Washington and Lincoln Were Great Presidents!
Barry Nussbaum: Welcome to ATP Report. I'm your host, Barry Nussbaum. We have a wonderful special guest today Robert Spencer is going to join us. Robert, as many of you know, as a scholar on Islam and Islamists, both domestic and international. He is the author of nearly two dozen books. He's the creator and boss of Jihad Watch, and Robert has a brand-new book out that we're going to talk about today. The new book is titled Rating America's Presidents. It's super relevant as we approach the election in just a few weeks and a very important topic for today. Welcome, Robert. Thanks for coming on.
Robert Spencer: It's great to be here, Barry. To talk to you again is always a pleasure.
Barry Nussbaum: Thank you so much for making the time. Robert, your new book is out Rating America's Presidents. Let's start at the beginning, the Father of our Country, George Washington. When I was growing up, nobody was as unassailable in American history as George Washington. How do you rate him?
Robert Spencer: I have him as one of the four greatest, and so if I were remodeling Mount Rushmore, I would first leave Washington where he is. But there are a couple of other surprises in that for later on. In the first place, Washington set the tone and established the precedent for what a president ought to be. He established federal power as a real thing. Whereas previously in the Articles of Confederation, federal power was very weak. The states were essentially on their own. Which would ultimately have led, almost inevitably, to disunion and probably to wars between various states. Such that, perhaps North America would look like Africa today, where there are 49 countries and many of them quite hostile to one another.
George Washington prevented all that, establishing a strong federal power and putting down notably the Whiskey Rebellion. Which I think is one of the greatest names in American history. The Whiskey Rebellion was when whiskey manufacturers just declared they weren't going to pay the tax set on their whiskey. He made sure that that did not happen. I was very clear that the Federal Government was no paper tiger.
Probably the most important thing George Washington did is, actually, leaving office. Because in the first place, they wanted to make him king, and he said that they were not going to set up a new monarchy after they just left the old one. They were going to have a republic, and a republic was characterized not by rulers but by public servants, which he meant to be a real thing and not just an empty phrase. So, he served the public for eight years as President, and then he went home. He did not cling to power, for his own self-aggrandizement, until death which he very easily could have done.
He's still the only President who was elected unanimously, he was elected unanimously twice. The fact that he left office, established the idea that the President should voluntarily relinquish power and that this is a noble and good thing to do. People take that for granted nowadays in the United States, or at least they did until 2016 and this year. But the fact is that most of the countries around the world do not have that kind of tradition. Most of the transitions they have from one ruler to another are bitter at very least, and quite often bloody as well.
Barry Nussbaum: So, I'm thankful of what I learned in first and second grade because I went to Washington Elementary School, and I still remember this plaque out front. So, he's still one of the good guys in Robert Spencer's mind. In the 19th century, you've got the industrial revolution, the abolitionist movement, the civil war, and so much more history. The Left now considers this the century of racism. The country's founding principles are being refined into this horrible period of oppression that carries on to this day. How do you rate that time period? And is the Left, wrong, or right?
Robert Spencer: Oh, yeah, is the Left, right? No, the Left is not right. It is the Left. It is wrong. It's a vicious caricature to say that the 19th century is the century of racism. In the first place, the United States is one of the only countries that had slavery, and which abolished slavery due to a moral crusade based on principles derived from the founding idea of the country itself. In other words, the Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. That was the deathblow to slavery right there. It took decades for this to become clear, but slavery could never have existed on an indefinite basis in the United States because of that principle.
Other countries, abolished slavery because of Christian principles or other factors like pressure from outside powers. But in the United States, it was part of our founding philosophy that did slavery in. That's one thing that doesn't get enough attention nowadays. Another is we fought a bloody civil war, and thousands of people were killed ultimately to abolish slavery. Now, this is controverted to a tremendous degree nowadays and, actually, always has been because Abraham Lincoln, for example, said, "If I could save the Union without freeing a single slave, I would do it." People throw that out nowadays as if to say that Abraham Lincoln did not care to free the slaves. Which only is a manifestation of either dishonesty or historical ignorance. Abraham Lincoln was a deeply committed abolitionist who, actually, articulated the principles that led to the abolition of slavery in a direct sense, after 40 years of compromises. First, the compromise of 1820, the Missouri compromise, and several other compromises that attempted to establish the nation half slave half free. Lincoln made it very clear a house divided against itself cannot stand. He explained why that was and why slavery could not endure in the United States, but he was also a politician and a pragmatist, and so he was looking for the best way to do that.
Very few other nations had fought major wars that ultimately centered around slavery. Even after that, when the Democrats instituted the solid South of Jim Crow and denied black Americans their civil rights, some Republican Presidents were speaking out. Notably, Ulysses Grant, speaking out for those civil rights all the way through the latter half of the 19th century. So, the 19th century in the United States compared to many other areas of the world, and I don't think that's an illegitimate comparison. We have to be realistic about what's possible to say, well, the United States had slavery, and it's terrible. Yeah, well, everybody else had slavery, too. In comparison to the real world, the United States comes off very well.
Barry Nussbaum: So, let's go to the 20th century with the birth of socialism as a movement, communism worldwide. There were periods where you had a very socialistic, strong federal government that, literally turned things upside down. I'm referring to Roosevelt, who is still beloved on the Left. Then you had Reagan on the Right, who is universally still looked at by, I'd say, the progressives as some sort of dictator, crazy guy. I remember being in school and hearing the same things I hear now, then. They say about Trump the same things that they used to say about Reagan.
Robert Spencer: Yeah.
Barry Nussbaum: So, is it simply that it was Lefts, Progressives, and Socialists against a more free America? Or is there something more complex that changed in the 20th century politically?
Robert Spencer: Well, the 20th century was indeed the dawning of the progressive era, and I discussed that in the book. How the Progressives, even the name is dishonest because it assumes that they're correct and that history is moving in their direction. So, they're the ones who are progressing. Whereas you and I, Barry, apparently, we're regressing, and we'll be Neanderthals soon. Whereas the Progressives are marching confidently into the socialist future. This is a big trick played on the United States and the world. There's nothing progressive about the Progressives. They are just big government statists, but if they come out and say we're big government statists who want to control every aspect of your life, that's not as electable or catchy. So, they call themselves Progressives.
Right from the beginning, I discussed the 1896 election that was William Jennings Bryan of the Democratic Party versus the Republican William McKinley and Bryan is one of the earliest Progressive candidates. I note that he and Woodrow Wilson, who was arguably, the first progressive President, however, in many ways it was Theodore Roosevelt. These people all equated giving power to the people with giving power to the Government. We hear this dishonest rhetoric even today.
Bryan ran for President three times and lost all three. He was a very appealing character in many ways personally but had very dangerous ideas. He had a campaign poster the last time he ran in 1908 with his slogan as 'Shall the People Rule,' but he didn't really want the people to rule. What did that mean to Bryan? It meant, shall we have government control and socialistic measures that confiscate the wealth from some people and give it to others? Yeah, that's what he meant.
Barry Nussbaum: That's a lot less marketable.
Robert Spencer: Yeah, exactly. So, you have that principle being enunciated by Woodrow Wilson quite explicitly. He was a professor before he became President. He wrote some very critical works about the US Constitution saying that what we really need is an authoritarian ruler who will get things done and not be bound by all these constitutional minutiae. It's kind of scary to think he became President after that and then imprisoned people for exercising their First Amendment rights to oppose World War I, but all that comes out of the same progressivism. That he was the enlightened. He knew what was best for us. He knew we should be involved in this war that was essentially based on internationalist principles. Make the world safe for democracy. So, he had to silence forcibly those who dissented.
Barry Nussbaum: Robert, tell people who are watching today how they can get in touch with you, where they can find your book and where they can keep up with all the stuff you produce.
Robert Spencer: Yeah, Rating America's Presidents is on Amazon. It's on Barnesandnoble.com. It should be at any brick and mortar bookstore if any of those still exist and if they don't have it ask them to order it. I know a lot of them will be terrible Leftists, but you might mention something like the First Amendment or something of that kind, and you're right to read whatever you want to read. That they are businessmen, and your money is just as green as anybody else's. I'm at jihadwatch.org and jihadwatchrs on Twitter.
Barry Nussbaum: For those of you out there that haven't subscribed to our text message alert system, please take out your cell phones, type the word TRUTH, and send it to 88202. For ATP Report, I'm Barry Nussbaum.