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L. Neil Smith's
Number 565, April 11, 2010

"Fifty Ways to Leave Big Brother"

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Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity and Liberty
A Book Review
by Sean Gangol

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

In Recarving Rushmore Ivan Eland evaluates the performance of every president from George Washington to George W. Bush based on factors such as economic stability, peace, attitudes toward minorities (blacks and Native Americans), and how each of the presidents upheld the Constitution. The presidents were given rankings of Bad, Poor, Average, Good and Excellent. Some of the rankings seemed typical and there were others that were quite surprising. The object of the evaluations is to decide which president actually deserves a place on Mount Rushmore.

There was one ranking that would surprise most people who are not libertarian minded. The presidency of Abraham Lincoln was ranked Bad for the way he provoked a war with the South and suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which was actually a power reserved for congress. However, Eland also puts some of the blame on the South since they chose to fire on Fort Sumter. The South did act foolish when they choose to fire the first shots, but Lincoln provoked the attack by keeping the base in the South. For the most part I agree with Eland's analysis, but I do disagree with his position on secession. Eland seems to believe that since there was nothing in the Constitution that authorized the secession of any state, the South had no legal right to leave the Union. I think Thomas DiLorenzo had a stronger case when he argued that the South had a legal right to succeed in his book, The Real Lincoln.

Eland's critique of Franklin Roosevelt would be considered shocking to anyone who doesn't know the real truth about his legacy. If this man had to be ranked based on his regard for the Constitution, as well as peace and prosperity, then you would almost certainly have labeled him as an utter failure. There are many economists and historians who believe that it was his programs that actually prolonged the depression. That was why his administration worked as hard as it did to get us involved in the Second World War. Roosevelt was also determined to push his agenda and could care less if he violated the Constitution. By threatening to stack Supreme Court justices, Roosevelt was able to force the highest court to treat the Constitution as a living document so that his programs could run their course.

One of the rankings that surprised me the most was that of Thomas Jefferson. It is hard to believe that the same man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and was a believer in "the best government is the one that governs the least" philosophy would get such a low ranking. According to Eland, he actually went against many of his principles. There are some who say that Jefferson was always a hypocrite, since he preached individual liberty, while being a slave owner. What Eland seemed to hold against Jefferson the most was the trade embargo that he had placed on France. Embargos go against the very notion of free trade, especially when it is enforced through the barrel of a gun. Jefferson had used America's standing army to patrol all the major ports, to make sure that nobody was smuggling French contraband. This created a modern day police state environment. It was hard to believe at first, but once I read Eland's criticism I agreed that Jefferson did indeed go against the same principals that he constantly preached.

I was also surprised that John F. Kennedy was ranked as a bad president, since there are people on both the liberal and conservative side, who believe that he walked on water. The author does make a good case for the rating. After all, Kennedy, contrary to the claims of Oliver Stone, expanded America's involvement in Vietnam. Under his presidency, we nearly ended up fighting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. JFK also had little regard for the Constitution, as shown when he used dirty underhanded tactics against the steel companies to force them to lower their prices. My personal complaint about Kennedy was that he never seemed to stand by his principals. He claimed that he was a believer in Civil Rights but he did little for the movement due to his fear of alienating Southern voters. I did disagree with Eland's take on the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He seems to put more of the blame on the CIA, then on Kennedy. Not to say that the CIA doesn't deserve its share of the blame, but it was Kennedy who gave the final okay. He was also the one who called off air support at the last minute, which compromised the whole operation. It was obvious that he didn't have his heart into the operation, so the sensible thing would have been to call it off before throwing all those Cuban exiles to the wolves.

As much as the conservatives like to venerate Ronald Reagan, they would be shocked to learn that Eland not only considers him to be one of the most overrated presidents in American history, but he also ranked him as Bad. One of the factors that contributed to his low ranking was the Iran Contra incident and that his so-called Reaganomics strategy wasn't economically as sound as conservatives claim. I have always thought that caps on government spending and tax cuts, should run hand in hand. Unfortunately, Reagan never understood this concept, so he cut taxes without putting limits on spending and that was how we ended up with a large debt by the end of the eighties.

I was surprised to learn that Eland ranked Bill Clinton as Average. I believe that Eland was being too kind to the Clinton administration. It is true that there was a period of prosperity during his reign, but with incidents like the Waco standoff and his constant attacks on the Second Amendment, he should have at least been ranked as Poor. He also deployed the military more then any president before him. We may have seen prosperity during his presidency, but we sure didn't see peace.

Then there's George W. Bush. It should come as no surprise that he was ranked badly. That is unless you are a neoconservative who agreed with his policies. When it comes to peace, prosperity and civil liberties, the last administration was a failure on all counts.

Even though I had a few disagreements here and there, I think Eland gave accurate ratings that were based on constitutional issues and not on the dynamic personalities of our ex-presidents. My only real disappointment was that Eland didn't seem to take into account factors such as the War on Drugs and victim disarmament laws. Both of these policies have played key roles in eroding our liberties. Now we are left with an important question; which president actually belongs on Mount Rushmore? If we were to go by Ivan Eland's critiques, then we would come to the conclusion that none of the presidents who are currently on that mountain, except for George Washington, deserve to be there. Here is the real question; should we even be idolizing our presidents in the first place? Even our best presidents shouldn't be objects of worship. We shouldn't be worshiping government officials in any form. All presidents should be regarded as our servants, not our gods.

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