30 December 2006

Gerald R. Ford

So what ex-president just died? Was it Lincoln, the Great Emancipator? Was it Franklin D. Roosevelt who steered the nation through a depression and war? Or was it the eloquent and intellectual Thomas Jefferson? No, it was Gerald R. Ford. But after listening to the Washington pundits on the talk shows, I thought it was one of those other guys--one of those important and influential presidents.

What was the reaction in March of 1901 when Benjamin Harrison died? I can only surmise that few people knew about it, and fewer cared. Did the public get a holiday? Was the mail delivered? How about another Ford-esque type of president, Franklin Pierce? When he passed away in October of 1869, do you think the media fawned over his legacy? Did the newspapers suggest that he had saved the nation with that critical Gadsden Purchase?

am sure Gerald Ford was a pleasant and honorable man. And he has had the good fortune to die with George W. Bush as the sitting president. Who wouldn't want to be compared to George Bush? Yes, even Benjamin Harrison and Franklin Pierce are starting to look good. At least neither of them attempted to strip the citizenry of its habeas corpus rights.

When are we, as a nation, going to stop acting as though ex-presidents deserve to be put on pedestals? The fact is, most of our presidents have been nothing short of political hacks. Most have been unimaginative, unintellectual yes-men who ascended to the office because more powerful people sought malleable stooges to carry out their deeds. And again, maybe most of our presidents have been nice men (all white males of course), who had perfect families and went to church every Sunday. So what!

The Nixon pardon did not "save the nation" as we are hearing from the chattering classes. The country was just fine when Nixon boarded that plane and left Washington. Yet, a strong case can be made that the pardon was a mistake. And let's not forget, Gerald Ford was also a key member of the infamous Warren Commission--that "stellar" group that was supposed to examine and solve the Kennedy assassination. Ford and the Warren Commission solved nothing--and in the process, allowed the CIA, FBI, and other "national security" agencies to cover-up information, lie, and hide facts about that 1963 murder. And while you are further scrutinizing the Ford administration, please look into East Timor, where the underhanded machinations of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger have indirectly led to thousands of deaths there in the last 30 years.

Can't we celebrate this man's life without all the hype and spin? Why all the press coverage? Here is a thought......maybe some people don't want us to be thinking about Iraq. Are things going bad there or something?

Here's to Gerald R. Ford......and Benajmin Harrison, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur, William H. Taft, Calvin Coolidge, and Millard Fillmore. May all of our nondescript, mediocre ex-presidents get a postage stamp or something so we can remember them as a group.

29 December 2006

Dean Acheson Once Again!

Okay, fate may have simply intervened here. I opened the Dean Acheson topic in my initial post, referring to his memoir Present at the Creation. Since I clearly wish to accentuate Books and Bait on this blog, why not briefly continue with the Acheson subject? I hope my readers are familiar with him.

A new biography has recently been published on Acheson. Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War was released this past October to very positive reviews. The author, Robert L. Beisner is a prominent diplomatic historian who has written several other seminal books in that field. Personally, I think Beisner's From the Old Diplomacy to the New, 1865-1900 is one of the best diplomatic history synthesis' of that critical era of American expansionism. I have used it in class numerous times. Beisner is also a polished writer and experienced researcher. I am looking forward to reading this particular work on Acheson.

There are several reviews that you should examine if you are considering purchasing this 800 page volume. First, Henry Kissinger's review in the New York Times. We all know that Dr. Kissinger probably believes he was the greatest Secretary of State in American history--which makes it all the more interesting to read his comments about a man that might have actually been the greatest Secretary of State. There is also an engaging review by Robert Kagan where he gives Acheson considerable credit for winning the Cold War.

I have several other books on my reading docket at this time, but I will be buying this book in a few months. I have just started James Carroll's House of War, which is a history of the Pentagon and the rise of American military power. I will be reading more both Acheson and Kissinger in that book.

I promise not to write anything else about Dean Acheson--sort of. Maybe a examination of books about other American Secretaries of State would be in order. I'll work on that. I know you are all itching to locate books about Abel Upshur and Hamilton Fish.

28 December 2006

"Present at the Creation"

I think it was Dean Acheson who first used that catchy "creation" title--I'm sure he won't mind it if I use it here as I initiate this project. If I am actually able to keep this blog current, I hope to do several things. First, during the school year I will use it to communicate with my students, post assignments, and make class announcements. Second, I will offer my own political commentary on whatever topics I deem important and relevant. And that commentary will not be balanced--it will represent my political inclinations. And third, I will solicit frequent guest commentary from students, friends, and others in order to keep the contents of this blog fresh and at least somewhat interesting.

My guess is that it will take a while to figure out what specific topics to cover. When school begin in January, course issues will probably dominate Books and Bait. But ultimately, I hope to focus more on politics, news, history, books, and even throw in some lighter topics like sports, movies, and restaurant reviews.