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Jimmy Carter? Barack Obama?
Nope, just their ideological ancestor, Woodrow Wilson. The first war president of the 20th century, who put the “wood” in “wooden,” was in reality a left-leaning hater of the Constitution.
Let’s face it, even wooden presidents make for good copy for biographers; many of us can’t get enough presidential stuff, and Steven Hayward has once again proved that he is royalty among historians. His latest, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents,” is a rich and fun book anyone can enjoy (as an aside, you’ll also love Hayward’s “The Real Jimmy Carter”).
This “Politically Incorrect” offering, part of Regnery’s smash-success series, is so interesting, you’ll likely read it in one sitting, like I did, and then no doubt refer to it time and again. This particular book covers the last century’s presidents, up to the current one, whose very eligibility has been in question from Day 1.
Among the gems Hayward unearths is this: “The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra.”
A mere four months after uttering this nonsense, Obama saw Solyndra file for bankruptcy, after squandering a half-billion in loan guarantees from the government. “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents” is full of this kind of stuff, and of course, the deeper the reader goes into the past, the more fascinating the book becomes.
From the trivial – Herbert Hoover was the first president to have a telephone on his desk – to the big – FDR actually prolonged the Great Depression – this book will grab your attention from cover to cover.
A hallmark of this series is that what we have been taught in history books is often wrong. Sometimes woefully wrong.
A case in point: President Warren G. Harding. Long considered to be a corrupt failure, Harding actually did some good things.
The most succinct description of Harding comes from Hayward: “A dispassionate review of Harding’s record in office will support the conclusion that he was the kind of president the Founders would have approved.”
Harding also literally saved the Constitution, rescuing the deteriorating document from storage at the State Department.
Which brings me to an added feature of this book: Hayward assigns each president a grade related to his handling of the Constitution, which of course each president pledges to uphold. From Hayward, Harding receives a grade of “B+.” Not surprisingly, Bill Clinton receives an “F.”
Hayward makes the very important point that until the time of Woodrow Wilson, American presidents were strict “constitutionalists.” Wilson, though, applying Darwinian philosophy to everything he did – it was his worldview – viewed the venerable document as “evolving.” This view goes a long way in explaining why modern left-leaning presidents do what they do.
The misconceptions about the individual presidents are perhaps the most fascinating elements in this fascinating book.
Hayward points out, for example, that the intentionally “clueless” Dwight Eisenhower was very intentional: “Eisenhower’s apparent incoherence at press conferences was a deliberate device to mislead his antagonists, both foreign and domestic.”
Only the hubris-laden journalists of the day could have surmised that they were more clever than the man who managed gargantuan egos in Europe, 1941-45.
And, just as Hayward points out the good in seemingly bad presidents, he uncovers nuggets of fool’s gold in even The Great Communicator.
Writing about Ronald Reagan’s initial enthusiasm for Sandra Day O’Connor and her place on the Supreme Court, Hayward notes that as time went on, she began to make allowances on such matters as abortion: “But she later changed her mind in later abortion cases, and also voted to uphold affirmative action racial quotas in college admissions.”
While serving up plenty of big-picture fun in “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents,” Hayward also offers plenty of seemingly mundane minutiae – that is in reality quite significant, for example: “Clinton’s own [Executive Order] 12836 targeted regulations requiring employers who contracted with the federal government to inform their employees of their rights under Communication Workers v. Beck, a Supreme Court ruling that had limited unions’ ability to collect the money of workers and use it for political purposes. His proclaimed goal was to ‘eliminate executive orders that do not serve the public interest,’ but in effect Clinton’s order meant that more workers would make involuntary political contributions to Democrats.”
The wily fella from Hope, Ark., proved once again that the devil is in the details, and if not for dedicated historians like Steven Hayward, much of the public would never know about the corruption that passes for virtue.
“The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents” is terrific fun and offers compelling information in a format that will leave you definitely wanting more. Much more, as in at least one sequel!