Monday, August 16, 2010

That Wacky List of Awful Americans

It's August, and I'd rather think about historically horrible Americans (and those thought to be horrible) than spend more time on the outbreak of Muslim-baiting, so...

I think I generally subscribe to Dave Weigel's sober assessment of the conservative blogger poll on the "25 Worst Figures In American History," which is basically that (1) it's reasonable that the list is made up of political figures and not serial killers, and (2) it does betray a bit of a "cartoonish view of history" and "an information flow heavy on Fox News."  That accounts for the preposterously large place in the conservative imagination occupied by Michael Moore, Saul Alinsky, George Soros, Noam Chomsky, and Jane Fonda (Weigel attibutes Fonda's spot on the list to the 2004 campaign -- but of course Hanoi Jane hardly needed the Swift Boat gang to elevate her spot in the world according to right-wing crazy, although it was perhaps a timely reminder for a new generation).  Liberals slamming the list should note, by the way, that Tim McVeigh ranks pretty high, as does John Wilkes Booth.   As far as Democratic presidents (Obama, Clinton, Carter, FDR, LBJ, Wilson) appearing prominently on the list -- I agree with Weigel that of course conservatives think they were Black Hats, and that a similar poll of liberal blogs would no doubt turn up George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. 

Best catch: Weigel noticed the absence of the Supremes: well-informed conservatives should certainly place Earl Warren and William Brennan on the list.  Also, where's Jesse Jackson?  Dan Rather? 

What strikes me as odd isn't the elected officials; it's the traitors: Benedict Arnold, the Rosenbergs, Aldrich Ames, and Alger Hiss all show up on the list, although not Jefferson Davis.  In particular, I wouldn't have guessed that conservatives even remember the Rosenbergs (the compiler put all Rosenberg mentions together; I assume that it's just Julius and Ethel, and no one actually voted for Willow).  I thought only aging lefties were still obsessed with the Rosenbergs, but I guess not.*  Also, Richard Nixon shows up on the list, edging out Hiss; I'm sure Tricky Dick would be proud that his Hiss obsession survived him, but I'm having fun trying to figure out whether he would be happy to rank higher or not.  

I'm a little afraid of finding out why Woodrow Wilson is on the list.  Not that I don't think he's deserving of consideration.

I do suspect that a liberal list would be less dominated by postwar names (all but five of the twenty-five).  I'd also like to hear whether FDR is on for Yalta, for supposedly not ending the depression, for Social Security and other New Deal programs, or for some other reason.  Thirty years ago it would definitely have been Yalta, but I'm guessing that it's Keynesian economics now, but that's just a guess.

*This blog is by policy obliged to point out that, yes, Lisa Miller is also obsessed with them.


  1. Actually, although I am on the left, I feel Wilson was a terrible President. Beyond his bringing Jim Crow to Washington, DC; his self-righteous hypocrisy; and his attacks upon civil liberties, he has at least one other major flaw. As Bill Leuchtenburg once said to me (while he was still at Columbia), Wilson was largely responsible for the reaction that followed his Presidency.

    That is something he shares with Jimmy Cracker.

  2. I was surprised to learn (thanks to BookTV) that there's a (very inteeleckchewal) wing that blames Wilson for "all the -isms" (socialism, communism, fascism...). Basically because they, erm, didn't exist until he showed up. (Yup, these guys called themselves "historians").

    But I'd guess League of Nations is probably why he's a popular favorite with that crowd.

  3. I think that Wilson's prominence on the list has more to do with Glen Beck's recent excoriation of Wilson as a "progressive internationalist."

  4. Yep, Beck's audience is probably responsible for Wilson's inclusion. He's been denouncing Wilson as the originator of a decades-long progressive conspiracy to ruin the country and rule over the ashes.

  5. That list reflects a special kind of crazy.

  6. Wilson was the bad guy in Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism", wasn't he?


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