20 GREATEST AMERICANS II
As promised this morning, my entries in John Hawkins’ poll:
In no particular order. I cheated in a couple of instances by listing two for the price of one but am still under 20.
Orville and Wilbur Wright
James Watson & Francis Crick
Other than perhaps Watson and Crick, none of these choices are particularly original, judging by their overlap with the consensus.
“Great” is a tough one because it includes so many facets. I considered sports figures, notably Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, but don’t think their contributions exactly ranked up among the others. Other than Twain, who is the quintessential American storyteller, I couldn’t think of anyone in the fine arts that merited such inclusion, either. Certainly, more inventors or businessmen could have made the list, but most inventions nowadays are group efforts. I considered Bill Gates, but he’s really more a marketing genius than anything else.
I considered several military leaders–Patton and MacArthur, most notably–but decided they were both deeply flawed and made little contribution outside their profession. Ultimately, I only included Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower, who wound up being excellent presidents afterward. Eisenhower wouldn’t have made the list just as president, although he was a good one, but the task of Supreme Allied Commander during WWII has been unparalleled.
The politicians were a hard list to make once one got past the most important of the Founders. Leading the Revolution, drafting the Declaration of Independence, and being the chief architect of the Constitution are hard to beat. Two soldier-statesmen, Ike and TR, joined the group.
Reagan is a difficult selection but was the formative influence in my political life. He helped win the Cold War in a substantial way, although a string of presidents of both parties deserve a lot of credit as well. He also deserves a lot of credit for getting us out of the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, Jimmy Carter malaise funk we’d been in for so long. He doesn’t belong on Mount Rushmore but, like the other great presidents, he was the right man for the right time.
Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are the other two “great” presidents on most lists but I exclude them from this compilation. Both were great men and great leaders during trying times. But Lincoln waged a war that killed half a million Americans and subverted the Constitution while doing it. Preserving the Union was a great goal but the cost was too dear. FDR exploited a Depression and a World War to radically restructure the political landscape, permanently changing the inter-branch checks and balances system. Presidents are now too powerful, requiring Congress to resort to nasty stalling tactics to exert their rightful power. FDR also put us on the road to socialism.
Guys not on my list that should have been: Alexander Hamilton and George Marshall. Hamilton never occurred to me and I excluded Marshall for some reason that now escapes me.
Update (2232): A commenter points out that half of the DNA team of Watson and Crick was British. Heh. I just think of them as a pair, I guess.
And to think I excluded Albert Einstein, who would have definitely made even a much shorter list, because most of his accomplishments came before he became an American citizen.