Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, July 11, 2014


Page 7



We’ve Had Great Presidents and Not So Great Ones




(The writer is a retired trial lawyer, an American Board of Trial Advocates member since 1978 and a former professor of torts at five California law schools. He counts 4,000 of his former students among California’s lawyers and judges. He was presiding referee of the Disciplinary Board, later called the State Bar Court. He is a former member of the State Bar Board of Governors—1980 to 1983—and the Judicial Council of California.)

Here I was, a 13-year-old German Jewish boy in San Pedro Harbor on April 15, 1939.  We were in San Pedro because we came through the Panama Canal.  Hence, we could pay for the journey in German marks which otherwise would have been confiscated by the Nazi government.  We were not refugees. 

The concentration camps might have been constructed, but they were not yet in business.  What went on the mind of this immigrant boy? What will it be like to live under a Jewish president?  Well, of course he wasn’t Jewish.  It was President Roosevelt, not President Rosenfeld, and while he was not the savior of the Jewish people or of the world, he was certainly a substantial factor in the assistance of the then declining western democracies. He was, in short, the leader of what was then called the isolationist opposition and was appropriately forgiven even by the isolationists for his breach of promise not to send American boys to fight a European battle.  So, by way of twenty-twenty hindsight, I evaluate and rank his successors.

First there was Harry S. Truman, a haberdasher from Missouri who at first glance seemed to lack the qualifications and experience requisite to become President of the United States.  Harry Truman, who then could not withstand the inevitable comparison with President Roosevelt, emerged as the—albeit stumbling (yes)—leader of the United States and of the western world.  In short, Harry Truman reversed our relationship with the Soviet Union, overcame a hostile Congress and ranked (in my mind) as number two.  

Then came Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as Supreme Commander of allied expeditionary forces was ill-equipped for the presidency. Then came the short tenure of Jack Kennedy who was deprived of his greatness by a Dallas assassin.  Next came Lyndon Johnson, who was improperly deprived of recognition for his great accomplishments (Medicare and Civil Rights), his reputation irrevocably tarnished by Viet Nam, a trap which he had no part in constructing. Richard Nixon, who was “not a crook” by his own statements, almost single-handedly created Watergate, a scandal that could have been predicted by Helen Gahagan Douglas, his first major opponent and victim. 

To repair the Nixon damage, he, not the country, chose Gerald Ford, a decent but unqualified politician.  And then there was Jimmy Carter who was neither qualified nor capable of holding the reins of government until he was bailed out by Ronald Reagan, a conservative who had and displayed more class than any president in the history of the Republic.

Then followed two Bushes, although not consecutively.  The contribution of the first George Bush was the appointment of Clarence Thomas as the best man in the country to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. The second George Bush appointed Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, who for all intents and purposes became the de facto government.

Then there was Bill Clinton, the great schmoozer whose success in the White House could not be stopped by abortive impeachment proceedings. 

In summary, we have had great presidents and not so great presidents. But Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson rank highest on my list. As we live through the Obama years, his legacy remains to be seen, however, if the past six years is an indication, his legacy will prove to be one of disappointment.


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