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• #8: Aaron Burr
The only Vice President in American history to kill a man while in office, and he killed a man better than he, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel. (Reportedly, Hamilton shot wide and only intended to satisfy honor; Burr returned the favor by shooting Hamilton through the liver, although he did not find out about Hamilton’s intentions until later – and even then, found them “contemptible, if true”.) He resigned in disgrace and became one of only two men to quit as Vice President; Spiro Agnew didn’t come until 170 years later. He conspired to build a competing empire in the Southwest after having been chased out of the United States, but never came close to accomplishing his goal. Tried for treason but acquitted, Burr satisfied himself by running through his second wife’s money while debauching as many women as possible. She had him served on his deathbed with divorce papers – by the son of Alexander Hamilton.
• #9: John Walker Jr
Many people included the Rosenbergs on their list of the worst Americans, but the Rosenbergs largely gave the Soviets what they would eventually have divined on their own anyway. John Walker Jr stands out among espionage cases as perhaps the most egregious case, one in which advanced crypto passed into KGB control and allowed them access to our most secret communications. Walker eventually recruited his best friend, his brother, and even his son to spy with him, and even thought about creating “franchises” of espionage within the US military in order to increase the flow of money. And it was all about money to Walker; unlike other spies like the Rosenbergs who had political motivations for their treasonous behavior, Walker sold out America strictly for American cash, and lots of it. In fact, he only got caught because he cheaped out on paying his wife alimony, and she flipped for the FBI, unaware that her own son had gotten caught up in the family business. John’s reaction? He told the FBI that he should have killed Barbara years earlier.
I worked in the defense industry when Walker got caught, and the kind of information he sent to the Soviets could easily have lost us any war had it not been discovered. It would have made Enigma look like a parlor trick. This cold-hearted bastard should have been shot, and I don’t even support the death penalty under normal conditions. Instead, he’s doing life, after having cooperated in return for an easier sentence for his son, who got out of prison in 2000 after 15 years behind bars. And in case you’re curious, it cost you and me over a billion dollars to replace the crypto that Walker sold for a few hundred thousand bucks.
• #10: Jimmy Carter
I would normally leave off any contemporary political person until they had passed away, as their lives still might provide some kind of merit. However, after a promising beginning of his post-presidential career of building houses for the homeless, Carter has inveigled himself into so many foreign-policy crises and made them exponentially worse that it’s becoming more and more difficult to believe it isn’t done with purpose. His efforts to defuse the North Korean crisis deflected what had been until then a rather effective strategy by Bill Clinton to use a military threat to stop Pyongyang from producing nukes. After Carter jumped into the negotiations uninvited – violating the Logan Act – Carter’s prestige within his party and the US forced Clinton to accept the ridiculous Framework agreement that allowed Pyongyang to go nuclear within months. Carter has done the same with Haiti as well, and has traveled the globe to support many a leftist dictator or autocrat as long as they opposed American interests.
But the real reason Carter winds up here at #10 is because he singlehandedly almost lost the Cold War and allowed the start of the Islamofascist terror war during his single term in office. His naiveté in dealing with the Soviet Union, captured perfectly by kissing the jowled cheek of the Soviet dictator Leonid Brezhnev, led him to believe that worldwide Communism was here to stay and that we could do nothing about it. He also assured Americans that we had nothing to fear from the Soviets, who really weren’t bad guys – right up until they invaded Afghanistan. Even then, his response in boycotting the Olympic Games of 1980 has to remain one of the most embarrassing examples of displayed impotence in our nation’s history.
The winner in that category, however, also belongs to Carter. In November 1979, after pulling his support from the Shah in the highly strategic nation of Iran and watching him fall to an Islamist uprising, the same nutcases sacked our embassy in Teheran, an undeniable act of war. Instead of giving an ultimatum for the return of our embassy and the release of our diplomatic staff, Carter sat for 444 excruciating days, doing little except pleading publicly for mercy. He staged one – one! – military response to the crisis months later, which failed miserably. The failure to act not only allowed the rickety Khomeini government to survive, but gave Islamofascism a tremendous boost of prestige throughout the Middle East. It also allowed Iran to become a center for the funding and direction of terrorist activities for the past three decades, a legacy that has finally engulfed us since 9/11.
Other administrations have made their own mistakes in remaining blind to the threat of Islamist terror, but Carter played midwife to it and enabled it to survive when he had every opportunity and a perfect casus belli to kill it in its cradle.
UPDATE: A couple of CQ readers, including Michael Barone, have written to inform me that three VPs have resigned from office. In addition to Agnew and Burr, the third was John C. Calhoun, who resigned his office a couple of months early so he could take a seat in the Senate early enough to vote on pending legislation. This is the same John C Calhoun that some readers included on their own lists of the worst Americans.Sphere It View blog reactions
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