Everyone talks about being President of the United States one day, presumably because they like to think of themselves sitting in the Oval Office issuing Executive Orders for Free Pizza on Tuesdays and sending the military to bomb the house of the guy that gave you a swirly in 7th grade. What no one talks about, however, is just how hard the job of being in charge of 300 million people really is. For these five guys, it was harder than most, because they were dropped into a crap sandwich almost from the moment they were sworn in…
Herbert Hoover Crushed by the Great Depression
Contrary to popular belief, the 31st president did not lend his name to the famous brand of vacuum cleaner, which is unfortunately how most people come to learn about Hoover these days. Herb was elected president in a landslide in 1928, being well known as Secretary of Commerce under previous Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, a position that led him to national prominence. He sought to use his position to reform the government, since he really didn’t have anything else to worry about. After all, World War I had ended 10 years before, and the Sequel wasn’t even being filmed yet. Not to mention, the economy was stronger than at any other point in the nation’s history. What could he possibly have to worry about?
Well, 6 months after he was inaugurated in March 1933, the bottom fell out of the economy. The stock market crashed, banks suddenly realized they didn’t have any money (something they probably should have addressed earlier, to be honest) and closed, people were losing their jobs and panicking, it was a bad time to be President of the United States. Hoover did his best, enacting reforms left and right, trying to stimulate the economy in various ways, but no matter what he did, the situation got worse. What had been a serious financial crisis was now the Great Depression, and no one was more depressed than Hoover.
By 1932, one quarter of the US population was unemployed, and subsequently homeless. They built shantytowns made of scrap material in public parks, nicknaming them “Hoovervilles” after the floundering President. Many people, chief among them the Democratic party, began to blame him for the crisis, and he was soundly defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the election that year. Even when out of office, people still used him as a scapegoat for the country’s problems, though he did have the last laugh: he commissioned, and later provided his name to, one of the most enduring monuments man has ever engineered:
Abraham Lincoln has to Fight South, Bigotry, General Insanity
In 1860, the Northern and Southern states were essentially two separate countries. They had different economies, lifestyles, ways of thinking, and views of morality. The question of slavery had been fiercely debated and fought over for years prior, but things finally reached a boiling point when Abraham Lincoln, a staunch abolitionist, defeated his opponent Stephen Douglas in November 1860. Fearful that Lincoln was going to take away a major source of their revenue, 11 Southern states declared themselves independent of the United States and formed the Confederacy.
Now Lincoln was not going to put up with that sort of chicanery, and mobilized the so called Union to put down the rebellious states, starting a war that would last four years and cost 600,000 lives. In the midst of the wholesale slaughter, Lincoln had to deal with complaining politicians, less than productive generals, riots in New York City, diplomatic pressure from the British and French, and on top of all that, had to run a reelection campaign against George McClellan, pretentious former leader of the main Union Army who promised to end the war if elected.
However, Lincoln secured his reelection after William Sherman burned down Atlanta and the people of the North thought that was a cool thing to do, and in April of the next year, the main Confederate Army surrendered, effectively ending the war. Finally, Lincoln had time to relax, see a show…where a disgruntled actor shot him in the head. And to top it all off, they put his face on the penny, the coin EVERYONE WANTS TO GET RID OF.
Andrew Johnson Dropkicked into Reconstruction
After the 19th Century’s Nick Cage killed President Lincoln, Andrew Johnson became only the 2nd Vice President to take over after the death of the President, and the first as a result of assassination. He already had the short end of the stick from the very start, as he was slated to be killed along with Lincoln, but his designated murderer lost his nerve and went drinking instead. Secondly, Johnson was from Tennessee, which, if you re-examine the map up there, was at war with the nation less than a week before.
Lincoln chose Johnson as his running mate in 1864 because he hoped that way the South would be easier to re-assimilate into the United States after the war. When Johnson came into office, he soon realized that Lincoln wasn’t just dealing with the South and the people who wanted to stop the war, but also with the people who wanted to completely destroy the South as punishment for starting the war. These Warhawks, or Radical Republicans, soon ganged up on the hapless President Johnson and took over Reconstruction, passing many laws designed to punish the South. So, by killing Lincoln, the South killed the best chance they had at a peaceful post war transition.
What’s more, Johnson became the first President to be impeached on trumped up charges because the WarHawks in Congress still felt he was being too soft on the former Confederacy, and came very close to getting thrown out of office. Johnson didn’t bother seeking reelection in 1868, doing everything but announcing “Screw you guys, I’m going home, “ as he ran from the White House, which instead found itself occupied by Ulysses S. Grant, who spent four years drinking and carrying on as the North continued to beat up the South.
Gerald Ford Presides Over Government Scandal, Crisis, Distrust
Gerald Ford was not elected President; he wasn’t even elected Vice President, he was just a US Representative and House Minority Leader until Spiro Agnew resigned after a bribery scandal and Richard Nixon was basically forced to appoint Ford as his replacement. Then, after less than a year, Nixon himself resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal and Ford suddenly found himself the President of the United States.
Ford inherited a country that was suffering through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, fighting a losing battle in Vietnam, and diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union at their lowest point in years. And, thanks to his unscrupulous predecessors, the American public did not trust its government at all, especially after Ford issued a presidential pardon to Nixon (the only way to get Nixon out of office without a messy and drug out impeachment process.)
9 months after he was inaugurated, Saigon was conquered, and Gerald Ford had the toughest job in America. He ran for reelection but was being blamed for everything, so much so that America chose Jimmy Carter over him (ask anyone who remembers back then how well that worked out.)
George W. Bush Faces Terrorists and Environmentalists
Say what you will about George W. Bush, make fun of him, accuse him of warcrimes, blame him for the housing market crisis, whatever your thing is, but you have to acknowledge that his first year in office was a bit difficult. His problems started Election Day 2000, when every poll showed he had won the Presidency, however, his opponent refused to believe that the people of Florida would vote for Bush, despite, you know, the guy’s brother being the governor. Al Gore demanded recount after recount, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who had to tell Gore that you couldn’t force people to recount the votes until you get the result you want before he was vanquished.
So now, finally, after paying far too much money in lawyer fees, Bush was inaugurated. He had big plans for domestic policy, and could have given too craps about the rest of the world. That is, until a group of terrorists with questionable piloting skills crashed into New York’s tallest buildings, as well as the country’s military heart. Now, the only thing that compares with the casualties of 9/11 was the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the effect of that was lessened by the fact that most of the casualties were military personnel. Even so, it was enough for the United States to go to war with Japan, so obviously Bush had to do something. He sent troops into Afghanistan to vanquish al Queda and the Taliban who were sheltering them, even though they failed to capture Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks and thus the world’s most wanted man.
It didn’t help his case that the economy went insane and Saddam Hussein even more so, posturing that he had nuclear weapons and was going to use them to…prove whatever point he was trying to prove, I guess, triggering another invasion and occupation (this time we caught the bad guy at least though, so there’s that.) Combine that with his well-established public speaking difficulties, and you’ve got a man that is an easy target. Despite his shortcomings and detractors, Bush still managed to defeat John Kerry in the 2004 race. Yes, he was able to beat a man who ran on the platform that he and running mate John Edwards “even had better hair.”
By Ben Adelman