Boots & Sabers

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0654, 05 Apr 16

Presidential legacies

My column of Spring Break musings in the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

As his final term in office wanes, President Barack Obama is aggressively acting to define his legacy as Wisconsinites head to the polls to make their selections for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominee who will attempt to either cement or dismantle that legacy. At such a time, it is edifying to reflect on the fickle nature of presidential legacies.

Last week I was in Nashville, escaping the Wisconsin winter for a few pleasurable days with my family, and I took the opportunity to explore a little history. A walk on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol building provides an opportunity to visit with the state’s three presidents and reflect on their vastly different legacies.

After walking up the steps on the east corner of the lawn past the memorials to the indefatigable Sergeant Alvin C. York and the victims of the Holocaust, I came upon a modest statute on a pedestal of a stern man in a suit and long coat gazing toward the Cumberland River a few blocks down the hill. It is an effigy of President Andrew Johnson, who is often and loudly derided as one of America’s worst presidents.

Before becoming president, however, he was an accomplished and well-regarded man. Despite having never attended school and growing up illiterate, Johnson rose to become an accomplished businessman whose popularity and reputation for integrity lifted him to become mayor, a congressman, governor of Tennessee and a U.S. senator. After bucking his secessionist state as a staunch Unionist and being the only southern senator to keep his seat when the Civil War started, he was selected as President Abraham Lincoln’s vice president when he ran for his second term despite being a Democrat. The assassination of Lincoln found Johnson holding the most powerful office in the country at precisely the most critical moment in our nation since George Washington voluntarily and peacefully relinquished power.

President Johnson managed to do everything wrong. At first, he attempted to enact the lenient intent of Lincoln toward the former Confederates and opposed the 14th Amendment, thus angering the Republicans in the North. Then, after being the first president to be impeached on largely orchestrated charges from vengeful Republicans and passage of the 14th Amendment, Johnson’s strict constitutionalist reservations about using his veto pen allowed overly vengeful reconstruction policies to pass into law, thus roiling the South for decades and garnering the enmity of southern Democrats. Johnson ended his presidency in disgrace and largely remains a disgrace to this day.

Walking further up the northeast slope of the capitol brought me to the magnificent statue of General Andrew Jackson on a rearing horse as he raises his hat in salute toward the capitol building. The central location and scope of the figure befits the place held by Jackson in the history of our nation and of Tennessee.

President Jackson is arguably the most consequential, and controversial, president of the 19th century. The hero of New Orleans ushered in the Age of Jackson and continued to drive the American experience for half a century. Jackson’s vigorous, or tyrannical, exercise of executive authority, forced removal of Native Americans, aggressive implementation of the spoils system, defense of federal power over nullification, paying off the national debt and smothering of the United States Bank are just a few reasons that Jackson is both revered and reviled. As a side note, the repulsive campaign of 1828 reminds us that our republic has survived, and will survive, the repulsive campaign of 2016.

Walking a few more steps to the northwest into a shady grove of trees, I found an unassuming monument comprised of a small, unadorned square roof supported by four simple columns over a marble pedestal. It was the tomb of one of Jackson’s proteges and the 11th president of the United States, James Knox Polk.

By modern and 19th century standards, Polk should be considered one of our best presidents, yet he is an afterthought in history books. Polk was elected to office on a promise to only serve a single term and to accomplish four major goals: cut tariffs, reconstitute an independent U.S. Treasury, secure the Oregon Territory and acquire the territories of New Mexico and California. Through astute diplomatic skills at home and abroad, he accomplished all four campaign promises and fulfilled his commitment to serve a single term by being the only president to willingly serve a single term.

Under Polk, Texas became the 28th state and he successfully prosecuted the Mexican-American War, leading to the annexation of all or parts of California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. It was Polk who expanded the United States from sea to shining sea for the first time.

Presidential legacies are a tricky business and Obama’s won’t be settled until at least a generation from now, if ever. And barring some electoral anomaly, one of the five people who have been barnstorming across Wisconsin asking for votes will also be forging a legacy of their own one day. Let us all hope and pray that it will be a legacy worthy of our great nation.


0654, 05 April 2016


  1. Kevin Scheunemann

    Obama legacy: Apologizing and handholding socialist evil and destroying hope that U.S. was leader for those yearning to be free all around the world.

  2. old baldy


    I hope you are as critical of the cheney/bush reign.

  3. Kevin Scheunemann

    Did they hand hold socialist evil or oppose it in places such as Cuba?

    I give them ” job well done”.

  4. old baldy


    They started the ill-fated invasion into Iraq and look at the mess that it created. They wouldn’t listen to the smartest guy in the administration (happy birthday to Gen. Powell) when he said “you break it, you bought it”, and they helped create the middle east mess. You are so concerned about muslim extremists, yet give cheney/bush a pass? I give you an F for history and world politics.

    And cheney/bush was pretty neutral on Cuba, and pretty cozy with Russia.

  5. Kevin Scheunemann


    While we were in Iraq, U.S. was safe from most Islamic terorist attcks in the states, adn Europe.

    Now that Obama has surrendered to ISIS in Iraq, Europe is especially paying the price and the U.S. in San Bernadino, among others.

    Obama cozying up to Cuba got freedom fighters jailed:

    It is you may need to check history.

  6. old baldy


    Using your theory we should invade every muslin country on earth, thus keeping the US safe? Why don’t you enlist and share your wisdom with the rest of the Joint Chiefs? Or you could be Sec Def for cruz.

    Your grand kids will be paying for that invasion of Iraq in more ways than one.

  7. Kevin Scheunemann


    Why? Is every Muslim country want to destroy the U.S. like ISIS?

  8. old baldy


    You have never differentiated the Moroccans from the Indonesians from the Iraqis. You just seem to hate them all. So which ones are bad and which ones are OK?

    PS: There wasn’t an ISIS until after cheney/bush broke Iraq. You can look that up.

  9. Kevin Scheunemann


    I don’t “hate” them. I just want to see those that wish to do evil to this country treated appropriately, so the innocent don’t get hurt.

    As we see in Paris, San Bernadino, and Brussels, Obama has a huge problem with that.

    Hating what is evil does not mean hating the person. It means dealing with the person clinging to evil appropriately. That means not holding their hand and saying it is OK to do, and be, evil. It means standing up and defending freedom, liberty, and everything that is good about this country. Sometimes, as may be case with ISIS, it means destroying those that are unrepentant about their evil who have declared war on us and dedicated to destroying us.

  10. old baldy

    kev: You didn’t answer the question.

    “it means destroying those that are unrepentant about their evil who have declared war on us and dedicated to destroying us”. And there are some folks in the middle east that feel the same way about cheney/bush. Don’t blame Obama for what those two clowns blessed us with.

  11. Kevin Scheunemann


    Islamic radicals hated us long before Bush/Cheney.

    It’s a function of false, corrupt Islam, not good and decent people standing up for what is right.

  12. old baldy


    You better bone up on your history. Pretty much any scholar of the middle east will tell your that the ill-fated cheney/bush excursion into Iraq fueled the ISIS/ISL movement.

    So, do you decide who the good and decent people are? And what is right?

    So, you still haven’t answered the question. Your reluctance seems to be habitual.

  13. Kevin Scheunemann


    The formation of ISIS was from Obama surrendering Iraq to them.

  14. old baldy


    Is that found in Chapter 5 or Chapter 6 from kevin’s Book of Made-Up Stuff” ?

  15. Kevin Scheunemann


    ISIS did not rise until Obama surrendered.

    When we were in Iraq at end of Bush term, ISIS was not a problem.

  16. old baldy

    Must be in both chapters, eh?

  17. old baldy

    For your reading enjoyment. From “The Week” magazine:

    ISIS was born out of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. When U.S. administrators, under Paul Bremer, decided to “de-Baathify” the Iraqi civil and military services, hundreds of thousands of Sunnis formerly loyal to Saddam Hussein were left without a job — and they were mad. Al Qaeda chose to capitalize on their anger and established al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to wage an insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq (Saddam was secular, but his intelligence and military supporters were able to make common cause with the jihadis of al Qaeda).

    During this time they were quite active in waging a sectarian war against Iran-backed Shiite militias in central Iraq and bombing hotels in neighboring Jordan. Many of their members were imprisoned in U.S.-run “Camp Bucca,” where they were able to meet up and radicalize.

    Fast forward to the U.S. “surge” in 2007: The U.S.-installed, Shiite government in Baghdad began reaching out to Sunni tribes, encouraging them to reject AQI. By this point, AQI was basically defeated and it looked like peace was coming to the Middle East (kinda).

  18. Kevin scheunemann

    “The week”. Is that like NPR in word form?

    Or is that a fictional memo from DNC direct?

  19. old baldy




    Too lazy to look it up yourself, eh?

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