Gut-Wrenching Things Done By Beloved Presidents
U.S Presidents. We've had some good ones, some bad ones and some downright homicidal ones. But every once and a while, a leader is elected who's so popular people from all across the political spectrum can agree that they truly are ... fine, we guess. But since no man is perfect (as America staunchly refuses to give a woman a shot) even the most sanctified of chiefs have committed acts so immoral there aren't enough emails in the world to deflect the evil onto. For example ...
President Obama Drone Bombed Thousands Of Civilians To Dust
President Barack Obama has a lot of legacies to choose from. Many will fondly remember him as the first black president, or as the president who got them healthcare, or as the only president in a twenty-year span who could string together more than two coherent sentences. But in certain parts of the world, he'll always be remembered as the president who bombed more weddings than a reading of 1 Corinthians 13.
Obama may have been the first black president, but he was also the first drone president. During his eight years in office, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate let the CIA launch over 500 drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya combined. At the height of Obama's reign as king of drone mountain, it was estimated that the U.S. dropped a bomb on a brown person every three hours for a year -- all in the name of being tough on terrorism.
And while pretending these drones struck with surgical precision, they were often fired off with all the care and accuracy of your drunk cousin holding a Roman candle in front of his dick on the 4th of July. On Obama's watch, drone strikes have turned weddings into funerals, funerals into even bigger funerals, and have cost the lives of (depending on the source) thousands of innocent bystanders, including pregnant women, children and several U.S citizens. And it took years before Obama was pressured into passing legislation limiting the use and increasing the transparency of drone strikes, including mandatory annual disclosure of all civilian casualties in 2016. Which might've meant something if he hadn't already left the drone door open for all future presidents, some of whom won't have their conscience kick in at all, let alone in the last four seconds of their presidency.
Related: Modern Heroes Who Got Screwed Over
FDR Killed Anti-Lynching Legislation
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the president so nice, they elected him four times. By that metric alone, that makes him the greatest Democratic president in American history. And it's not hard to see why. He ended the Great Depression, set up the first social security system and minimum wage law and wanted to shove a grenade up Hitler's ass before that became fashionable in America. FDR was a president who got things done and knew how to focus on the things that mattered.
Unfortunately, what didn't matter, were black lives. During his presidency, FDR refused to back not one, but two attempts to pass an anti-lynching bill despite the fact that mobs were still murdering African Americans down South. This caused not just a rift between FDR and early civil rights activists but also between him and Mrs. Roosevelt, who was an outspoken civil rights activist herself. So outspoken she drew the hatred of racists everywhere, with the Ku Klux Klan putting a $25,000 hit on the First Lady's head while future FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (old-timey Alex Jones with a badge) tried to sink her husband's presidency by spreading rumors that she was mixed race.
But despite Eleanor constantly setting up meet-cutes between her husband and civil rights advocates like she was trying to encourage him to start a garage band, FDR, champion of the downtrodden, refused to lift a finger to stop lynching in the South. Why? According to Roosevelt himself, it was because he was too afraid that saving black lives would lose him support from Democrats. If that sounds like bizarro political Mad Libs, it's important to note that, up until the sixties, the only liberal thought Southern Democrats had was that they thought it was liberal to consider African Americans three-fifths of a person. Instead, these rich landowners ruled the South by courting the white Jim Crow vote and the threat of lynching was their barbaric tool to suppress the black vote bringing in these progressive Republicans. Again, we're not playing Mad Libs.
But there could also be another logical (but far less noble) reason for FDR not wanting to rock the racist boat: Maybe he just didn't care about the plight of American minorities. During his presidency, there were few minorities that didn't suffer by his actions, from the cattle-like deportation of over two million Mexican Americans to turning away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied territory to putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps during WWII. Either way, while it's that Big Picture thinking that made FDR so beloved, it remains a black mark on his legacy that there was never any room in that picture for civil rights.
Reagan Ignored The AIDS Pandemic Until It Was Too Late
Today, when political pundits set out to embarrass Republicans they like to point out how the mighty have fallen. What is now the party of a reality TV show host was once the great party of Reagan, the star of Bedtime for Bonzo and a president so universally loved he won 49 out 50 states during his reelection. But while they do differ greatly in popularity, non-partisanship or basic competency, Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan do have one thing in common as presidents: their utter ignorance when dealing with pandemics.
For Reagan, that pandemic was the AIDS crisis or, as the Reagan administration insisted on calling it, "the gay plague." Meanwhile, Reagan himself didn't call AIDS anything at all, outright ignoring its existence for years. The president didn't utter the word AIDS in public until after putting five years into his presidency and 30,000 American AIDS sufferers into the ground. Pretending the AIDS crisis didn't exist was also a fun bonding moment between Mr. And Mrs. Reagan, who too kept her head buried deep in the homophobic sands. When old Hollywood pal and AIDS sufferer Rock Hudson reached out to Nancy begging for help, she turned him away with the claim that the Reagans had a strict "no special treatment" with "no exceptions" rule. Or in the case of people with AIDS: No treatment at all. No exceptions.
Meanwhile, those in the Reagan camp who didn't have the luxury of outright ignoring it, instead treated the AIDS plague like a big joke. Literally. For years, Reagan's press secretary Larry Speakes would deflect any inquiries into the White House's handling of the AIDS epidemic by pulling out an impression of his favorite Eddie Murphy routine, outright mocking the reporters concerned by the tens of thousands of dead and dying Americans as being gay for AIDS. That intentional ignorance and trivialization still leaves its mark on the world today. As we all know at this point, what a dangerous viral outbreak needs most of all is a swift response and clear, authoritative communication. Reagan provided neither and in doing so abandoned tens of thousands of Americans to a painful death.
Bill Clinton's War On Drugs Kept African Americans In Prison And Out Of College
During the '90s, there was a whole lot of "like" for Bill Clinton. As a moderate, liberals could still like him for his weed-smoking and "Don't ask, don't tell" open marriage vibe. Meanwhile, conservatives could still like him for his tough position on crime and the causes of crime (mostly drugs). But if there's one group that straight-up loved him it was the African American community, who noticed Clinton talking about affirmative action, golfing with black buddies, and playing his saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show and saw, if not the first black president, at least the first one who didn't instinctively lock his car doors when he saw a black person walk down the street.
But over the years, the black community has had to learn some harsh truths about President Bubba -- which has been an uphill battle since the Clinton administration made it its business to deny them access to college. For Clinton's less than stellar record with African Americans, many point to the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the harsh crime bill signed by Clinton and authored by your dad's best friend, the one who's not allowed to be alone in the same room as you, Joe Biden. But while its status as the root of mass incarceration evil is a great source of debate, what's much more black and white is that the bill gave Clinton the chance to get rid of one of the most racist laws since Jim Crow -- and he refused to take it.
The 1994 bill launched an investigation into a discriminatory crime initiative from an earlier War on Drugs bill (also authored by Uncle Joe), the infamous 100-to-1 rule. Before it, the only tangible difference between the crack and powder forms of cocaine was that crack use was tied to African Americans and cocaine use to douchebags who also eat sushi off strippers. But the 100-to-1 rule deemed that carrying five grams of crack was as evil as lugging around five hundred grams or half a kilo of blow, both inflicting an automatic five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. And since, at any time, the vast majority of crack convictions are of African Americans the committee deemed, to put it in legal terms, that the rule was as racist as a cross burning on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
But instead of accepting the investigation's ruling, President Clinton sided with Republicans and signed a bill blocking the re-adjustment of the 100-to-1 rule, despite massive call-ins from the black community begging him to use his veto. From that point on, as Clinton continued his wars on drugs and crime, he knew he was disproportionately targeting poor African Americans. When he banned drug felons from qualifying for welfare in 1996 he knew he was disproportionately targeting poor African Americans. When he banned convicts from qualifying for low-income scholarships in 1994, he knew he was disproportionately keeping poor African Americans from getting a higher education. And when he denied federal aid to students with prior drug charges in 1998, he knew he might as well have hung a "blacks need not apply" on the door of every college in the country.
JFK Was A Cool Guy But A Mediocre President
Different nations have different standards for what qualifies as a great leader. The French quite like a president who cheats on his wife. The Russians prefer dictators over alcoholics (but both will do in a pinch). And it seems that the American people need their presidential GOATs to either a) be very cool or b) get shot. Which explains why folks rank John F. Kennedy as the fourth greatest U.S. president after Clinton, Reagan and Lincoln. Because he couldn't possibly have gotten there on the merit of paltry political achievements.
JFK was an awesome dude, the boy wonder president who won the hearts of a nation and was going to put a man on the moon. But an awesome president? Historians are starting to claim otherwise. To showcase his not-so-presidential greatness, it's easiest to start with Kennedy's landmark domestic policies -- because there were none. JFK critics have now contextualized that while JFK had a constant air of being a great reformer, he was decidedly "meh" when it came to furthering labor rights, women's rights and civil rights, among progressing these platforms at a speed well below the expectations of a liberal president. He even gets too much credit for his most famous achievement, the moon landing program. While JFK was indeed the first president to float the idea of landing a man on the moon and his rousing speeches forever bolstered the American people's interest in space travel, it was actually the Eisenhower and Johnson administrations that did all the heavy lifting to put the MTV flag up there.
When it comes to foreign policy, JFK's achievements can be better summarized in three coups and two words: "enduring" and "clusterfuck." First was the Bay of Pigs, which went disastrously wrong, got hundreds of American allies slaughtered and actually cemented Castro's Communist tendencies better than any Soviet gift basket ever managed. Then JFK backed the bloody coup on Iraqi dictator Abd al-Karim Qasim, which also went disastrously wrong, handing the country to the party whose members included an ambitious whippersnapper called Saddam Hussein. And the third was his ousting of the South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem, which went disastrously wrong as it destabilized the region during the burgeoning Vietnam War which eventually led to a drastic escalation of American teenagers floating face-down in the Mekong River.
Even the Cuban Missile, the conflict often presented as tough guy JFK saving America from the Soviets, denying them a crucial launch pad for their nuclear missiles right next door to Florida, is no longer deemed so straightforward. With the release of official communication, some scholars now interpret the president's reaction as less akin to that of a strong commander-in-chief and more of a guy pulling a gun on a Walmart security guard for being asked to stop putting his dick in all the melons. In favor of posturing, Kennedy ignored the fact that the Soviets had countless other ways of turning the entirety of the United States into a Day-Glo ruin, or that Cuba had asked them for protection in case JFK ever had to urge to Bay of Pigs them again. Instead, documents later revealed that Kennedy ignored the context, overreacted by an imaginary act of war, got into a missile-measuring contest with Nikita Khrushchev and had to be calmed down before negotiations could begin.
But the reality of the situation is more that John F. Kennedy never got the chance to prove if he was a good or bad president, let alone a great one, only serving 35 months before his tragic assassination. If the failures in his brief track record prove anything definitively, it's the enduring power of the Kennedy charisma, how a brittle yet brilliant man, who was either constantly in pain or amphetamined out of his mind, had the power to make people dream again.
For more weird tangents and reminders that you should never have heroes, do follow Cedric on Twitter.