Years Served: 1989-1993
Ages during term: 64-68
PROS: Verifiable badass — As 1941 came to a close, young George was certainly getting it done, nearing completion of his studies at the ever-so-slightly prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, holding down a number of leadership positions at the school, including the presidency of his class, and captaincy of the varsity baseball and soccer teams. Then, Pearl Harbor happened.
Like many boys his age, George wanted to get to the war as quickly as possible, and enlisted in the Navy as soon as he had graduated. Unfortunately for his bloodlust, he promptly was sent to naval aviator school, which was a 10-month course. So, it was June of 1943 before the young ensign was finally unleashed upon the war effort. Still, upon graduation from the course, Bush was just shy of his 19th birthday, meaning that he was officially the youngest naval airman in the force. Also, in the history of the force.
|And he had Paul Newman's eyes, which... helloooooo, sailor!|
Now, you're thinking, "this sort of thing probably happened all the time. They probably trained for it extensively." You're definitely right on the first count, and I would suspect you're right on the second. But that doesn't mean that ditching one's plane was the kind of thing they did lightly. Why? Well, Bush's crewman's parachute didn't open. That left the future president, alone in the Pacific, in an inflated raft, for hours and hours until rescue showed up.
Now, you'd think that this sort of affair would dampen one's enthusiasm for things like "jumping the hell out of airplanes." But, you'd be wrong! This brief taste of misadventure only whetted George Bush's appetite. However, once the war ended, opportunities for continued plane-jumping were scarce on the ground, and once Bush got into politics, there were few people around who would even consider the idea of letting him jump out of a plane, especially when he ascended to the Vice Presidency, and ultimately the Presidency of the United States. So... he waited.
Until he was 75. And 80. And 85.
Yes, George H.W. Bush, at an age when most people would be content to get in 9 holes at the local range, was willingly hurtling himself out of airplanes, towards the ground, at high rates of speed. Like a boss.
After slumming in Texas Republican politics for a bit, Bush first ran for Senate, lost, and then managed to secure a seat in Congress (where he became the first Republican to represent a Houston-based district; try and wrap your head around that). He served two terms, then President Nixon convinced him to run for the Senate again, and again Bush lost. However, Nixon knew a good thing when he saw it, and appointed Bush as Ambassador to the United Nations. Following that stint, Nixon recommended that Bush serve as the head of the Republican National Committee, which would have been fine, except then Watergate broke out. Bush found himself in the rather tricky position of trying to isolate the damage his friend and mentor had done to the party, all without openly breaking away from Nixon. Eventually, Bush had to join in the chorus asking for Nixon to resign.
|Okay, it was probably less congenial than this.|
Returning home, Bush slid into the position of Director of Central Intelligence, because... why the hell not? This position lasted until Carter took office, whereupon he cleaned house and cast Bush out along with the rest of the Ford-Nixon-era cronies. A few years in academia followed, before Bush got the itch to run for the top job in the land. He lost the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan, but Reagan cannily asked Bush to be his running mate, and from there? Well, from there, he became Vice President, and then President.
|George H.W. Bush: proof that there is no cure for extreme lank.|
CONS: Okay, about his toughness — We applauded Bush earlier for being someone who had the stones to, you know, go skydiving, even in his advanced age. And we certainly don't want to take any of that away from him. However, that came after he was president. Just like his military service (obviously) came before he was president. So, what of his actual time in office? You know, the time during which he would be spirited away to the Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™? Turns out, it's less-flattering.
The trouble started during Bush's Vice Presidency. George had a tough time shaking the preppy image that came with graduating from both Phillips and Yale, and scandals like the Iran Contra Affair, which he claimed to have been an innocent bystander of, didn't help his image. Indeed, the comic strip Doonesbury ran a series of strips in which Bush, seeking to help the Reagan administration, places his manhood in a blind trust.
|Fighting the "wimp factor": this is not how you do it.|
Yeah, Congress made him raise taxes. It didn't go over well. Which leads, somewhat, to another con:
Inability to see what was happening under his own nose — In 1991, the American economy hit a bit of a pothole. Inflation, unemployment, and interest rates all went up sharply. Bush make some token attempts to spark the economy back to life, and then pretty much gave up. Why? Well, his advisers figured he had re-election pretty much wrapped up. Why? Lingering approval highs from the Gulf War, of course! Yes, Bush's approval ratings had spiked during the brief conflict, reaching into the 90% range.
Now, we're going to play a little game with you. Remember when Osama bin Laden was killed? You should; it was only a few months ago. Do you remember how President Obama's approval ratings got a nice bump afterwards? Okay. Now, do you remember everyone saying he was a shoo-in for re-election next year? No. Because that would be a moronic thing to say, especially in the face of a sputtering economy.
Years served: 1889-1893
Ages during term: 55-59
PROS: Wins, even when he’s not supposed to — Harrison is a bit of an unsung hero. Any U.S. presidential trivia n00b can tell you that Grover Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms. The fact is, if Harrison hadn’t beaten Cleveland in the election of 1888, Cleveland’s name would have gotten lost in the sea of forgettable 19th century presidents along with what's his name and that other guy. Cleveland and presidential trivia novices should be thanking Harrison. Harrison’s also the reason why we have secret ballots.
Harrison shouldn’t have won in 1888. Harrison lost the popular vote by 90,000 votes. In addition to that, there were charges of voter fraud in New York and Harrison’s home state of Indiana — which added up to 51 of the total electoral votes. In Indiana, the Republican Party’s plan to buy votes was exposed. Harrison was elected anyway. As a result of this scandal, the system of secret ballots was established.
So, you can thank Harrison and his willingness to cheat for today’s secret ballots.
|None of these jerks are even thankful for Harrison's contribution to modern American democracy.|
But more importantly in terms of this blog, Harrison will do what he has to to win.
Rich history of laying the hammer down — When the Civil War broke out, Harrison was reluctant to serve in the Army because he was worried his family would need his financial support. Instead, he recruited a regiment. He declined an offer to command the regiment because of his lack of experience. He joined anyway with the rank of second lieutenant. He quickly climbed the ranks and ended up being brigadier general, though at that point, the war was essentially over.
During the war, his regiment joined General Sherman’s. Harrison was on the front lines for the Atlanta campaign and the Union’s wave of destruction known as the March to the Sea. Following that, Harrison was sent to the Battle of Nashville to kick more butt over there.
When he was president, he laid the foreign policy hammer down, as well. In the early 19th century, James Monroe told Europe to butt out of the Americas. That policy had kind of eroded when the U.S. had to deal with the Civil War. Harrison re-established the United States’ place in the Western Hemisphere. For starters, he worked out a tariff reciprocity deal with Latin American nations. It’s not a very exciting story, but it’s important in its own right. Also, he told Canadian fisherman and sealers to GTFO of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands by seizing their ships.
|Not because baby seals are cute, but because that should have been US clubbing them.|
Also, during his term, six states were added to the Union: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Washington. At that point, the last state that had joined the Union was Colorado in 1876. Suddenly, six new ones were lining up to join the club. Either they thought Harrison was that cool, or they were just scared of him.
CONS: Squandered a whole lot — Cleveland left office with a huge budget surplus. What to do with this surplus? The Democrats and Populists wanted to lower tariffs, but Harrison and the Republicans in Congress had another idea — spending spree. The Civil War veterans’ pension plan was expanded to give the veterans a more generous payout. It was also expanded to include noncombatants and children of veterans. They also spent it on hookers and booze. Not really, but it certainly seems so, because spending went a little out of control.
By the time Harrison was up for re-election, the surplus had vanished and the U.S. was well on its way towards the Panic of 1893.
So, Harrison seems to be good a losing any advantage he gains.
Loses, when he can’t cheat — Let’s get back to those six states that joined the Union. A major reason why it had been so long since new states were admitted into the Union was because the Democrats weren’t particularly thrilled with letting six mostly Republican states in. With Harrison in the White House and the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, there was no one stopping them. Clearly, these six states would go vote for Harrison in '92 giving him an easy re-election, right?
No. Well, of the 20 new electoral votes, he got 15 of them. And that’s good. The problem was that a candidate from the Populist Party — who advocated such ridiculous things as eight-hour work days — took Republican votes in the West. And since people were looking out for another vote-buying scandal, Harrison didn’t really have a leg to stand on.
Tony: So, the deal with Harrison is that he's a big ol' cheat, eh? Looks like this should be an interesting matchup. But here's the thing-- Harrison may not play fair, but he's going up against a guy who was a) in charge of the CIA, and b) a Skull and Bones at Yale. He's going to know as many dirty tricks as Harrison, which eliminates Harrison's big advantage. Meanwhile, Bush's big advantage is that the man knows no fear. He's just going to open up a can o' whoopass. A BIG OL' CAN.
Doug: Harrison's a spoiler though. Just ask Grover Cleveland, who was supposed to win in 1888. Yeah, I guess Bush sounds okay on paper. And I suppose it's reasonable to think that Mr. CIA could foresee Harrison's tricks, but I don't know. In the end Harrison's a slippery dude. Just like how he changed the way people vote in national elections, he may be a game-changer here.
Though, I personally hope not. Despite the few hiccups we've had with our little polling gadget thingie, I don't want to have to go hunt down another one.
Tony: Psssh. Harrison's no spoiler. "Rosebud's the sled" is a spoiler. Um, spoilers for those of who you haven't seen Citizen Kane. But really, this is another trick that Bush has seen before. After all, he was "supposed" to win in 1992. He was such a sure thing, most of the prime Democratic candidates didn't even run! Bush isn't going to be overconfident this time, even though he totally could be, as, you know, he's got this thing.
I'd be more worried about the polling gadget if we, you know, had voters willing to use it. Hey-o! *drinks*
Doug: Logistical question — If all of the combatants are fighting while they were president, the Bush has no idea that things are going to go shitty for him in '92. So he has no idea NOT to be overconfident.
You know who won't be overconfident? Harrison. He's going to fight hard, just like he has always done, whether he was raising hell on the front lines in Atlanta or giving Grover Cleveland a run for his money.
Tony: That's... that's... DAMN YOU AND YOUR LOGIC AND REASON! Or, well, I mean, you don't know at what point you're getting him. It could be post-election, or during the election cycle. He could, therefore, have some idea of the hubris that was about to doom him. Or had doomed him. Whew!
Oh, I'm sure Harrison will fight hard, but I keep coming back to the very thing you wrote-- "loses when he can't cheat"! By this very basic definition, he's going to be toast, as you can't cheat in a fight to the death. I suppose you can play dirty, but that's a bit different (and as I've said, Bush isn't going to be a pushover in that department). Add that to his penchant for pissing away advantages, and it's Round Two for G.H.W. Bush.
Doug: It's not like he CAN'T EVER win if he doesn't cheat. He cheated that one time, it just so happened to be on a national stage so more people knew about it.
And while you can't cheat in the Arena, you can cheat death. We've had our share of underdogs. We shouldn't write off Harrison just yet.
The Chief: Hey, here's a fun fact. Both guys served '89-'93. That's interesting, right?
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