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• #5: Stephen Douglas
Now known primarily for the series of gentlemanly debates he held with Abraham Lincoln leading to the latter’s election in 1860, Douglas earlier had done almost everything he could to ensure that civil war would eventually break out. Douglas’ ambition for the White House led him to break the Missouri Compromise and replace it with the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, breaking the territory into two parts in an effort to extend slavery into at least one portion of the territory. He pushed for a plebiscite to determine the status of each part, setting off a war between the pro- and anti-slavery mobs that flocked to Kansas in response. The conflict, known as “Bleeding Kansas” or “Bloody Kansas”, took years to settle and only missed being part of the Civil War by a couple of months. Democrats should take note: it was this man who inspired the Republican Party to form in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
Douglas gets the nod over John Calhoun here mostly because Calhoun sincerely believed in states’ rights and nullification. Douglas started a war so he could become President.
• #6: Richard Nixon
The only president to resign his office in disgrace, although perhaps not the only president who should have done so. Nixon, like his contemporaries Hoover and McCarthy, presented such a classically tragic figure for the good that he tried to do. In the end, the tremendous damage he did eclipsed all of that, including the famous Opening of Red China. He abused his power for his own sake, using the FBI and the CIA to attack his enemies, real and imagined. His abuses, in fact, color our ability to defend the nation to this day. His legacy lives on in the Gorelick Wall, in the FISA warrant issue, in special prosecutors like Patrick Fitzgerald; Nixon brought a plague onto the body politic that will last for decades to come. Although he later rehabilitated himself somewhat, the damage he did in his presidency may never really end.
• #7: Joe McCarthy
Tail-gunner Joe had all of the same qualities of Greek tragedy as Hoover, but on a much shorter time scale. Originally seeking to root out the Communists from the US government – which the Verona intercepts would later prove was a very real threat – McCarthy singlehandedly destroyed the credibility of the anti-Communist effort through demagoguery, lies, and character assassination. McCarthy embodied the result of what happens when people use the ends to justify all means. In the end, his behavior on television shocked the nation and freed the Senate to finally censure him, but more tragically than that, it led an entire generation to dismiss Communist infiltration as a threat to the security of the nation. He has long been Hollywood’s bete noir, although most of the so-called blacklisting came from the efforts of the House Un-American Activities Committee, not the Senate. (McCarthy’s focus was on the federal bureaucracy and the Army, not Hollywood.)Sphere It View blog reactions
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