The Ten Worst Americans: Number One

• #1: John Edgar Hoover
At first, this attorney-cum-supercop only wanted to make America safer, but in short order, this bureaucrat re-enacted every Machiavellian nightmare while transforming a backwater investigative office into the free world’s most effective police force. He didn’t last 47 years as America’s top cop by playing fair. He used his influence and abused his power to accrue files on almost every political player, friend or foe, to use as blackmail to increase his personal power or as leverage for legislative and executive action. He became the closest thing America has ever known to an emperor and managed to die before his empire came crashing down around him. The tragedy of his life can be seen in his contradictions: a gay man who persecuted homosexuals; his undeniable love of country getting consumed by his thirst for power; his desire to enforce the law giving way to his paranoid domestic-espionage activities designed to derail political opponents, such as Martin Luther King and others he deemed dangerous. Hoover did good work as well in creating a first-class law enforcement agency, but his ego forced it to miss the rise of the Italian Mafia and his racism kept it lily-white far past his death.
For the unfettered power he garnered through his Orwellian efforts and his reflexive use of blackmail to maintain that power — a power which cowed presidents and Congresses alike for decades — Hoover is, I believe, the obvious choice of worst American in national history.

The Ten Worst Americans: 2-4

• #2: John Wilkes Booth
Booth had been a star of the American stage, along with his famous family. In an early precursor to Hollywood cluelessness, Booth got involved in politics, became a fanatical Southern sympathizer, and considered Lincoln a tyrant on the order of Julius Caesar. He joined a conspiracy to murder Lincoln and most of the chain of command, but only Booth was successful in his assassination attempt. Dramatically declaring “Sic semper tyrannis! The South is avenged!” and leaping from the balcony of the Ford Theater (and breaking his leg for his theatrics), Booth wound up dying ignominiously in a barn after getting shot by Union troops.
Unfortunately for the US and ironically because of the actions of this Southern sympathizer, command passed from the pro-reconciliation Lincoln to the more radical Reconstructionists of the Republican Party. Lincoln wanted to heal the breech by welcoming back the South and restoring the citizenship of the rebels, freeing the slaves and easing their transition to full citizenship as well. His plans may never have been successful, but we never had the chance to find out. Instead, the enraged North locked the South down in a military occupation that did not stop until the disputed election of 1876, and the resentment that built in the South created the backlash of Jim Crow, whose effects can still be felt to this day.
But hey, he must have known what he was doing – he was famous, right?
• #3: Benedict Arnold
Not quite the unmitigated weasel that history has painted him, Arnold actually started the American Revolution as one of George Washington’s most trusted officers. However, Arnold became frustrated with a perceived lack of recognition for his talents and accomplishments and, spurred on by his pro-Crown wife, switched sides. He offered up West Point to the British, a strategic site that would have spelled the end for Washington and the Revolution had it not been for the fortunate capture of the messenger carrying Arnold’s offer to the British. He wound up spending the rest of his life in England, well-feted but never completely trusted by anyone.
• #4: Nathan Bedford Forrest
This hardline Confederate gets a pass for his activities during the Civil War, but his post-war activities gets him on the list instead. Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan, at first more of a drinking club but shortly under his direction became a feared terrorist group rising in opposition to Reconstruction. Later, he renounced the group for its uncontrollable violence, but without a doubt Forrest started the Klan with the intent of terrorizing the former slaves and the people who had set them free. It has lasted to this day as a group dedicated to racist policies and has spawned dozens of splinter groups.
It should be noted, however, that his great-grandson N.B. Forrest III fought bravely in WWII, achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the US Army Air Corps, and gave his life for his nation in 1943 in a bombing raid over Germany.

The Ten Worst Americans: 5-7

• #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.)

The Ten Worst Americans: 8-10

• #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.

The Mounties Ride To The Rescue

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s federal police force, has announced this evening that it will open an investigation into allegations of insider trading surrounding Finance Minister Ralph Goodale and the Liberal Party:

The RCMP is conducting a criminal investigation into an alleged leak from the federal Liberal government of an announcement on income trust taxation rules.
“There’s sufficient information for us to launch a criminal investigation,” said RCMP Sgt. Nathalie Deschenes told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
She wouldn’t comment further, except to say the investigation will determine if there’s enough evidence to warrant charges and that the Mounties aren’t sure how long the case would take.

The NDP insisted on serving a complaint to the RCMP, and the Conservatives have also filed a complaint with the Ontario Securities Commission. The RCMP replied directly to the NDP complainant, MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis. The NDP also has demanded the suspension of Goodale until an independent review by either the RCMP or the OSC gets completed, which the Liberals will likely reject.
This makes yet another financial scandal for the Liberals and Paul Martin to explain during their election bid. It will complicate the efforts of Martin to push scandal fatigue and try to paint Tory leader Stephen Harper as a shadowy figure with a “hidden agenda”. Right now, the Liberal agenda appears only too clear — to score as much cash as possible while holding onto its grip on power.

Dems Pick Another Winner

After having the New York Times blow a secret defense plan all over its front page for the last two weeks and having Democratic Party leaders fall all over themselves in condemning the Bush administration for protecting the nation from attack, the Democrats will undoubtedly expect the American public to share their outrage. Unfortunately for Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, the American electorate has proven themselves to be quite a bit more concerned with winning the war than with sharing the radical Left’s paranoid fantasies:

Sixty-four percent (64%) of Americans believe the National Security Agency (NSA) should be allowed to intercept telephone conversations between terrorism suspects in other countries and people living in the United States. A Rasmussen Reports survey found that just 23% disagree.
Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans say they are following the NSA story somewhat or very closely.
Just 26% believe President Bush is the first to authorize a program like the one currently in the news. Forty-eight percent (48%) say he is not while 26% are not sure.

While almost the entire Democratic Party leadership has accused Bush of high crimes and talked about impeachment, a majority of their own party approves of the NSA program (51%), even as it might be endangered thanks to the NYT’s exposure of it. Fifty-seven percent of independents also approve of the program, and combined with the 81% of Republicans, Bush has a solid mandate to continue using all the tools at his disposal to protect the nation.
I think we can expect to see the end of this particular line of attack. Instead of weakening Bush, this demonstration of executive will to defend the nation has Bush’s numbers rebounding faster than anyone could have guessed. By the time November 2006 rolls around, these Democratic attacks might make Bush the most popular president since FDR.

Centrist Dems See 2006 Slipping Away, Too

Today’s Washington Times reports on the qualms felt by centrist Democrats over recent efforts by their party to block national-security efforts by the Bush administration. Donald Lambro spoke with two influential DLC advisors, who express concern that the positions taken over the past month by Harry Reid and others in opposition to the Patriot Act and the NSA’s efforts to surveil suspected terrorists on international calls will once again demonstrate that the Democrats cannot be trusted with national security decisions in the upcoming election:

Some centrist Democrats say attacks by their party leaders on the Bush administration’s eavesdropping on suspected terrorist conversations will further weaken the party’s credibility on national security. That concern arises from recent moves by liberal Democrats to block the extension of parts of the USA Patriot Act in the Senate and denunciations of President Bush amid concerns that these initiatives could violate the civil liberties of innocent Americans.
“I think when you suggest that civil liberties are just as much at risk today as the country is from terrorism, you’ve gone too far if you leave that impression. I don’t believe that’s true,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a national-security analyst at the Brookings Institution who advises Democrats on defense issues. …
“The Republicans still hold the advantage on every national-security issue we tested,” said Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster and former adviser to President Clinton, who co-authored a Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) memo on the party’s national-security weaknesses.
Nervousness among Democrats intensified earlier this month after Democrats led a filibuster against the Patriot Act that threatened to block the measure, followed by a victory cry from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who declared at a party rally, “We killed the Patriot Act.” …
Recent polls say 56 percent of Americans approve of the job Mr. Bush is doing to protect the country from another terrorist attack.

Even the DLC recognizes the problem, but they have lost the attention of the party leadership as embodied by Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Howard Dean. All three have pitched in with the MoveOn faction of the radical Left, with Reid’s now-infamous boast of having “killed” the Patriot Act — and then watching as it got extended anyway. Both have votes on security issues that demonstrate nothing more than political expediency; both voted for Patriot before they voted against it, recalling the fecklessness of their last Presidential candidate.
Small wonder, then, that the DLC’s internal polling shows the Democrats behind on national security issues by anywhere from four to ten points, even at this stage. Once the election cycles start in earnest and the current leadership makes its influence felt, those numbers will expand and probably will cost the Dems even more seats in both the House and Senate. As the Iraq War begins to phase out as an issue, domestic security and the pursuit of AQ will once again take center stage, and American voters won’t be fooled with a lot of irrational Bush-hatred in a mid-term election.
One more worry that the Democrats should consider is this: After watching the liberal press dismantle the NSA program on the front pages of the Times and Harry Reid dancing like Grandpa Fred on the corpse of Patriot, the Democrats had better hope that George Bush keeps the country safe from an attack in the next few months. If an attack should occur, a lot of people will start asking what changed, and they’re going to look at the New York Times and the Democrats to explain their actions.

FISA Court Obstructionism Since 9/11

One of the arguments that critics of the Bush administration give for their outrage at the warrantless surveillance of international communications between targeted, non-US persons inside the US and suspected al-Qaeda contacts abroad is the supposed ease of gaining FISA warrants. Bear in mind that the text of FISA does not require warrants for that kind of communication, and the NY Times did not allege that the NSA tried to use warrantless surveillance for any other communications. Even if warrants were as easily gained as Bush’s critics claim, the law allows them to do that kind of surveillance without it.
However, the track record of the FISA court shows that the judges have engaged in their own form of obstructionism after 9/11. The blog Bayosphere has put together a track record of FISA court actions on warrant applications, and it shows some surprising trends. Starting in 1979, the first twenty-one years of the court saw no rejections or forced changes in warrant applications — not one single time. In 2000, the court forced a change in one single warrant. Since then, they’ve rejected four warrants and forced revisions in 176 warrants.
One might ask whether the Bush administration has flooded the FISA court with requests and has gotten sloppy about their work. Indeed, since 2001 the Bush administration has sought 5,645 warrants — which hardly sounds like an administration that has worked with the impulse to run roughshod over the idea of getting search warrants for their work. That number reflects an increase of only 64% over the final term of the Clinton administration, which requested 3,436 FISA warrants during that period. Considering the increased activity by the Bush administration post-9/11 to tighten security and track terrorists, a 64% increase does not sound like the current administration has exactly tried to overwhelm the FISA court, but instead work within its legal parameters to balance national security and civil liberties — and it seems as though the FISA court has chosen to get cranky about it at a very foolish point in time.
Even more curiously, 173 out of 177 of the forced changes and all four of the rejections came after the fall of 2002, after the appointment of Judge George Robertson, the FISA court member who made a public splash with his resignation earlier this month. Rodney at the Bayosphere deduces that Robertson probably knew more than he let on about the issues surrounding the NSA program and used his position to obstruct it, a deduction that appears sensible, looking at the data and Robertson’s actions.

The Ten Worst Americans?

Alexandra at All Things Beautiful has a challenge up for the blogosphere — a post asking us to select the ten worst Americans of all time. I’ve been giving this some serious consideration today, and I have to admit, it’s a poser of a question. In order to qualify, one would have to have committed some dreadful act in the name of the country, or against it; it seems to me that simply relying on the criminal would produce far too many easy candidates.
I’ll be posting my thoughts during the week, but if CQ readers have any ideas, make sure to include them in the comments. Don’t forget to visit Alexandra for updates on other bloggers as well.

But We’re Out Of American-Killing Terrorists!

The German government has another scandal on its hands, and this one they went out of their way to create. The hostage that people widely believe Germany traded for the release of a terrorist that tortured and murdered American Robert Stethem in 1985 has refused to come back to Germany and insists on returning to Iraq instead. The Times reports that the hostage, Susanne Osthoff, had converted to Islam and married an Arabic nomad long before being captured by terrorists last month:

THE German Government angrily rebuked a former hostage yesterday who is determined to return to Iraq despite being held captive for three weeks by a Sunni gang.
Susanne Osthoff, a 43-year-old archaeologist, announced this week on al-Jazeera television that she would go back to her work in northern Iraq, trying to set up a German cultural centre in Arbil.
Angela Merkel’s new Government, which regards the freeing of Frau Osthoff this month as its first foreign policy triumph, is furious. It made huge efforts to secure her release and is widely believed to have paid a ransom.
It has now blocked all funding for her project and has told her that she should leave the region immediately. She is believed currently to be in Jordan, with her 12-year-old daughter, preparing to return.
“I would have little sympathy if Frau Osthoff puts herself again in danger considering the intensive efforts made by many people to secure her release,” said Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, who headed a team that negotiated her release.

CQ readers started following this story a week ago, when the Germans suddenly released Mohammed Ali Hamadi, a Hezbollah terrorist jailed for life in Germany for killing an American Navy diver in Beirut. The release of Hamadi came shortly before terrorists in Iraq released Osthoff. While the Germans delivered Hamadi to Beirut, they continued to deny any linkage between Osthoff’s sudden release and their parole of a murderer they knew the Americans wanted for trial in the US.
Now, after having traded something for Osthoff, the Germans will look damned foolish indeed if she comes up missing again. On the other hand, just as with the Giuliana Sgrena incident, one can wonder whether Osthoff herself had a hand in her own kidnapping and ransom. If so, her possible partners might not want to team up with her again, as the Times notes that the German magazine Der Spiegel says the kidnappers appeared tired of dealing with her.
In any event, the Germans might find their initial political victory turn into a giant headache — and Germans might start asking Merkel’s government exactly what Osthoff cost them.