Monday, November 3, 2008

The First 21 US Presidents and My Thoughts On Them

Hey. Hey you. Make sure you vote tomorrow. And once you do, make sure to check out our live list-format coverage of the results. WAIT, did I just seriously say I was going to do that? UH OH, that must make it true. 

The next twenty-two will be forthcoming in the wee hours of November 4th...

1. George Washington

As played as it may be--and it's pretty played, even for a viral video--it's hard for me to do better than that "Washington, fucking Washington" cartoon that the Professor Brothers guys made. (At this rate, this list will be the easiest and the fastest ever! I'll just post the greatest things other people have said about all 43 presidents... I'm sure that at no point will I be moved to offer commentary of a personal nature!)

2. John Adams 

The best thing ever about John Adams is that he was played by Mr. Feeny (AKA William Daniels, but actually just Mr. Feeny) in the film/musical 1776. It's a nice thing to think that the founding of our country was accomplished with full orchestral accompaniment. Also, it's a nice thing to walk up and down stairs while singing, "Bustability!" at the top of your lungs. This is why we decided to live in a duplex apartment with a spiral staircase. (Unfortunately, there are no clips of that scene on YouTube... but there are these two guys lip-synching to it... and this amazing 1776 Brokeback-parody...)

3. Thomas Jefferson

TJ has always been a personal hero. I suppose in some way I inherited him from my dad. I admire him as a writer, a philosopher, a statesman, a naturalist, and a man. Plus, he played the violin. Once, I was thinking out loud about deism and someone scoffed, "Oh, I bet you like Thomas Jefferson." It's true. I do. 

4. James Madison

You guys, I'm super conflicted about James Madison. I mean, the guy writes a third of the Federalist Papers (including #10 and #51!), he gets the primary author credit on the Constitution, he fathers the Bill of Rights (though Dolly Madison, oddly enough, wasn't presented for the birth...), AND he banged out the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions with Thomas Jefferson. (Here's a quick synopsis of those: "Hey, Alien and Sedition Acts. Y'all can suck on one.") But then he had to go and mess with Britain/Canada and throw us into The War of 1812. Yeah, yeah, yeah... impressment of sailors and such. But c'mon, they burned Buffalo. Also, there's Jimmy Mad's not-so-good record with veeps... two of 'em died in office. That's like, the life expectancy of a Spinal Tap drummer.

5. James Monroe

He of the eponymous Doctrine and the "Era of Good Feelings", also the namesake of Monrovia, Liberia. In lieu of formulating a staunch opinion on James Monroe, I will just say that I am watching the end of Reign of Fire right now and I am struck by the realization that Reign of Fire is a seriously solid movie.

6. John Quincy Adams

I don't have much to say about our sixth president. He's the only one with a "Q" in his name, that's for sure. Basically, I just imagined him walking around the White House, constantly getting interrupted by curmudgeonly aides and cabinet members barking, "I knew John Adams, and you, sir, are no John Adams."

7. Andrew Jackson

Does anyone else think that Andrew Jackson looks like Jon Stewart? That's always been my impression. Jackson is notable for two reasons, in my mind. He was the first president to have an attempt made on his life. Unfortunately, the would-be Booth was a crazy named Richard Lawrence who thought he was Richard III. Both of his pistols misfired and Jackson ended up beating the hell out of him with his cane. Good on ya, Old Hickory. Also, I was learning about Jacksonian Democracy during junior year when the vice principal came on the loudspeaker and said the Twin Towers had been hit. Actually, I don't know how true that is, but it's what I've always said when people ask. I've said it so many times that it's been internalized, I suppose. But for some reason, it doesn't ring true--how could we have gotten all the way to Jackson in AP US History in a week and a half of school? At this point though, there's no point in changing my story though. I don't want to be that guy who doesn't remember what he was doing when he first heard, ya know? Incidentally, I do remember where I was when I heard about JFK. It was thirty or so years after the fact, but for the record, I was in the dentist's waiting room, asking my mom questions about America.

8. Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren was a lot of things, but most importantly, he is the president most consistently referenced in Homestar Runner cartoons. Here is the proof.

9. William Henry Harrison

WHH is responsible for one of the most widely recounted presidential falsehoods, that bit about him giving the two hour inaugural address in the rain, and subsequently developing pneumonia and dying. In fact, most careful historians will agree than William Henry Harrison did not, in fact, only serve 30 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes in office. He served two full terms, ended slavery, gave women the right to rock, and put the first man on the Sun.

10. John Tyler

Okay, that was a lie. William Henry Harrison died in office and John Tyler succeeded him. They called him "the man without a party" because the Whigs literally expelled him after he took office. This ushered in an era of semi-lame character actor presidents. Basically a bunch of Tom Wilkinsons and Philip Baker Halls. (Although I respect Wilkinson and PBH much more than Presidents Tyler through Buchanan.)

11. James K. Polk

I have a friend from back home who's convinced that James K. Polk was the greatest president ever, because he "did everything said he promised he would do while he was campaigning." His pre-election promise was basically, "I am going to get you guys so much fucking new land, it's not even funny. Spoiler alert: you're gonna love Oregon!" I dunno... guess you can't argue with Manifest Destiny. (Literally. If you argue with it, it takes your house. That's like, one of the rules.)

12. Zachary Taylor

Who elects a "Zach" president? That's ridiculous. Also, maybe he was poisoned?

13. Millard Fillmore 

This guy founded the University of Buffalo, which is nice, because I basically grew up on UB's campus. It's where I learned to ride my bike there, where I learned to hit a baseball, where we went sledding in the winter. My dad and I used to walk over to this one decently-groomed baseball diamond about a half a mile from my house... he'd pitch and I'd hit for a while, then he'd send me into the outfield to shag flies. My one persistent demand was that we couldn't leave until I had made at least one "spectacular" catch. The field wasn't full-sized or anything, but way out in left (maybe 300 feet), there was a gravel path that I always aimed for. I held firm to the belief that if I ever hit a ball over that path, I would be a man. When I was 13 or 14, I finally did. I crushed one about 25 feet past that path, smacking into a pink, pre-fab technology building. It left a dent in the wall and everything. I showed it to my high school girlfriend once and told her that it meant I was a man, and then we made out for a few minutes under my dent. A few years ago, they painted that building white and flattened out the dents. Then, this year they tore the field down entirely. Oh well. Thanks, Millard Fillmore.

14. Franklin Pierce

I don't know too much about ol' Franklin Pierce, so ol' WikiPete got his wiki on and did some learning. Turns out he was the youngest U.S. president ever at the time of his inauguration (48 years), a good buddy of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and an unrepentant drunk. His presidency left Kansas bleeding and sought, at one point, to seize Cuba by force, but I'll forgive all that because after he lost the Democratic nomination in 1856, he said "There's nothing left to do but get drunk." 

15. James Buchanan 

A legit contender for worst president ever. He's probably best known for failing to prevent the American Civil War. Secession is illegal, he said, but so is a forcible attempt to stop it. Good one, J-Buck. Me dancing on your grave is disrespectful, but you trying to stop me would make you a zombie. (Zombie Buchanan = least scary zombie ever.)

16. Abraham Lincoln

A relevant gchat conversation:

Rob: why is anyone's favorite president not lincoln

  i had this argument with molina bc of his bands obsessions with presidents

  if your favorite president isnt lincoln you are either a) faking or b) do not know enough about lincoln

me: haha

  or you don't like when people suspend habeas corpus

Rob: no the whole point of lincoln is that he gets 10000 badass points for suspending habeas corpus

  he was basically proof all ends are justified by the means if your ends are awesome

In other news, once upon a time I played John Wilkes Booth in a production of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins. My roommates Tom and Caitlin played the Balladeer and the Proprietor, respectively... noted friend of PaRMLoT Rami Raff played John Hinckley--it was the best of times. Anyway, how sweet is this mustache? (Note: I am the one with the mustache):

I'm not saying that one part in one musical changed my opinion on Abraham Lincoln. Shooting him in the head in front of a crowd and getting applause for it didn't help, though.

17. Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson was to Abraham Lincoln as Matt Cassel is to Tom Brady. Also, he was a terrible president. 

18. Ulysses S. Grant 

Shitty, corrupt president, but a wonderful memoirist. (By the way, all you wacky Wesley Clark fans... they aren't all Eisenhowers.)

19. Rutherford B. Hayes 

As I've written before, my friends in high school used to call my dad Rutherford. (They kind of look alike, and by kind of, I mean they both have beards.) This led to my mom becoming Lemonade Lynnette, a play on Lemonade Lucy, the actual Rutherford's wife... though my mom and Mrs. Hayes do not share the same rapid views on temperance. Basically, the Ruth is known for being the only president whose election was decided by a congressional commission. Hey, President Hayes... the Popular Vote is on line 1, it says screw off.

20. James A. Garfield

James A. Garfield was assassinated by Charles Guiteau four months into his presidency. (Well, he was shot four months in and died two months later after his doctors dicked around with his insides for a while. That was a mean way of saying that if he had lived, James A. Garfield would have had one hell of a malpractice claim. That was a snarky way of saying that James Garfield was killed by his doctors and not by his assassin.) Anyway, Charlie Guiteau is way more interesting than Garfield. (Anyone who has seen Assassins knows this.) Some fun pre-assassination highlights in the life of Charles Guiteau: joined free-love commune, kicked out of free-love commune twice because no one wanted his love (free or otherwise), obtained license to practice law in Chicago semi-fradulently, tried one case, lost that case, decided theology was a better pursuit than law, wrote a book called The Truth (most of which was the product of plagiarism), campaigned for Garfield, decided he was responsible for Garfield's election (even though his speech was mostly about Grant), decided he should be ambassador to France, bought a fancy looking gun, and headed off to the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station to kill the president.

21. Chester A. Arthur 

Oh, so Guiteau's words while pulling the trigger were "I am a stalwart of the Stalwarts... Arthur is president now!" (Basically, there was a battle within the Republican party between Stalwarts like Arthur who favored spoils-system type political patronage and Half-Breeds like Garfield who pushed for civil service reform.) Anyway, how much does it suck to feel like the only reason you're president is because some bat-shit commune-reject likes your views on political machines and disagrees with your boss. Ultimately, Arthur's biggest achievement was the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. (Any mention of this fact is notably absent from Alanis Morisette's "Ironic".) In 1884, Arthur went on to lose the Republican nomination to noted corrupt fuck James G. Blaine.


El Gigante said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
El Gigante said...

Peter my son, you are indeed a man. Thank you for making me like Millard Filmore way more. Great, GREAT story. Apropos of nothing have you seen Synecdoche, New York yet and if so what did you think of it?