PRESIDENTIAL SAINTS AND SINNERS by Thomas A. Bailey

PRESIDENTIAL SAINTS AND SINNERS

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

In this lugubrious exercise, Barley (Presidential Greatness, The Pugnacious Presidents, etc.) trots out the known criticisms of each president--allegations of misconduct or mere charges of maladministration alike--and passes judgment upon them. Thus, Washington is defended against Charles Beard's ascription of economic motives to the Founding Fathers (a more complex argument, in any case--and not an assertion of cupidity on Washington's part), while FDR is exonerated of charges that he duplicitously lured the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor to get the US into the war (a bit of bad-mouthing that has very little standing anyhow). On lesser matters, like the financial (and other) indiscretions of presidential appointees, Bailey's pronouncements are more sensible--but the likes of Harry Vaughan and Harold Talbott and Billie Sol Estes (""special embarrassments"" to HST, DWE, and JFK respectively) hardly warrant the space they occupy. Honesty, and especially ""money-honesty,"" is indeed Bailey's touchstone: James Buchanan, we're told, was politically devious; but ""unlike some predecessors and successors, he made it an inflexible rule to accept no gifts of real value, even from his most intimate friends."" (Eisenhower's acceptance of ""highly expensive presents for his farm at Gettysburg"" occasions five tsk-tsk paragraphs.) Low scorers, predictably, are Grant and Harding--overshadowed, however, by Nixon. And it's presumably his rout from office that's responsible for this report card. But anyone with a serious interest in presidents-under-fire would be better advised to consult Responses of the Presidents to Charges of Misconduct (1974), edited by C. Vann Woodward; this compilation is so undiscriminating--in what it includes and what it concludes--as to be essentially pointless.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1981
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan