all of our readers a happy & safe Fourth of July and we urge everyone: if you're going to blow some fingers off due to some firework mishap, please do it with the hand you don't vote with.

Johnson vs. Arthur


  1. My vote goes to LBJ this week and if he wins I think something Tony said should be quote of the week. "Arthur's pants are going to incur some form of injury, and Arthur is going to sink into despair. And after that, he's going to sink into his GRAVE."

  2. At last! Some recognition for my work!
    /end Zoidberg voice

  3. Tony, you and Doug deserve a lot of recogition for this monument of a blog. I thoroughly enjoy httcttd!

  4. I have to agree....I would have made my own comment about Arthur's pants, but Tony's was better than anything I would come up with.

    Well, except for this: The only Chesters I've ever heard of (and if we're being honest, these other Chesters are more famous than Chester Arthur in the world of me) are Chester Cheetah and Chester Copperpot. The former doesn't usually wear pants and the latter's pants probably rotted off by the time the Goonies found him. So I say after Arthur gets his fashionable ass kicked, his estate can donate his pants to other needy Chesters.

    Because talking about pants is way more fun than figuring out whether a bum kidney or a bum heart would give out first in the arena.