The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln


Today is the 150th Anniversary of one of the saddest days in American history.

The previous evening, April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth had shot President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head, mortally wounding him.

The President, however, lingered for several hours, during which he occasionally stopped breathing, only to fitfully restart.

It was, however, not until 7:22 am on April 15, 1865, that Lincoln died. At that moment, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who had attended Lincoln throughout the night, said, “Now he belongs to the ages”, and lamented, “There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen.”

Abraham Lincoln 16th PresidentLincoln was the first of four American presidents to be assassinated.

On July 2, 1881, just 16 years after the death of Lincoln, our 20th President, James A. Garfield, was shot by Charles J. Guiteau. Garfield lingered for two-and-a-half months before dying on September 19th, 1881.

President James A. GarfieldThe third presidential assassination in just 36 years occurred on September 6, 1901, when 25th President William McKinley was shot Leon Czolgosz while attending the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. McKinley died on September 14, 1901.

President William McKinleyThe fourth president to be assassinated, of course, was John F. Kennedy, who was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.

President John F. KennedyI have previously blogged about the Kennedy assassination here:

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/jfk/

The murder of Abraham Lincoln had far-reaching consequences, the full extent of which it is impossible to know. Suffice it to say that the reunification of the country, the reconstruction era in the South and, in fact, race relations and civil rights for the next century or more were all adversely effected by Lincoln’s death.

It is the general consensus of presidential scholars and other observers that Abraham Lincoln was the best of all American presidents, a judgment with which I agree:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_rankings_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States

Lincoln MemorialFLA 66

Robert Francis Kennedy


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Robert F. KennedyToday is the anniversary of one of the saddest days of my lifetime — June 5, 1968 — the date on which Robert Francis Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.

I was a great admirer of John F. Kennedy and was greatly saddened by his assassination.  JFK’s death marked the start of a five year period during which the United States was changed in ways that continue to this day.  That transition, which was also significantly impacted by the murder of Martin Luther King, was tragically concluded with the killing of Bobby Kennedy.

No American presidential candidate since has captured the imagination of the country the way the Kennedy brothers did — and none has inspired in me the confidence I felt in their leadership.

I was overseas in June of 1968, serving with the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet off the coast of Vietnam.  At the time, I was assigned to the staff of the commander of the 7th Fleet’s Cruiser-Destroyer Group, which was embarked on the heavy cruiser USS St. Paul. 

Because of the time difference between California and Vietnam, we first heard that Bobby Kennedy had been shot during the afternoon of June 5th.  I spent most of the next 24 hours in the ship’s radio room, waiting as Kennedy fought for his life in an LA hospital.  I sat through several watch changes and never did go to bed that night.

When the news came the next afternoon that Bobby had died, I went finally went to bed and cried myself to sleep.

The Kennedy brothers share a spot among the handful of historical Americans I most admire.  I believed then … and still do … that Bobby Kennedy was the single individual most capable of leading our country out of the morass of Vietnam, while simultaneously guiding it through the civil rights tumult that was dividing the country at home.

Sadly, he never had the chance to demonstrate his leadership abilities — and the country struggled through nearly seven more contentious years in Vietnam and an even longer period of civil rights unrest.

There is, of course, no way of knowing how different the country might have been, had either or both of the Kennedys survived their assassination attempts.  I am, however, convinced that the United States would have been a better place during the intervening 50 years … and to this day, I mourn for what might have been.

Robert F. Kennedy 2JFK & RFK JFK & RFKRobert F. Kennedy 3Robert F. Kennedy with JFK photoRFK's Simple GravesiteRFK’s Simple Gravesite

The Worst President of My Lifetime


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I was born in 1945, not long after Harry Truman succeeded Franklin Delano Roosevelt as President of the United States.  Thus, in my lifetime, 12 different men have held that office.  I recently had occasion to post a Facebook comment and engage in a conversation about the one I consider the worst of the 12.

Sadly, as presidents go, it has been pretty much downhill slide since 1945.  Only 2 of the 12 presidents since then make it into the Top 10 all time in the collective opinions of presidential scholars and surveys … and they are the first 2 of my lifetime, Harry S. Truman (7th) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (tie for 8th).  See Note 1 below.

The first 4 of the 12 are also the top 4 on my personal list of Best Presidents of my lifetime (I disagree with the collection of scholarly surveys only in the reversed rankings of Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy):

1st — Harry S Truman

2nd — John F. Kennedy

3rd — Dwight D. Eisenhower

4th — Lyndon B. Johnson

Which is why it’s been pretty much downhill ever since.  However, it is not the top of my list that concerns me here — rather it is the bottom, the Worst President of my lifetime.

My Facebook comment was motivated by this graphic from DemocraticUnderground.com …Iraq 10 Years Later 2003-2013

http://www.democraticunderground.com/1017106524

… which prompted me to observe that George W. Bush is the worst president of my lifetime.  Of course, I also lived through the presidency of Richard Nixon and once thought I would never see a worse excuse for president than Tricky Dick.  Unfortunately, my expectation in that regard was not very prescient.

I fault Nixon largely for his duplicitous and condescending attitude toward the American people and the disgrace he brought to his office.  Ultimately, I rank him ahead of Bush II largely because of his foreign policy accomplishment of visiting China and opening up an economic dialogue between the U.S. and China.  Bush had no such saving grace and not a single presidential accomplishment of historical note.  See Note 2 below.

On the other hand, his duplicity matches or exceeds that of Nixon in audacity and scope.  By far the most significant (and ultimately horrific) of his deceptions were the falsities upon which he justified the invasion of Iraq.

Bush and his cronies advanced two major themes in support of this war — first, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which posed a threat to the security of the United States;  and second, that Saddam Hussein was somehow in league with al-Qa’ida and played a role in the 9-11 attacks on the U.S.

Neither claim was true and there is good reason to believe that Bush knew that the supposed intelligence on which these claims were based was exaggerated, misleading or downright false.

In the recently aired documentary “Hubris: Selling the Iraq War”, MSNBC provided the best look to date at just how the people of this country were mis-led by the Bush administration:

http://tv.msnbc.com/shows/hubris-selling-the-iraq-war/

In the documentary, declassified documents — and insiders talking on camera for the first time — reveal details on how President Bush and his team justified and marketed a war they had already decided to wage.

As more and more classified materials are declassified, and as insiders speak out, the truth will show Bush for what he was … and the picture will not be pretty. “Hubris: Selling the War in Iraq” is just the beginning of that process.

And for those who dislike or don’t trust MSNBC as a source of accurate information, how about the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which in 2006 issued its “Report on Postwar Findings About Iraq’s WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism and How They Compare with Prewar Assessments”?  This bi-partisan committee was initially chaired by republican Pat Roberts of Kansas and later by democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

This press release by the committee discusses the report …

http://intelligence.senate.gov/press/record.cfm?id=298775

… and the entire 153 page pdf version of it is available here for review:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-109srpt331/pdf/CRPT-109srpt331.pdf

In the press release, the Senate committee, among other things, says:

“Before taking the country to war, this Administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced. Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence,” Rockefeller said. “In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”

“It is my belief that the Bush Administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qa’ida as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top Administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al Qa’ida as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush Administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.”

The Committee’s report cites several conclusions in which the Administration’s public statements were NOT supported by the intelligence. They include:
 
Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa’ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa’ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.

Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.

Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of the political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products.

Statements by the President and Vice President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.
 
The Secretary of Defense’s statement that the Iraqi government operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes because they were underground and deeply buried was not substantiated by available intelligence information.
 
The Intelligence Community did not confirm that Muhammad Atta met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001 as the Vice President repeatedly claimed.

It is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that there were no WMD’s in Iraq and that Iraq was not allied with al Qa’ida in its terroristic attacks on the US. Furthermore, no one in the Bush administration had any viable plan for what should be done in Iraq once military operations ended.

The DemocraticUnderground.com graphic reproduced above also actually underestimates the total costs of the war in Iraq.

The Office of Management and Budget now estimates that the cost of combat operations will total approximately $822 billion; another $733 billion has been spent on care for wounded veterans and homeland security expenses related to the wars; future medical care of veterans is estimated to total $490 billion; and the interest on the money borrowed to fund the wars will total approximately $4 trillion by the time the debt is repaid sometime after 2050.

It has also proved not to be the case, as some in the administration claimed, that Iraqi oil would pay for the cost of the war.

And none of that includes the costs of foreign aid for rebuilding Iraq or the foreign aid paid to Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in the region to secure their cooperation (such as it is) in the war effort.

The death toll cited in the Democratic Underground article is very conservative; some estimates of the civilian death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan are as high as 330,000 or more.

There are other reasons to consider the Bush administration the worst of my lifetime: his tax policies have led to an economic crisis in the country; the response of his administration to Hurricane Katrina was a disgrace; and he vetoed a stem cell research bill that might have provided medical and health benefits to Americans for generations to come.  See Note 3 below.

A long time friend of mine criticized my Facebook comments about Bush and asked me what I would have done in response to the 9-11 attacks.

What I would have done is of no real consequence. But, I would rather have seen our president respond with an all-out effort to find Osama bin Laden and others who were responsible for that attack, rather than going off on a wild tangent in Iraq, a country which had no connection whatsoever with 9-11.

There is no doubt that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein and his sons. That, however, can be said about hundreds, perhaps thousands or even millions of people — does that mean the US government should summarily go around killing people that we think are “bad” for the world? I think not. And there is flip side to that question — is the world better off without the 330,000 or more other Iraqis who were killed in the war? Was it worth all of those lives (and those of the Americans and our allies) who were killed? I think the answer to that question is a clear and unequivocal “no”.

With respect to radical Islam, protecting ourselves against radicals of any stripe is a proper governmental function and I support all reasonable efforts to do so.  The war in Iraq was just not such a reasonable effort. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Muslim, but was not a radical Islamist. Rather, he was a secular ruler who ruthlessly suppressed Shi’a Muslims and elevated minority Sunnis to power only if they were also members of the Ba-athist party (a secular, rather than religious, organization). Ergo, invading Iraq and removing Hussein from power had absolutely nothing to do with any perceived need to protect the US against radical Islam.

Thus, taking everything into consideration, it is an inescapable conclusion that George W. Bush was the worst president of my lifetime.

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Ranking all of the presidents of my lifetime:

1st — Harry S Truman — See Note 4 below.

2nd — John F. Kennedy

3rd — Dwight D. Eisenhower

4th — Lyndon B. Johnson

5th — William J. Clinton

6th — Ronald Reagan

7th — George H. W. Bush

8th — Barack H. Obama

9th — Gerald R. Ford

10th — Jimmy Carter

11th — Richard M. Nixon

12th — George W. Bush

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Note 1 — For a comprehensive listing of presidential rankings, see this Wikipedia article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_rankings_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States

Scroll down to the rankings chart and see the final column of the aggregate ranking of each president based on these various scholarly surveys.

Note 2 — Bush ranks 34th of 43 presidents on the aggregate scholars list.  I suspect that as we gain historical perspective, his position will solidify in the bottom quarter of presidents and that his stature will, if anything, decline.

Note 3 — For another view on the deficiencies of the Bush presidency, see this website, which cites 31 reasons why Bush was a bad president:

http://www.bengarvey.com/2008/08/07/31-reasons-why-bush-is-a-bad-president/

I don’t personally agree with all of the reasons stated in this litany of deficiencies.  For example, I don’t fault any president for taking vacation time, as the presidency is a stressful job that always goes with the president and everyone needs to be able to relax and get away from that kind of pressure.

Obviously, however, I do agree with his ultimate conclusion.

Note 4 — Truman had only a middle initial — “S” — and no middle name.  He also used no period after that initial;  hence, Harry S Truman, not Harry S. Truman.