Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog know that I think the idiotic attitude “my political party right or wrong” is every bit as stupid as the old attitude “my country right or wrong”. In my recent post about the ancient Greek political comedy titled Demoi I also pointed out the dangers of the cult of personality that surrounds many political figures. If you want a lighter way of looking at it, look at the contrast between the allegedly heroic deeds of the gunfighters of the Old West and the ugly reality of what those people actually did. They weren’t the courageous and noble figures they were painted to be in popular myth, but were crooks and/ or worse.
I view our politically elected officials the same way, especially the Presidents of the United States. Their worshipful devotees depict them as larger than life heroes saving the nation and/ or the world from equally extraordinary villains even though when examined closely we see that they were all as little deserving of reverence as the western figures I mentioned above. Heroes are for fiction. When it comes to real life, grow up and stop idolizing the kind of power- crazed, corrupt and inherently dishonest people who are ambitious enough to do the kinds of things you have to do to make it to the White House.
When discussing the sleaziest and most repugnant U.S. Presidents in history, Richard Nixon, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton are among the first names everyone mentions. Since I prefer to cover under the radar topics at my blog I’ll deal with some of the forgotten scandals involving presidential administrations of the past. I felt it was very relevant now that we are less than a year away from the next major election. Left- wing zealots and right- wing zealots alike might want to ponder the items I’ll be examining and bear them in mind the next time they turn to the media outlets that cater to their specific preconceived notions. Future generations may well see the presidents those zealots adore for what they really are.
The Main Figure: Samuel Swartout
His Don: President Andrew Jackson
The Racket: Swartout is remembered as the first political hack to rip off a million dollars from the taxpayers of the United States, and considering he did it in the 1830’s you can imagine how large the figure would be if adjusted for inflation. Even future president Martin Van Buren, known for his own loose ethics when it came to abusing the public trust, found Swartout objectionable enough that he tried to dissuade Don Andrew from appointing him to any administration post. For once Jackson failed to listen to the crafty Van Buren and appointed Swartout to the post of Collector of Customs for the Port of New York (this was long before Civil Service reform, when presidents still appointed figures to just about any post you can imagine.)
Samuel Swartout proceeded to divert customs revenues of approximately $200,000 in 1830’s money to finance his own real estate and railroad investments. Years later, when Swartout got word that investigators were beginning to sniff around his personal finances he cashed out his investments and fled to Europe with an estimated 1.2 million dollars.
Stay tuned for plenty more of these posts between now and Election Day 2012. I’ll be hitting Credit Mobilier, Teapot Dome, Bert Lance, Whitewater, Haliburton, Solyndra and countless others!