Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ranking the Presidents my damn self: Hail to the Chef

Happy March 4th, everyone! In case you forgot, for 148 years, starting with John Adams in 1797, this was the traditional date the Chief Justice would swear into office the President of the United States.

And in case you forgot, we’ve got a new president. And depending on which AM radio stations you’re listening to, his name might be Something Hussein Something. Whatever.

Between Mrs. Tonto’s request that back on Jan. 20th I cook a special Inauguration Day dinner featuring selected items on President Obama's luncheon menu, and CSPAN ranking the presidents from worst (Buchanan) to first (Lincoln), and Ol’ Abe turning 200 a few weeks ago, and Washington turning 277 a couple weekends ago — the White House has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

Not to be outdone by Kimo Sabe’s recent college-campus-quality cyber-lecture about almost everything the Beatles ever burped or coughed …

… Here’s my list of the Presidents of the United States, from worst to first. (Hint: It might or might not seem eerily similar to CSPAN’s. I don’t really know, because I didn’t really read it.)

44. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)

Probably not the absolute worst president we’ve ever had, but tell that to the Joad family. And residents of Hooverville. And all those who pelted his motorcades with eggs and rotten fruit during the ’32 campaign. The final months of his lame-duck administration were so terrifying we eventually decided March 4 was too long to wait for a new president.

Favorite food: Corned beef hash with tomato sauce.

43. James Garfield (1881)

Got himself shot by some crazy guy inside a D.C. train station barely four months into his term. Lingered for 80 days before dying in his sickbed at the Jersey Shore of a heart attack, which was followed by blood poisoning and bronchial pneumonia. Died with a bullet still in his body because back in 1881, even though we were smart enough to invent a metal detector, we were still too dumb to realize that the brass coils in Garfield’s bed kept setting the damn thing off. Probably would have lived if several doctors hadn’t inserted their unsterilized fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet. Holy crap. This is wayyyy too depressing.

Think about this for a second: What was the quality of life like for the people who weren't president?!?

Favorite food: Bread (Again, just depressing.)

42. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
What was Lincoln thinkin? Ol’ Abe received so many death threats before his first inauguration that he snuck into D.C. in the middle of the night. So for his second term, Abe taps Andrew Johnson, a pro-union Southerner who promptly shows up drunk at the inauguration. As luck would have it, Lincoln becomes the first president to get assassinated, Johnson takes over and turns out to be a fervent white supremacist hell-bent on destroying Reconstruction. Oh yeah, and he got impeached.

Favorite food: Spanish-style stuffed eggplant. (Served by a Klansman.)

41. Barack Obama (2009 - present)
Don’t get all upset, kids, I voted for him. In fact, I even stuck one of his campaign signs in my lawn this past October, much to my neighbors' chagrin. But, he’s a president, and that means he’s gotta be on the list, even if my rankings are published a handful of weeks into his term. So that’s why he debuts on the charts a couple notches ahead of the guy who liked bread. It’s only fair. Time to get to work.

Favorite food: Chili.

40. James Buchanan (1857-1861)
A Northerner who sympathized with the South. Failed to avert the Civil War, which is cited by scholars as the single-worst failure by an American president. Despised abolitionists and was believed to be personally involved in the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision. Normally ranked last on most lists.

But hey, it could’ve been worse: Pat Buchanan could’ve been president.

Favorite food: Pennsylvania Dutch stuffed shoulder of pork. (Maybe it’s because I didn’t eat lunch today, but this sounds really yummy.)

39. Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
Man, this asshole really had us fooled, didn’t he? And I voted for him TWICE. First term inspired Rush Limbaugh’s and Newt Gingrich’s rise to power. Second term inspired Dubya to defeat the guy who invented the internet. Bubba's presence during the 2008 campaign inspired us to turn against his wife’s presidential bid. In sum, this guy is a horse’s ass.

Favorite food: Chicken enchiladas.

38. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
I dunno. He just sounds like a dopey president.

Favorite food: Huguenot torte.

37. Chester Arthur (1881-1885)
Him, too.

Favorite food: Mutton chops.

36. John Tyler (1841-1845)
Him, too.

Favorite food: Sally Lunn. (It’s the name of a teacake. We think. … Hey now!)

35. Rutherford Hayes (1877-1881)
Truly a dope. Stole the election from Sam Tilden and had to take the Oath in private for fear of public rioting at the inauguration.

Favorite Food: Roast Beef.

34. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
Booooorrrrrrrr-ing. ... See his grandfather (No. 6).

Favorite Food: Fish chowder.

33. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
Man, in the 19th Century it was pretty much “Lincoln and Jackson and pray for rain,” wasn’t it?

Favorite food: Boiled lobster.

32. James Monroe (1817-1825)
They named a doctrine after him or something. Or maybe I’m simply confusing him with somebody else. (See No. 11.)

Favorite food: Gumbo.

31. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
Fell 25 rankings from the last time I did one these polls back in 1978 for the sole reason that I’ve since learned that I had him confused with the guy nicknamed “Stonewall,” which I’m sure we all agree that this is a pretty damned cool nickname whether you’re 7 or 37. “Old Hickory” is OK, I guess. …

Was first president to have his wife accused of past bigamy by the press. (And they were right!)

Was one of our most influential chief execs, but it’s going to take me a while to get over the fact that he’s not “Stonewall.”

Favorite Food: Roast leg of pork.

30. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)
Got elected because he was a war hero or something.

Favorite food: Crabmeat on shells.

29. Ulysses Grant (1869-1877)
Him, too.

Favorite Food: Roman punch. (What is this? A food? A drink?)

28. Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961)
Him, too.

Favorite Food: Quail hash. (Tastes like chicken.)

27. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
Every time I see his name I think of reading the Sunday funnies as a kid, and there, toward the back with the tire ads was “Mallard Fillmore.” I didn’t really follow it, but I thought Mallard Fillmore was a hilariously funny name. I still chuckle about it.

Favorite food: Roast capon.

26. Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
Honestly, when I watch a TV show or movie that includes someone wearing a Nixon mask while performing a bank robbery, it just makes my week.

Favorite food: Beef Wellington.

25. Warren Harding (1921-1923)
Women and the press loved him. Died of a stroke midway through his term. His administration was the reason why most of us were forced to learn about the Teapot Dome Scandal back in high school History.

Favorite food: Roast filet mignon with sherried mushrooms.

24. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)
Never really looked at Dan Rather the same way after Poppy got through with him. And we never really looked at Poppy the same way after he wet his pants with excitement over the technological improvements at grocery stores.

Might or might not be true, but it’s entirely possible he hated Dubya’s presidency even more than the rest of us did.

Favorite food: Broiled steak with baked potato.

23. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
A popular, small-government conservative who restored public confidence in the White House. He pretty much was what Reagan fanatics mistakenly believe what Reagan was.

Presidency was tarnished somewhat by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 when Coolidge basically reacted in the exact same fashion as What’s-His-Name did after Hurricane Katrina.

Favorite food: Baked beans.

22. William Taft (1909-1913)
The only president to weigh more than 300 pounds. The last president to wear facial hair. Was also the only former president to serve on the Supreme Court.

Favorite food: Lobster Newberg.

21. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
A vice president and president, and never won an election for either office. Because of this man I can look my slightly-above-average children in the eyes and honestly say, “Yes, play your cards right and be a nice guy and someday you, too, can be President of the United States of America. Or at least play Big Ten football."

Favorite food: Spaghetti and meatballs.

20. James Polk (1845-1849)
Often listed between eighth and 12th in most of these types of rankings. Greatly expanded the geographic size of the country, lowered tariffs, defeated the Mexicans, scared off the British, established a treasury system that lasted for 60 years, and nearly purchased Cuba(!). But I’ll never forgive him for opposing the Wilmont Proviso. Never.

Favorite food: Tennessee ham.

19. William McKinley (1897-1901)
His favorite food was bacon and eggs. This alone will put a man in my Presidential Top 20. Somebody please pass me the toast and jelly!

18. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
Took the oath of office on March 4, 1825 with his hand on a book of laws as a symbol of the separation of church and state. Why more presidents don’t do this escapes me. ... Like his old man, served only one term. Like his old man, failed to figure out that you really were not supposed to put political enemies in your Cabinet.

Served in the House after his presidency and is perhaps the only major figure in American history who knew the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln.

Favorite food: Baked codfish pie.

17. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969)
He tried. He really did.

Favorite food: Chili.

16. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Right man at the right time. Inspired millions of white people to be proud to be Americans again. Does it matter that the Soviet Union would have collapsed even if he weren’t president? Nahhhhhhhh.

Favorite food: Broiled swordfish with lemon butter.

15. John Adams (1797-1801)
That was a nice job by A-Bart’s kid in that HBO miniseries. A NICE job. Almost made us completely forget what a pompous ass Adams was.

Favorite food: Baked salmon.

14. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
I don’t care what anyone says, he was wicked smaht.

Favorite food: Brunswick stew with buttermilk biscuits.

13. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
Him, too.

Favorite food: Roast turkey with cornbread stuffing.

12. Harry Truman (1945-1953)
The original Decider. The Japanese never quite looked at us the same way again. He (and we) can thank David McCullough’s 1992 biography for Harry’s rehabilitated modern image.

Favorite food: Tuna noodle casserole.

11. George W. Bush (2001-2009)
The most fanatical of the GOP apologists claim history will vindicate Bush and Cheney just as it exonerated Truman and Marshall. So let’s pretend for a moment that they’re correct. (Scary, huh?)

Favorite food: Tacos.

10. Josiah Bartlett (1999-2007)
His great-grandfather’s great-grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. An expert economist. Nearly studied to become a priest.

Granted amnesty to illegal immigrants from the Americas, appointed the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice and first female Chief Justice, negotiated a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine, created millions of new jobs, provided strong support for alternative energy, orchestrated a Social Security reform plan, and dealt with major foreign policy crises in Haiti, Colombia, Bolivia, Equatorial Kundu, India, Pakistan, China, Taiwan, Russia, Iran, Syria, Israel, and Qumar. He got censured. (He got over it). He got shot. (He survived). His youngest daughter got kidnapped. (She was rescued.)

Yeah, I know this was a TV show. But it got me through the Dubya Administration with most of my marbles intact.

Favorite Food: Didn’t like French people, but loved their cuisine, as evidenced by the “Stackhouse Fillibuster” episode.

9. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 & 1893-1897)
CSPAN ranked him 21st, which probably means he wasn’t all that great and he wasn’t really all that awful. Regarded as a classic liberal, he is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. Seriously, even Billary couldn’t pull off that trick. That is greatness, my friends.

Favorite food: Turban of chicken.

8. James Madison (1809-1817)
Our shortest president (5-4) and the Red Coats lit the White House on fire on his watch.

But he spoke fluent Latin. Graduated Princeton in two years. Pretty much wrote the Constitution. And the Bill of Rights. And cranked out a good portion of the Federalist Papers. Plus, Dolly was a total babe. This guy had skills.

Favorite food: Williamsburg pound cake.

7. Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945)
"He lifted himself from a wheelchair to lift the nation from its knees.”

Generally regarded as a lock at No. 3 on these types of lists. But I’ll say this: Having Hitler, Stalin, and Tojo in his foursome turned out to be an advantage. Who’s not going to come out looking great after 18 holes with those guys? And falling asleep at Yalta – or was it Malta? – was a bad job.

But honestly, name one other candidate who could get re-elected even though most of the country expected him to be dead within six months. That too, my friends, is greatness.

Favorite food: Boiled salmon with egg sauce.

6. William Harrison (1841)
“Old Tippecanoe” croaked 32 days after taking office. Honestly, we could’ve used a few more presidents like him. Seriously.

Favorite food: Roast wild duck.

5. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
His face is on Mount Rushmore. They named a genre of stuffed animals after him. And that Panama Canal thing worked out pretty well. And until Gov. Palin ascends to the Oval, he remains the last president who knew how to field-dress a moose.

Favorite food: Roast suckling pig. (And I betcha he ate it with his hands!)

4. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
A statesman, architect, archaeologist, horticulturist, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia.

The tinfoil hats in CSPAN’s poll had TJ listed as seventh. And I know, I know, as a political administrator he had his shortcomings. But gimme a break. Not in the Top 5? He was a thinker – did you READ the Declaration of Independence – not a politician, and he grew to detest the office of the presidency. Honestly, I don’t think his bad mood wasn’t anything modern central-air conditioning could have fixed.

Favorite food: Wine jelly. (Interesting.)

3. John Kennedy (1961-1963)
Big Red Sox fan. And in the early 1960s chicks really dug the long ball, if you know what I mean (wink, wink).

Favorite food: Fish chowder.

2. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
OK, this is how smart ol' Abe was: After he died they scooped out his brain and weighed it. Just to see if it was bigger than everyone else's.

One of America’s great thinkers and writers, he only had about a year’s worth of formal education. He preserved the Union and freed the slaves, and managed to do this with his crazy wife yapping in his ear.

Abraham Lincoln personifies the values of honesty and integrity, as well as respect for human freedom. And his monument is awesome.

Favorite food: Apples. (As in, how do you like them apples? Or something.)

1. George Washington (1789-1797)
As a lad, he admitted to chopping down the cherry tree and he didn’t blame it on the King or the House Democrats or Rush Limbaugh or the Taliban or the Jews. His favorite food was beefsteak and kidney pie – a MAN’S food – and he used wooden teeth to chew it up with gusto.

Washington is the absolute standard all American presidents and military leaders are measured against.

The historians and perfessers usually save this spot for Ol' Abe, the same way classic rock stations rig it so that Stairway is No. 1 in their Fourth of July Weekend “Firecracker 500” programming. So consider this one of those rare years that Teenage Wasteland (Babba O’Reilly) wins.

Or you can consider this: If the father of your country isn’t even ranked No. 1, how great is your country?

Thank you.


troy said...

Why Tonto, you imp! I didn't even know until I saw 'presidents' pop up as a potential tag.

Andrew Johnson replaced Hannibal Hamlin, either to preserve the party, or because Hamlin made a disastrous war promotion, or because people sobered the hell up and realized they'd elected a guy named "Hannibal." Possibly both.

Can we update the saying to "Pedro and ... uh, and pray for rain"? The kids today don't even know who Lincoln Kennedy and Reggie Jackson were. And wh-- Oh, just saw where you ranked our last president. Why didn't you tell me we weren't supposed to take this seriously?

Just to clarify: Are you cooking all of these dishes for the kinde words company picnic? Or you cooked -- and ate -- all this already?

Anonymous said...

Really good and really funny...Would have but Bartlett a bit higher though? The man was shot, killed a Dictator, and brought peace to Isareal. Easily top 5.