originally published August 31, 2014
Every few years – or sometimes sooner than that – those of us in democratic countries who feel compelled to do so will cast our vote in hopes that it might help to steer our nation from the cesspool in which it is presently mired toward a newer, less feces-laden cesspool. Sometimes we succeed. Also, there are times when we watch the news and wonder how anyone with an IQ greater than a puddle of artificial creamer might have voted for the current putz.
A few months ago I compiled a list of what experts have deemed to be the most egregious smudges upon the office of the Presidency of the United States. I met with no dissent in the comments section, perhaps because everyone agreed with the options presented, or maybe because those crappy presidents have also often evolved to become the most obscure and forgotten presidents.
Despite the fact that much of my reading audience is in America, I’m nevertheless going to present a deeper exploration of the obscure today. There have been garbage leaders all over the western world. Just for fun, let’s see who splatters the bottom of the list in some of the Commonwealth nations.
Sir William “Squinty” McMahon took over the top seat in Australia in 1971, an ugly win which oozed from a period of party infighting and disgruntled squabbling. Right away, McMahon’s opponent on the Labor Side was a well-spoken war hero named Gough Whitlam. Every time the two of them traded barbs it was McMahon who skulked away, shamefully coming up short on wit and rhetoric.
McMahon’s policies were concise and consistently wrong. He went on the attack when Whitlam wanted to officially recognize China, then was shown up when US President Richard Nixon swooped in with a visit to do just that. Whitlam pushed for universal health care and an end to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War – McMahon had to argue on the other side of both. Rising inflation kicked the crap out of the economy, and McMahon cancelled the nuclear power program. Whitlam and the opposition called for an election in December of 1972, and in less than two years after taking office, McMahon was looking for new work.
The guy is at the bottom of every Australian Prime Minster ranking list I could find.
A number of British Prime Ministers land at the bottom of historic polls. There are several to choose from, but today I’m electing to pick on F.J. Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich, who seems to have stumbled accidently into the Prime Ministership, only to last long enough to screw up what the guy before him had accomplished.
When George Canning died in 1827, the king opted to plunk Robinson into the Prime Minister job. Right away the guy had to deal with the Whigs’ demand for more cabinet representation and Robinson’s knack for helping out his royal pals instead. Canning had put together a coalition of moderate Tories and members of the Whig Party, but under Robinson’s ineffective leadership that coalition collapsed like a tower of day-old croissants, covering the empire with the buttery crumbs of irreconcilable discord.
Even the king knew someone else had to bring together the partisan splinters of government; Robinson resigned after 144 days, and was reportedly outwardly joyful at his liberation from that hellish assignment.
Anthony Eden ends up at or near the bottom of a number of polls as well, primarily because he’s the British Prime Minister who bungled the nation’s involvement in the Middle East. All thanks to that shit that went down in the Suez Canal.
Egypt, who was at this time (1956) playing a lot of friendly racquetball with the USSR, wanted to nationalize the Suez Canal. In response, Israel invaded Egypt, and England and France thrust out their military chests, lobbing bombs, and fighting to keep the canal under western control. Naturally, the US would swoop in on their side and secure a major victory, right?
Nope. America sided with the UN and pushed for England and France to back off. To make a long story ridiculously short, they did just that. For Prime Minister Anthony Eden, this was political careericide. His legacy would show the Suez Crisis as the official moment of deflation from British ‘Empire’ to just Britain, and the loss of the nation’s influence in the Middle Esat. Eden resigned in early January, 1957.
Depending on which list your eyes peruse, you’ll likely find John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier or William Lyon Mackenzie King at the top of the Canadian Prime Minister Hit Parade. All three were great men (with a noble tip of the chapeau to Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau) with shiny legacies under their belts. But at the bottom of the heap there are two names who seem to consistently dwell in the basement.
One of those is Mackenzie Bowell, who took over when Sir John Thompson passed away in 1894. The first big issue to flop upon Bowell’s desk involved the Manitoba Schools Question. Manitoba wanted to stop funding denominational (Catholic and Protestant) schools, and stick to funding inclusive public facilities. The country (and also the Cabinet) was quite divided over this. Bowell, stern in his resolve, backed legislation that would have forced Manitoba to continue funding their Catholic schools. Then he didn’t.
The Cabinet was battling this out, and Bowell opted not to take a stand but to waver between their arguments, grinding the process of governing to a painful standstill. His Cabinet was so flabbergasted by Bowell’s display of pathetic flip-floppery, they expressed a complete loss of confidence in his leadership. Seven ministers resigned. Bowell was ready to do the same, until the Governor General stepped in and tried to right the ship. Most of the Cabinet returned, but from then on Bowell was in charge on paper only. He resigned at the end of the parliamentary session and fluttered into the crud-pile of history.
That’s right America – up here in Canada we have beaten you in celebrating the rise of a woman to the toppermost political office in the nation. Unfortunately, we really don’t like her that much. Kim Campbell lands at the bottom of almost every poll I could find. She took over when Brian “Hey guys, have a big ol’ tax on everything across the country!” Mulroney stepped down, and Campbell won the party leadership. Her accomplishments?
Nothing. No, seriously – nothing. Kim was appointed Prime Minister in June of 1993, and the next election was to be held that November. She never sat in Parliament, and never contributed anything significant to the governance of the country. She witnessed the annual summer break, then dove head-first into campaigning for the November election. Her campaign was so mishandled, not only did her Conservatives lose to Jean Chretien’s Liberal Party in a landslide, Campbell became only the third sitting Prime Minister in history (and the first since 1926) to also lose the election in her own riding, putting her right out of a job.
I believe I voted for the Natural Law Party that year, as a protest against a slew of unimpressive candidates. Had Kim won, who knows? Maybe she could have governed well, and crawled out from the pitiful shame of this list. We’ll never know.