William Henry Harrison Gets Raw Deal

February 17, 2009

C-SPAN (for some reason) has come out with the results of its second Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership, “in which a cross-section of 65 presidential historians ranked the 42 former occupants of the White House on ten attributes of leadership.”

A “cross-section” of whom would be an operative question.  But let’s for the moment assume C-SPAN isn’t a network that features every right-wing historian who’s published anything longer than his full name, and take the list seriously.

On the list of 42 presidents, Richard Nixon was 27th, and he was impeached (technically, he  quit in the process of impeachment, but still.)

George Bush is 36,  below Hoover (ok there) but 2 above Warren G Harding.  Now Harding was an adulterer with illegitimate children and a drinking problem, so he’s much easier to relate to than Bush.  Harding’s major crime was the Teapot Dome scandal, where the government sold oil leases in a sweetheart deal with big oil.  So let’s get this straight: No attacks against the country, no entanglement in two hopeless wars, no violations of the Contitution, no growth in the power of the Presidency, and no worldwide economic depression — and he’s worse than Bush?  C’mon, 8 billion dollars completely disappeared in Iraq, and that isn’t even on Bush’s list!  There are Assistant Secretaries who gave away more money to private industry than Harding’s entire administration  So that’s not fair.

And defending Harding’s position based on his ignorance, stupidity, bad management or lassitude clearly won’t cut it.

Franklin Pierce is similarly a piker.  After all, his biggest claim to shame is being a direct antecedent to George Bush’s mother.

Far worse than Harding’s position is the outrage done to William Henry Harrison.  What makes Harrison one of our worse presidents?  He died about a month into office.  What crimes did he commit?  How did he make America a worse place?

He didn’t.  He was, in fact, impactless — you would think he should be 21st president, dead center, neither positive nor negative.

We can only hope that as the depression deepens, W will have a more accurate listing, and poor Mr. Harrison will get the neutral opinion he so richly deserves.