Jack wrote this in September, 2005:
Someone’s asked me to define ‘unlucky’ as it pertains to a US President. A legitimate question.
In general, I’d call a ‘lucky’ prez one who doesn’t have to take the historical rap for his mistakes and misjudgments. I’d call an ‘unlucky’ one a prez who does what other prezes have done, but gets caught, or takes the rap for historical processes already moving along when he took office.
Probably it’s best to use examples from history.
Herbert Hoover .. awfully unlucky
Was probably a middling good prez. But the Great Depression, a worldwide event, took place on his watch. The result was that Hoover was remembered during the lifetimes of the citizens who experienced the Great Depression, as a curse. Then he vanished from the national consciousness.
Franklin Roosevelt lucky
Made some of the most devastating errors a prez could make during his three-plus-some-change terms in office, but he managed to hide some of the worst ones behind the veil of national security. He successfully mobilized the population for a war it thought it didn’t want, and when that war brought the country out of Economic Depression, Roosevelt got to ride high in history and living memory as having presided during a ‘good’ war and ending the depression. A lucky prez.
Truman probably qualities as lucky.
He inherited the baggage left by Roosevelt, agreements with the USSR allowing them to occupy Eastern Europe. The Marshall Plan, agreeing to rebuild the industrial capacities of Japan and West Germany. General Douglas MacArthur hanging around as a popular hero with time on his hands. A Communist revolution in China, French Colonial war in Indo-China, and the dust not yet settled on WWII. He made a lot of mistakes, engaged in an undeclared war in Korea, which lost the 1956 election for the Democrats, but all in all, he came out okay, unvilified by the history books. A lucky prez.
Eisenhower, I’d consider neither lucky, nor unlucky. He was a prudent gambler, never pushed his luck, which didn’t give him much opportunity to be declared unlucky in any meaningful way.
I’d consider the luckiest prez of the 20th Century. Despite his best efforts, he didn’t get us into a nuclear war, didn’t get called for his incorrigible tactics for the 1960 Presidential Campaign, kept the Bay of Pigs invasion debacle generally out of the public eye, didn’t make the headlines for his womanizing, and got himself dead without having to face any consequences for being one of the sorriest, most arrogant, most self-serving presidents in the history of the US. Made love to the woman almost every adult male in America fantasized about. Came away a legend and a hero. Lucky prez.
Lyndon Johnson. Unlucky, generally
He inherited a presidency he’d never have occupied without the death of JFK. Lucky. He inherited the urban wars of the late 1960s. Unlucky. He initiated the War on Poverty, which most Americans, including me, believed would immortalize him, but which became the Welfare State. Lousy judgment. We all should have known better, including LBJ. He cranked up Vietnam without asking Congress for a Declaration of War. Bad choice combined with bad luck. Created the Gulf of Tonkin incident under wraps of National Security, which seeped out and was unveiled for the fraud it was. Bad luck. Had to face the choice of a probable loss of the presidency and Congress, because of the Vietnam War, or not running for another term. Unlucky, overall.
Tricky Dixon. Bullgoose unlucky
Maybe the unluckiest prez in the history of the US. Not nearly so bad as JFK and Johnson, but couldn’t do anything they did without getting caught at it. Rode into his first term with a promise of peace with honor in the war he inherited, Vietnam. Didn’t succeed, because it couldn’t happen without a formal declaration of war against North Vietnam by Congress and making it a war of military strategy, which it was already too late to do. Even though he was a flawed man who was dealt a lousy hand and played it poorly, I have a warm place in my heart for Tricky Dixon. Unlike JFK and Johnson, he wasn’t incorrigible, but he got cashiered from office in their stead because he assumed if they did it, he could do less and get by with it.
Gerald Ford, neither lucky, nor unlucky.
Jimmy Carter. Unlucky
Good man, good intentions. Squeaky clean, blessed with the protracted Iran Hostage affair. A really lousy piece of luck that cost Carter his place in history as a good prez.
Ronald Reagan. Not particularly lucky, nor unlucky
I’d have to put Reagan in a class all his own, a prez with a lot of the attributes of Franklin Roosevelt, but minus the guile, wearing a Republican hat. He might have been wrong on many occasions, but he did what he did because he believed it was the right thing to do. A rare trait among presidents. I disagree with many things Reagan did, consider some of them paramount to a National Disaster, but I tip my hat to him with respect. Not particularly lucky, nor unlucky. Just a flawed man like the rest of us, muddling along doing the best he could do and sometimes doing it badly.
George Bush I. Luckylucky
Almost as lucky as JFK. Rode in on the popular legacy of Reagan. Indulged in an amazingly popular presidential war with Iraq, utilized overwhelming military force, lightning strategy, acceptable casualties. Then stopped short of victory. Never had to take the rap. It’s impossible to fathom such ineptitude, but his luck is even more incomprehensible. Never had to stand up against the wall for what he did. If he’s alive today, people aren’t blowing raspberries at him, yelling jibes, calling him what he is, the way people used to treat the village idiot. We’ve grown more tolerant these days.
I ain’t going into wossname, the guy before this one.
In a later blog entry I’ll tell you why I believe this prez has the makings to be the unluckiest prez since Tricky Dixon, (other than being his father’s son) along with the near certain whys, potential hows, and unfortunate for all of us outcomes.