Top Ten Worst Presidential Mistakes

I noticed an AP article on the CNN website, and reading it made me tilt my head to the side and, like C & C music factory used to say, go hmm. The strange feeling began with the first paragraph:

From engaging in sexual relations with an intern to letting the Vietnam War escalate, U.S. presidents have been blamed for some egregious errors.

I think we all know who that opening refers to. The total incongruity, in terms of scale and consequences, between “letting the Vietnam War escalate” and “engaging in sexual relations with an intern,” gives me pause. Placing Bill Clinton’s escapade at the very beginng of an article about the worst presidential mistakes in history? Surely you jest.

The worst mistake belongs to “President James Buchanan, for failing to avert the Civil War.” Fair enough. That war sucked, for sure. I don’t know enough about Civil War history to know if he could have done anything, but whatever.

According to the article, “The second worst mistake . . . was Andrew Johnson’s decision just after the Civil War to side with Southern whites and oppose improvements in justice for Southern blacks beyond abolishing slavery.” Well, I think that’s one we can all agree with.

Then we revisit the opening mystery with this set of grafs:

Lyndon Johnson earned the No. 3 spot by allowing the Vietnam War to intensify, Gregg said.

Where does Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky scandal rank? Many scholars said it belonged at No. 10, saying that it probably affected Clinton’s presidency more than it did American history and the public.

If you’re like me, your head is tilting at a dangerous angle at this point. The Vietnam War was really horrible in a lot of ways and all that. What justifies immediately interpolating Clinton’s pants-free adventure right after it? No justification can be found in the scholars’ response. If it “probably affected Clinton’s presidency more than it did American history” then what the hell is it doing on the list at all? What distinguishes it from all the other (assumedly more numerous than we know) private sexual forays of other presidents?

Here’s the rest of the list:

4: Woodrow Wilson’s refusal to compromise on the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.

5: Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate cover-up.

6: James Madison’s failure to keep the United States out of the War of 1812 with Britain.

7: Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807, a self-imposed prohibition on trade with Europe during the Napoleonic Wars.

8: John F. Kennedy allowing the Bay of Pigs Invasion that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

9: Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra Affair, the effort to sell arms to Iran and use the money to finance an armed anti-communist group in Nicaragua.

You’ll notice here that not only was Clinton in the lede of the article, but his was the only “mistake” mentioned out of order twice, to place it in a position of greater prominence. Why is this AP writer trying to (ahem) insert Clinton where he clearly does not belong? It could be to get readers attention with a more current figure.

Which immediately made me think: What other current Presidential types have made mistakes that were more important than Clinton’s? I’ll give you a second. Here are a few hints: he let 9-11 happen, he went to war on false pretences, and, in the immortal words of Amy Poehler (via SNL’s Weekend Update) he let people drown when it rained (you know, in New Orleans).

Where the hell was George W. Bush? No mention whatsoever. Not even something like “we didn’t think it was appropriate to ask about the current guy,” or something, which would have been cowardly but at least forthright. This is just inexcusable. Luckily, there is a poll that asks which was the worst blunder of these three: Buchanan / Civil War, Nixon / Watergate, or Clinton / Lewinsky, and Clinton is at 25% We can do something about that.