A Commitment to Ignorance

How Ohio's crappy leaders of yesterday stack up to our crappy leaders of today.

Finless Brown, with Candiamore and Camo Grog Shop, 1765 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights 10 p.m. Saturday, February 15, $6 ($8 under 21), 216-321-5588.

Ohio Senate President Doug White uses phrases like "Jew them down." Governor Bob Taft blows $700,000 to insert his mug in a state tourism ad. House leaders say they can balance the budget with $35 million in food-stamp money.

Forgive them for being jackasses.

It is, after all, an Ohio tradition to ride to prominence on the wings of incompetence. From Jerry Springer to burning rivers, this is the gift Ohio brings to the world. And nothing illustrates it more than the sorry bunch this state has sent to occupy the land's highest office. Over the last 200 years, eight Ohioans have landed in the White House, with one common denominator: They all pretty much sucked.

"Ohio's Presidents are seen by many as dull and colorless people who made little impact," George Knepper, a retired University of Akron professor, once told the Beacon Journal.

And during the month of February, as we celebrate the births of our nation's greatest Presidents, it is wise to reflect on the talents of our own political forebears: not just why they were so crappy, but how they might have fared these days. After all, to properly appreciate the ineptitude of today's leaders, we must first understand the morons whence they sprang:

William Henry Harrison
President: March 1841-April 1841

Why he sucked: Harrison got the bad juju rolling for Ohio Presidents. On a cold, snowy Inauguration Day in Washington, the 68-year-old spoke for an hour and 45 minutes. He then promptly got pneumonia and died a month later, becoming the first President to be killed by his own fat pie hole.

What he means to you: Proves you needn't have a college degree to be a crappy President.

How he would fare in Ohio politics today: Hard to tell. Harrison's chief qualification for being elected to office was mowing down Indians in the Ohio and Indiana territories -- a skill that's less marketable in today's political climate. On the upside, he would probably feel at home at the Statehouse: A Whig, Harrison and Ohio Democrats could chat about belonging to political parties that no longer exist.

Ulysses S. Grant
President: 1869-1877

Why he sucked: Celebrated as a general, Grant was clueless as a President, wildly enamored of having his butt kissed, too oblivious or ambivalent to stop the chicanery festering around him. (Think Ronald Reagan, with a cigar and bloated liver.) Grant's treasury secretary was illegally collecting taxes. His secretary of war took payoffs for awarding contracts. And his private secretary was skimming liquor taxes. Says Kent State professor Phillip Weeks, editor of a book about Ohio Presidents: "He was a nice guy who had a horrible judgment in picking appointments."

What he means to you: A role model for rednecks everywhere. Grant once said that Venice would be a nice city, if it were properly drained.

How he would fare today: Poor political judgment, lack of curiosity about the world around him, a good ol' boy through and through -- Grant would be a natural for the Ohio Senate.

Rutherford B. Hayes
President: 1877-1881

Why he sucked: Smart, honest, and a decorated Civil War veteran, Hayes was also the biggest candy-ass to ever live in the White House, banishing wine and liquor from the premises. In the 1876 election, he lost the popular vote by 250,000 votes and should've lost the electoral college as well. But a "commission" set up to sort out contested votes was stacked in his favor. He was, in many respects, the precursor to George W., except for the parts about being smart and a decorated soldier.

What he means to you: Thanks to Hayes, anyone with a pulse has a place to go to college: As governor, he was instrumental in establishing Ohio State University.

How he would fare today: Not well. Despite the election debacle, Hayes was known as a "gentleman in politics," which was a 19th-century euphemism for "sucker." He pledged to serve only one term, thus instantly rendering himself a lame duck.

James A. Garfield
President: March 4, 1881-Sept. 19, 1881

Why he sucked: Garfield couldn't even get assassinated with flair. Shot by a disturbed office-seeker at a Washington train station in 1881, he didn't die for another two months. Even worse, the bullet probably didn't even kill him -- his doctors did. Their probing of the wound likely brought on the infection that killed him.

What he means to you: Quirky trivia with which to bore out-of-town visitors: Garfield was raised in a log cabin in Cuyahoga County; the Garfield National Historic Site is in Lake County.

How he would fare today: Horribly. The smartest Ohio President (he was president of Hiram College at 26, could write in Latin and Greek, and campaigned in English and German) would surely incite deep suspicion among colleagues in Columbus, what with all that crazy "book-learnin'."

Benjamin Harrison
President: 1889-1893

Why he sucked: Harrison is known chiefly for serving between the two nonconsecutive terms of Grover Cleveland, which is a little like playing between Michael Stanley sets at the Taste of Parma fest. Like Hayes, Harrison didn't win the popular vote, and his electoral college victory was probably rigged. Not that it mattered. Congress ignored him, much of his party bolted, and he got smoked in his bid for reelection. Worse, he was an annoying micromanager; according to historian Weeks, he was "a good man who drove people nuts."

What he means to you: Even pint-sized people can become President. Harrison was only 5 foot 6 -- same as that other stellar chief exec, Martin Van Buren.

How he would fare today: He wouldn't fare at all. Harrison's best quality was that he wasn't really an Ohioan. Born in North Bend, he spent his entire professional life in Indiana, which is welcome to claim him.

William McKinley
President: 1897-1901

Why he sucked: McKinley, inexplicably, wasn't all that crappy, and many historians rate him among the top 15 or 20 Presidents. He solidified America's place as a world power by winning the Spanish-American War, for which the Green Party will be eternally pissed.

What he means to you: Oliver Stone has one less opportunity to indulge his conspiracy theories about American Presidents: McKinley was shot in Buffalo by Cleveland anarchist and certified nutbag Leon Czolgosz, who carried out the impossibly complex plot of simply walking up to shake the President's hand with a handkerchief wrapped around a revolver.

How he would fare today: Extremely well. McKinley was one of the first truly modern politicians: Calculating, bland as day-old toast, and backed by tankers full of corporate cash, he's pretty much Lamar Alexander with bushy eyebrows.

William Howard Taft
President: 1909-1913

Why he sucked: Taft's responsible for lending lucky-sperm legitimacy to our current governor, his great-grandson. He was also thoroughly ill suited for the job, dumbfounded that former colleagues would actually attack him when they disagreed. He once cried during a campaign speech. Wuss.

What he means to you: A near-coronary every April 15. During his time in office, Taft pushed the ratification of a constitutional amendment that gave Congress power to establish an income tax.

How he would fare today: Not at all well. Not until he dragged his ass onto a treadmill anyway: Our fattest President, Taft was six feet tall and weighed 352 pounds.

Warren G. Harding
President: 1921-1923

Why he sucked: Harding makes Bill Clinton look like a Mormon missionary. Two of Harding's cabinet members were jailed for corruption. He was a notorious womanizer; one of his mistresses wrote a tell-all book after his death. Harding's big accomplishment: The Budget and Accounting Act of 1921. Yee-haw.

What he means to you: Proves that band geeks (Harding once organized a citizens' cornet band) not only can get elected; they can get women.

How he would fare today: Swell. What with all the womanizing, corruption, illegitimate kids, and questionable circumstances surrounding his death, Harding would be just another face in the crowd.

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