Sunday, February 17, 2008

Americans Rank Lincoln as Top President

Well a new poll by Harris Interactive has come out, and when asked who they think the greatest American President was, respondants chose Abraham Lincoln. He won roughly twenty percent of the votes cast by 2,302 adults in the United States.

The options were somewhat structured. Not every president was included, for some reason, only those recognized previously as "famous," or "great," were allowed to be chosen, like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge. All presidents after FDR were included. Responses were tallied by how many answered "best" or "second best."

However, Lincoln seems to be the only name in its proper place, here is the list as selected by those 2,302 Americans, who seem to have trouble with amassing any collective long-term memory.

10 - George W. Bush
9 - Theodore Roosevelt
8 - Harry S Truman
7 - Thomas Jefferson
6 - Bill Clinton
5 - George Washington
4 - John F. Kennedy
3 - FDR
2 - Ronald Reagan
1 - Abraham Lincoln

Americans seem to suffer from the opposite problem that plagues many of the places in conflict around the world. In Israel, Kosovo, and Northern Ireland, there are long standing blood feuds between different groups that center on issues going back centuries. In Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites are fighting over massacres that took place over a millennium ago. But Americans easily forget it seems, which is good when it keep us from slaughtering each other, but bad when it leads to misplaced adulation.

George W. Bush does not belong on this list, period. He is probably going to go down as one of the worst presidents in American history. There is really no major positive achievement that his administration can lay claim to. He invented a mandate and used it to weaken the constitution, govern through religious fanaticism and patriotic bullying, and has ruined a surplus. He has been bad from any perspective, Liberal, Conservative, Communist, Libertarian, Green, Anarchist, all of them can agree that he has been a terrible influence on the country.

And neither does Clinton. While he was not a terrible president, he was pretty much just a caretaker. None of his major initiatives managed to get through Congress and his style of rule was too tied to polls. Regardless of the whole mess he made on that intern's dress, his presidency was slightly above average, a B- so too speak.

Ronald Reagan might be a good number 10, but only if I was feeling generous. The mess we are dealing with in Afghanistan and Iraq is partly his fault. His administration was probably the most corrupt since that of Harding's, and he did nothing to balance the budget. Victory in the Cold War belongs more to George Marshal, Truman, and Nixon's strategic use of detente and opening up trade with China, than Reagan's posturing. It is Reagan who brought the Christian Right to power, a dangerous development, and who was the first president who governed through his image, and not through any coherent or well thought out policy. His style ushered in Clinton and Bush.

And he raised the drinking age. What a real state's rights conservative libertarian he was!

Okay, this is what I think the top ten should be:

1 - Abraham Lincoln, he fought the Civil War and kept the country together and began the elimination of slavery, though he could not see its abolition through.

2 - George Washington, he ranks he for mostly setting a good precedent. He stepped down after two terms and was able to keep the country together during the rough first years. However in terms of actual legislation, his administration is pretty thin so I have to rank Lincoln higher.

3 - FDR, he held the country together during the Great Depression, and lead the US through World War II, to become the world's great superpower.

4 - Jefferson, doubled the size of the country and balanced the budget. He also represents a good form of pragmatism, not abandoning his ideals as a whole, but willing to keep institutions that were working and necessary, he preserved many of the achievements of the previous Federalist administrations despite being a Democrat.

5 - James K. Polk, although by getting us California and Texas, maybe he did more wrong than good. Still the most successful one term president.

6 - Theodore Roosevelt, who I think still is one of the best examples of strong willed and charismatic leadership founded on pragmatic and still idealistic principles.

7 - Harry S Truman, began turning the tide back during the Cold War, though at the time no one realized it. Probably the best campaigner in American history, winning the 1948 election despite losing two major wings of his party, proving once and for all, Nader did not cost Gore the election, Gore did.

8 - Lyndon Johnson - Simply because he put his party's future aside and supported Civil Rights. Vietnam was a bad decision, and the Great Society had its problems, along with Nixon, perhaps our most tragic of presidents, too ambitious and cut down by their personality flaws.

9 - Woodrow Wilson - America's rise to power was largely through his efforts, and his internationalism is a cornerstone of most president's foreign policy one way or another.

10 - I am having trouble finding people to put here, so it could either be Reagan, Jackson, Eisenhower, or Kennedy.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The MACH IV Test

So I took a test to see how Machiavellian I am. It is a few years old, but the idea of what it means to be a "Machiavel" has not changed. Of course it is always been off the mark, since Machiavelli was always more of a republican than an authoritarian, though these days it's easy to confuse the two. The test is alright, even though its basis is a false understanding of Machiavelli, but they needed to tie it to someone and HOBBS-IV just doesn't have the same ring I guess.

1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3=neutral, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree

1) Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so.
1 2 3 4 5

I put four down because it makes sense, you tell someone something because you think it is useful.

2) The best way to handle people is to tell them what they want to hear.
1 2 3 4 5

I put a four down in this case because there are situations where it is better for you to tell someone the hard truth, or just plain tell them off.

3) One should take action only when sure it is morally right.
1 2 3 4 5

I put a three because I was unsure how they defined "morally right." My belief is no one ever does anything immoral willingly, that there is a confusion in their hearts or heads. What is moral is what people on some level already want. Now someone else will disagree with them, but they are doing what they think is moral, always. Hitler did what he thought was moral and we bombed the hell of Germany because we felt it was the moral thing to do to stop him.

4) Most people are basically good and kind.
1 2 3 4 5

I was in the middle here, people don't usually go out of their way to screw you, but they also are fairly impotent when it comes to helping others. People are self-interested, but not selfish.

5) It is safest to assume that all people have a vicious streak and it will come out when they are given a chance.
1 2 3 4 5

Plenty of experiments have confirmed this, as has my childhood experiences on the playground when no adults are watching.

6) Honesty is the best policy in all cases.
1 2 3 4 5

Sometimes you have to tell a little lie, but I find that lies get you into more trouble than honesty most of the time.

7) There is no excuse for lying to someone else.
1 2 3 4 5

The old murderer at the door problem, I know Kant would say this, but I believe better to lie to him than let the murderer find out from you where your friend is hiding.

8) Generally speaking, people won't work hard unless they're forced to do so.
1 2 3 4 5

I have noticed this amongst my fellow students. This might only apply to Americans though.

9) All in all, it is better to be humble and honest than to be important and dishonest.
1 2 3 4 5

Dishonesty wins a person no friends and in the end that's what you need if you are going to hold onto anything.

10) When you ask someone to do something for you, it is best to give the real reasons for wanting it rather than giving reasons which carry more weight.
1 2 3 4 5

I always try to make them the same.

11) Most people who get ahead in the world lead clean, moral lives.
1 2 3 4 5

Look at the current administration. I would like to quote Balzac here, "behind every great fortune, there is a crime."

12) Anyone who completely trusts anyone else is asking for trouble.
1 2 3 4 5

But then again, some people like trouble

13) The biggest difference between most criminals and other people is that the criminals are stupid enough to get caught.
1 2 3 4 5

Proof: There is a difference between a bank robber and me. He robs banks. I do not. He could be out on the lam, still not caught, but still would be a criminal. I have not just simply evaded the cops, I have not held up a Wachovia at gunpoint.

14) Most people are brave.
1 2 3 4 5

You see both in Human affairs. So I am going to go with a three

15) It is wise to flatter important people.
1 2 3 4 5

Who would argue with this? It is also wise to be honest when they ask you, but the question isn't trying to find that out.

16) It is possible to be good in all respects.
1 2 3 4 5

You make sacrifices when you are a leader, even just to live with other people requires some ideals to be given up. Why do you think there are so many saints who were hermits or lived in cloisters?

17) P.T. Barnum was wrong when he said that there's a sucker born every minute.
1 2 3 4 5

If 255 people are born in a minute, then one could potentially be a sucker. Statistically I think it is possible.

18) It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.
1 2 3 4 5

Yes, it is hard, but that does not mean it is right. A Machiavellian and an idealist could both agree here and draw different conclusions. The former would say "Yes, so..." while the former would answer "Yes, but..."

19) People suffering from incurable diseases should have the choice of being put painlessly to death.
1 2 3 4 5

I don't see what this question is supposed to do. If they are voluntarily ending their lives, I don’t see what that has to do with Machiavellianism. One could believe in euthanasia as a humanist.

20) Most people forget more easily the death of their parents than the loss of their property.
1 2 3 4 5

I've read too many biographies of famous people to believe this. The absences of one or more parents is always mentioned, rarely the loss of a house. Both can be traumatic, but in terms of what people are more likely to actually swear revenge over is the former tragedy.

The test tells me I am a 68 out of a 100, a "high Mach." I think that this test really is not able to make that claim. Several of the questions could rank the same for either a low or high Mach, and 68 is not that far from the center, I feel. Being a high Mach seems like something you have to do fully or else you will end up hating yourself for everything you do and fail to do. I think a high Mach has to be an 80 or 85, at least.