Many political bloggers are talking today about the list of “worst Americans” posted by John Hawkins after surveying a group of mostly conservative bloggers:
23) Saul Alinsky (7)
23) Bill Clinton (7)
23) Hillary Clinton (7)
19) Michael Moore (7)
19) George Soros (8)
19) Alger Hiss (8)
19) Al Sharpton (8)
13) Al Gore (9)
13) Noam Chomsky (9)
13) Richard Nixon (9)
13) Jane Fonda (9)
13) Harry Reid (9)
13) Nancy Pelosi (9)
11) John Wilkes Booth (10)
11) Margaret Sanger (10)
9) Aldrich Ames (11)
9) Timothy McVeigh (11)
7) Ted Kennedy (14)
7) Lyndon Johnson (14)
5) Benedict Arnold (17)
5) Woodrow Wilson (17)
4) The Rosenbergs (19)
3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (21)
2) Barack Obama (23)
1) Jimmy Carter (25)
As Jim Geraghty notes at NRO Online, this list is really nothing more than a list of the people that annoy conservative bloggers the most, a fact demonstrated by the people who are on the list, by how they’re ranked, and by who was omitted. Jimmy Carter is “worse” than Benedict Arnold and Tim McVeigh ? Really ? And Michael Moore is on the list but Jeffrey Dahmer isn’t ? As James Joyner notes over at OTB, it’s not easy to come up with an objective definition of “worst Americans” to begin with, and this list in particular reflects a highly subjective view that barely takes history into account.
Obviously, this poll isn’t to be taken all that seriously but it has raised some interesting questions. Matt Lewis cites it as proof that American politics is broken, Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher notes the blatant political bias reflected in the list, and Ed Morrissey notes that this question came up in the political blogosphere before, about five years ago:
Just for disclosure’s sake, John usually invites me to participate in his polls, but I’m usually too busy to put much time into them (sorry, John). This time, I passed for a couple of other reasons. First, I had already done this exercise five years ago at Captain’s Quarters, about which more in a moment.
After reading through Ed’s list, which is very interesting to say the least, and following a few links, I realized that I had done the same thing five years ago as well. That list was made when I was still a relatively new blogger, so I’m going to take this opportunity to revise it. Like Stephen Bainbridge, I will list my choices alphabetically rather than by order of “worseness.” And, like Ed, I’m going to so with this definition of what “Worst American” means to me:
For my consideration, I decided that the status of American had to be part of their “crimes”. In other words, simply picking someone like Ted Bundy or Charles Manson would be too easy. Their evil, though real and in most cases worse than what you’ll read on this list, doesn’t have to do with their innate American heritage. I went looking for the people who sinned against America itself, or the ideal of America. Otherwise, we’d just be looking at body counts.
I also tried to avoid picking contemporary political figures, as we do not have sufficient historical perspective to make that kind of determination. (I do have one exception to this.) Don’t expect to see Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi on this list, nor Teddy Kennedy or Bill Clinton.
So, with that in mind, here we go:
1. Benedict Arnold
Not just because he betrayed his country in it’s infancy, although that is certainly contemptible, but also because of what he did after he became a British General.
2. John Wilkes Booth
Of all the Presidential assassins throughout American history, Booth’s motives were the most venal and his impact on history was the greatest. But for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the post-war history of the United States, and the entire Reconstruction Era, would have been much different and, arguably, much better.
3. James Buchanan
What I said in 2005 still applies, “the bachelor President who bungled his way through four years in office and left America on the verge of destruction.”
4. Aaron Burr
In addition to murdering Alexander Hamilton, Burr also engaged in a conspiracy to foment a rebellion against the United States in the territory covered by the Louisiana Purchase.
5. Jefferson Davis
President of the traitorous Confederate State of America, defender of the slavocracy. Some will object to my putting Davis in the list because he was, admittedly, hardly alone in rebelling against the United States, but he was the leader so he deserved to be deserves to be singled out by name, and he stands in for everyone else.
6. Nathan Bedford Forrest
A Lieutenant General in the CSA Army, part of the mass murder of black Union soldiers during the Battle of Fort Pillow, one of the Founders of the Ku Klux Klan
7. Alger Hiss
A traitor to his country and a spy for a regime dedicated to eradicating freedom.
8. J. Edgar Hoover
He didn’t last 47 years as America’s top cop by playing fair. He used his influence and abused his power to accrue files on almost every political player, friend or foe, to use as blackmail to increase his personal power or as leverage for legislative and executive action. He became the closest thing America has ever known to an emperor and managed to die before his empire came crashing down around him. The tragedy of his life can be seen in his contradictions: a gay man who persecuted homosexuals; his undeniable love of country getting consumed by his thirst for power; his desire to enforce the law giving way to his paranoid domestic-espionage activities designed to derail political opponents, such as Martin Luther King and others he deemed dangerous. Hoover did good work as well in creating a first-class law enforcement agency, but his ego forced it to miss the rise of the Italian Mafia and his racism kept it lily-white far past his death.
9. Andrew Jackson
For the Indian Removal Act, the forced re-location of Native Americans that followed, and the horrible precedent it set for future Americans dealings with native tribes
10. Lyndon Baines Johnson
As if lying to the American people about Vietnam weren’t bad enough, he also set in motion the tax and spend philosophy that lives with us to this day.
11. Joseph McCarthy
A man who did more damage to the anti-Communist cause, and the reputations of countless innocent Americans, than any Communist ever did.
12. Timothy McViegh
Because of this.
13. Richard Nixon
Watergate, Cointelpro, the Pentagon Papers case, Daniel Elsberg, wage and price controls, and the largest expansion of federal bureaucracy since his predecessor.
14. Roger Taney
Fifth Chief Justice of the United States and author of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford
15. Woodrow Wilson
The man who ushered Progressivism through the American political system, involved America in a war in which she had no vital national interests and stake, and took it upon himself to remake the map of Europe in such a way that made a Second World War virtually inevitable.
So, there’s my list. You’ll notice several changes from the 2005 version. Why no Jimmy Carter this time, for example ? Because I consider Carter incompetent, not evil. Anyway, criticize away !
Update: Rick Moran has chimed in with what is clearly the most amusing response to this whole thing — The Top 43 Dumbest Conservative Bloggers.
Update #2: Jazz Shaw is out with his own take on the Hawkins list, the issue of who a “worst American” ought to be, a list of his own, and an evisceration of two of my choices:
Why is anyone selecting Aaron Burr? Doug and Ed are unhappy because he shot Alexander Hamilton. It was a duel! Nobody made Hamilton show up and he had a gun as well. Reports of his “intentionally missing Burr” have been widely disputed. He is also accused of trying to set up some sort of Western Empire and leave the union. He was eventually cleared of those charges by the Supreme Court and many analysts of the period believe it was a plot by his political rivals. The man served his nation for a lifetime, was a Vice President got beaten up for it. Give him a break.
And really, Doug… Andrew Jackson? Yes, he was guilty of horrible things regarding Native Americans. I don’t deny that. But in the context of the era, we should also find some room to remember that people thought and acted differently. We are making villains of many who didn’t do enough to stop slavery, but I don’t see anyone including some of the founders who owned slaves on their lists
I had a feeling picking Jackson would raise some eyebrows, but for me it goes back to the criteria that Ed laid out in his post five years ago, and which I tried to follow in making my picks. I could have substituted John C. Calhoun for Jackson for different reasons, but with Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest on the list, I didn’t want to make it heavy with secessionists. In Jackson’s case, it was the precedent he set that I felt gave him the dishonor and, like Davis, he stands as much as a representative for those who carried out the policy he established as he does for his own actions.
As for Burr, my knowledge of him is based on what I’ve read about the era. Jazz has promised on Twitter to refer me to a biography of Burr, and I’m always will to read so maybe my mind will change someday.
My list is still subjective, of course, but that’s inevitable. I include Woodrow Wilson on there, for example, because I believe he set us down a path that has been largely a disaster for liberty in this country. Others, quite obviously, will disagree.That said, I am much happier with this list than the one I came up with five years ago.