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Survey rates presidents' top blunder

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    Survey rates presidents top blunder Public, scholars split over No. 1 By Mark Pitsch The Courier-Journal A group of presidential scholars and the public
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 18, 2006
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      Survey rates presidents' top blunder
      Public, scholars split over No. 1

      By Mark Pitsch

      The Courier-Journal

      A group of presidential scholars and the public disagree over what
      was the biggest presidential mistake of all time.

      But both agree it wasn't President Bill Clinton's affair with an

      The scholars believe President James Buchanan's failure to oppose the
      secession of Southern states prior to the Civil War is the biggest

      The public thinks it's the escalation of the Vietnam War under
      President Lyndon Johnson.

      Those results from surveys by the University of Louisville's
      McConnell Center for Political Leadership are scheduled to be
      announced today at a conference on presidential decision-making
      sponsored by the center.

      The surveys generated 37 responses from scholars and 423 online votes
      from the public on which of 10 presidential mistakes were the
      biggest. The survey did not include the Iraq War.

      Gary Gregg, director of the McConnell Center, and other scholars said
      the Iraq War was left off the list because it is too current to
      analyze through the lens of history.

      Gregg said the list of 10 mistakes was developed from an initial
      sampling of scholars who responded to the survey.

      Gregg acknowledged that neither survey is scientific. But he said the
      idea behind them is to foster dialogue, further research and help the
      teaching of U.S. history and politics.

      "We always need to be reminded that presidential power can be a
      wonderful thing and presidential power can be a dangerous thing and
      presidents make mistakes," said Gregg, a Republican.

      David Webb, 53, a salesman from Nashville, picked the build-up of the
      Vietnam War as the top mistake.

      "I think that had a more long-term effect on the nation as a whole,"
      said Webb, who identified himself as a conservative-leaning
      independent. "It certainly had an effect on our policy for a long
      time and in a lot of ways it still steers our political and military

      He said he sees the impact in the Iraq War, with the Bush
      administration discussing withdrawing troops while the fighting
      remains constant.

      "They're still reluctant to engage in all-out war," Webb said.

      Webb said he put Clinton's affair with intern Monica Lewinsky second
      because it intensified partisan politics.

      But the Watergate scandal under Richard Nixon, in which he tried to
      cover up the investigation of a break-in of the Democratic National
      Committee headquarters during the 1972 campaign, finished second
      among the public.

      Sam McFarland, 66, a psychology professor at Western Kentucky
      University, didn't take part in the survey. But he said the McConnell
      Center should have included the Iraq War under President Bush and
      Clinton's unwillingness to act against genocide in Rwanda among the
      list of 10 blunders.

      "It is suspect from the omissions," McFarland, a Democrat, said of
      the survey.

      Richard Pious, a political science professor at Barnard College in
      New York who took part in the survey, said he is not surprised by the
      disagreement because the public is prone to cite events it is
      familiar with while scholars take a historical view.

      Two of the five biggest mistakes cited by scholars took place during
      the 19th century and a third was during the early 20th century. Three
      of the five biggest mistakes cited by the public were in the second
      half of the 20th century.

      But Pious, a Democrat, said after Buchanan, he thought Johnson's
      escalation of the Vietnam War was the second biggest presidential
      mistake ever. It finished third among scholars.

      "It was a war of choice and it really took out so many lives and so
      much of our national treasure and national power," said Pious, who is
      scheduled to speak at the McConnell Center conference. "It led in
      the '70s to a whole series of weaknesses."

      He said the Vietnam War ranked high with the public because people
      remember the human cost of the war and because some may see it as a
      proxy for the Iraq War. As for Watergate, he said the scandal still
      resonates with the public because of Nixon's shameful resignation and
      the administration's cover-up.

      "It's the first of the great examples that the cover-up is worse than
      the crime," Pious said.

      Andrew Busch, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna
      College in Claremont, Calif., said scholars generally agree on the
      problem regarding some mistakes on the list.

      He cited Buchanan and Andrew Johnson's failed reconstruction policies
      after the Civil War.

      But he said other mistakes, including the Vietnam War and the Bay of
      Pigs invasion under John F. Kennedy, are seen by people differently.
      While some may view the Vietnam War as unwinnable, for example, and
      therefore a mistake, others -- like himself -- believe Johnson didn't
      commit enough troops and resources to bring a victory.

      "I actually don't have a problem with trying to defeat communism in
      Southeast Asia. I just think Lyndon Johnson screwed it up," said
      Busch, a Republican. "It was calculated to avoid defeat."

      In addition to the conference, the McConnell Center is holding an
      invitation-only 15th anniversary banquet tomorrow.
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