Saturday, 3 November 2012

Those One-Term Guys

Someone posted up the list of the one-term presidents: John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, Jimmy Carter, Benjamin Harrison,  William Howard Taft, and Herbert Hoover.  This comes up....because President Obama may lose next Tuesday.

The list?  Well, there are some curious explanations.

J Q Adams got his job because no one could get enough electoral votes, in a big election which involved Andrew Jackson (the glorious general).  The House ended up with the mess because of the way the Constitution handles no winner in the electoral college.  The House goes for Adams, and created a fairly negative atmosphere around the US because Jackson had the popular vote.  The next election (1828) went heavily to Andrew Jackson. Bad blood between J Q Adams and Andrew Jackson?  Yeah....awful bad blood.

Martin Van Buren ended up with a economic depression in the first year of his presidency, and just never got any traction out of the mess.

James Polk?  He actually promised on day one....he wouldn't run for a second term.  He didn't.  Strangely enough....he dies from Cholera about three months after leaving office.

Franklin Pierce?  He was actually dumped by the Democratic Party after one term....they wouldn't support him in the second run.  Reasons?  To appease southerners to some degree, he went with the Kansas-Nebraska Act....which opened up the door for discussion over slavery in western states (as expansion was going to occur).  Naturally....New England residents were hoping mad over this support.  Adding to his mess....he had associates around him who wrote up a piece of the US getting Cuba through various be eventually part of the US.  This add-Cuba idea didn't sell well with US newspapers.

James Buchanan?  He actually is the guy who gets picked up by the Democrats after they dump Franklin Pierce.  He lead the country between 1856 and 1860....basically the build-up to the Civil War.  It didn't matter what he just led to southerners and northerners each taking a position against the administration.  The party came up in 1860 to find new faces and hoped to get support to keep the Democrats in office.

Benjamin Harrison?  You could point to a number of positives in his brief four years...but there was a country-wide economic slide, and the House election two years into his period....went heavily against the Republicans....who ended up blaming Harrison for not fixing problems.  The Democrats woke up....ran former President Cleveland (who had lost against Harrison), and Cleveland won (getting his second term but four years later).  Adding to the mess was the fact that Harrison appointed four Supreme Court judges in his period....which tends to be a magnet for someone to be sour about the direction of the court.

Rutherford B. Hayes?  If you wrote up all the accomplishments and problems that he went'd take a 500-page book to tell the story of four brief years.  He was probably one of the few Presidents to ever take office, and was fully prepared for day one.  At some point, he made a promise that he just wouldn't run for a second term.  I suspect he knew he got himself into a fifty-hour a week job and just didn't care for the daily mess to fix.  So he left in 1880.  One could go through the volumes of comments on his life....all mostly positive.  At some point....Hayes eventually had this vision of economic disparity between the wealthy and poor of America.  If there had been a way to redistribute wealth in 1876....he probably would have done it.  Note: he was a Republican.  Also note, he didn't win the popular vote, and the election commission had to invent a mechanism to give him enough electoral votes to win the election.

Taft?  As the popular Teddy Roosevelt came on when McKinley was shot and killed....for some odd reason....vowed not to run for a second term.  As popular as Teddy became.....he kept to his word, and opened the door for Taft to run as the replacement guy for the Republican Party.  For the most part, Taft did a decent job.....but at the conclusion of four years....Teddy stood back in the shadows and felt that Taft was a loser.  So Teddy formed up his own take down Taft.  This act....guarantees Wilson the Presidency.  To be honest....if you had a scale for promoting one's self or campaigning....Taft probably wouldn't get higher than three....on a scale of one to ten.  Joe Biden could have run against Taft, and likely beaten the guy.  This kinda says something in the end.

Jimmy Carter?  It's best to say that he was the solution after the Watergate Hearings.  It didn't matter who the Democrats elected....the guy was the answer to our feelings of a screwed-up White House.  So President Carter steps in, and does what you'd consider as an average job.  The oil embargo period didn't help his administration.  The reaction to the Russians going into Afghanistan didn't help.  The fireside chats didn't help.  The Billy-Beer episode didn't help.  The American Olympic team being ordered not to attend the Moscow Olympics didn't help.  And finally, the whole Iran episode with the hostages was probably worthy of a 2-star effort.  Ronald Reagan bluffed his debate situation very well, and Jimmy Carter returned to Georgia.  The truth is....Jimmy Carter was a brief solution to make folks happy after Watergate....nothing more.

Finally, we come to Herbert Hoover.  As Calvin Coolidge commented....Hoover was "wonder-boy" and the only true engineer to ever occupy the White House.  If you had ever wanted a guy who could find a mess and work on fixing it....Hoover was your guy.  In today's world....if Hoover's motorcade was passing you while your car was smoking....he'd stop the motorcade and lift your hood to point out that you need a ring-job.  The problem 1929 (his first year in the Presidency)....Wall Street collapsed.  Hoover sensed there were two dozen problems at work, and attempted various solutions.  If he'd just figured out that banks had no money and just invented a method to loan them money at half-a-percent interest for twenty years....the depression would have ended in six months.  Instead, he worked on various solutions, and the 1932 election brought FDR into office.....who had twice as many solutions to work on, and kept the depression going for years.  Without the Wall Street collapse....Hoover would have done eight years and likely been regarded as the best president ever to hold the office.

So on Tuesday, this moment will occur to determine if President Obama is a one-term President.  I don't give odds on this event.  I will say this.  There's a list of a dozen things that could have occurred in the first two years of the Obama period to make this a guaranteed win for President Obama.  At best, he gets one of the dozen things accomplished, and the rest just get discarded.  Looking out for his Democratic base in the House?  No.  That never was a concern of the President.  Looking out for Democratic majorities in states after the Census....which ought to be critical because of the redrawing of the district lines?  No....never was important.  The economy?  Speeches just weren't going to be enough to make the business community feel positive in the end....they wanted actions.

My best advice?  If you get voted out....just goes on.  Plus you get a pretty nifty pension deal for the rest of your life.  And you can always write books about what you would have done....if you had just won.

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