It occurs to me that some writers, myself among them, may have gone just a bit overboard in denouncing the illegitimate power grab by the Bush team. While it was undoubtedly a rather nakedly undemocratic seizure of the presidency, is Bush really the only illegitimate president, or even the most illegitimate president, in modern American history? Not by a long shot.
And while overriding the will of the people by disenfranchising vast numbers of voters is certainly rather dastardly behavior, I would argue that, on the bright side, nobody got assassinated. It was, in other words, a bloodless coup, which can’t be said of several other transfers of power that this country has seen in recent times (here defined as the last 100 years). From the very beginning of the so-called American Century, assassination has played a key role in shaping the presidency.
Teddy Roosevelt was propelled into power in 1901 by the assassination of President William McKinley. McKinley was allegedly shot by anarchist Leon Csolgosz in Buffalo, New York. Two bullets struck the president, one in the abdomen and the other a grazing wound to the ribs. Neither was fatal. Nonetheless, McKinley died eight days later, supposedly as a result of gangrene. If at first you don’t succeed …
Teddy was just beginning to serve his first term as vice-president, having replaced McKinley’s previous VP, Garret Hobart. After just six months in office, Roosevelt assumed the presidency. Csolgosz, in that fine tradition of American ‘lone nut’ assassins, was quickly silenced; within two months, he had been indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced and executed.
Facing election on his own for the first time in 1904, Teddy faced a tough challenge from Mark Hanna, a powerful Republican and the primary political and financial backer of the slain McKinley. Luckily though, Hanna sort of died before the Republican National Convention, so Teddy easily clinched the nomination.
In 1923, Calvin Coolidge was thrust into office by the assassination of President Warren G. Harding. What’s that, you say? Didn’t Harding die of natural causes? Yeah, right. The official cause of death was listed by White House physician General Sawyer – who was at the President’s death bed, along with First Lady ‘Duchess’ Harding – as an embolism.
This is, of course, the official version of history that we all know and love. There are a couple of problems with the story, however. First of all, the good doctor never performed an autopsy on the body, so how he was able to divine the cause of death of the previously healthy President is anyone’s guess.
And the doctor, strangely enough, was similarly struck dead just a year later, while being visited by the only other witness to the president’s death, serial poisoner Duchess Harding. According to a report in the New York Times at the time, Sawyer’s death “was almost identical with the manner of death of the late Warren G. Harding when General Sawyer was with the President in San Francisco.”
In 1945, Harry S Truman assumed the presidency upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which may or may not have been an assassination. Like Teddy Roosevelt, Truman had just taken office after replacing FDR’s previous VP, Henry Wallace. Within just 82 days, Truman was president, just in time to negotiate the final ‘peace’ terms for the post-war world.
It is said that Roosevelt complained of a headache, lost consciousness, and then just died. Whether this was in fact from natural causes is largely a matter of speculation. Roosevelt had obviously felt well enough to begin an unprecedented fourth presidential term, and did not appear publicly to be in poor health. It is now claimed though that he was indeed ailing, and that that fact was concealed from the American people. How much of that is historical revisionism is anyone’s guess.
In 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson took office following the assassination of President John Kennedy, which pretty much everyone agrees was definitely an assassination. The only disagreement seems to be over whether it was done by the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, the Mafia, pro-Castro Cubans, anti-Castro Cubans, expatriate Nazis, Woody Harrelson’s dad, or – by some of the more dubious theories – some guy named Lee Harvey Oswald.
Alleged assassin Oswald was, as we all remember, indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced and executed in just two days by a tittie bar owner named Jack Ruby who also happened to have connections to the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, the Mafia, pro-Castro Cubans, anti-Castro Cubans, expatriate Nazis, and Woody Harrelson’s dad.
Five years later, the assassination of Robert Kennedy was the key factor in the presidential election victory of Richard Nixon. Like Mark Hanna in 1904, Kennedy was much too strong of an opponent. LBJ, knowing that the big boys play hardball, had wisely but unexpectedly chosen not to seek a second elected term of office. Nixon was, therefore, pretty much given a clear playing field.
He was, however, then himself ousted from power in a coup directed from within. Though masquerading as an impeachment proceeding, evidence clearly suggests that what actually occurred was a CIA-directed coup, albeit a bloodless one, kind of like George W’s. Also like the current Bush coup, it resulted in an appointed presidency, that of Gerald Ford.
Say what you will of Bush the Younger, at least he actually got out there and ran for the office before being appointed. He even came pretty close to winning. Ford, on the other hand, just stepped right up from Congress, where his primary duty had been to funnel unaccountable funds to the CIA. Come to think of it, Bush’s seizure of the White House wasn’t even as objectionable as the one his father appears to have attempted in 1981.
For those who have forgotten, that was when a good friend of the Bush family tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. Like Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Bush the Elder had just begun to serve as vice-president, essentially an unelected position. After just ten weeks, Bush came perilously close to seizing the presidency when that crazed ‘lone nut,’ John Hinckley, Jr., opened fire on Reagan.
I’m sure that the connections between the Bush and Hinckley families are just a coincidence though, just as I’m sure that there’s nothing to the initial press report that spoke of a second gunman on an overpass. Assassinations and assassination attempts on political leaders never have any political meaning in this country; they are always the work of those inexplicable ‘lone nut’ gunmen.
You know, like that lone nut who shot President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth. The truth though is that Booth was merely the front man for a much wider conspiracy, a fact that was acknowledged at the time. Four additional co-conspirators, in fact, were sent to the gallows for the crime; two others received life sentences. You would be hard-pressed though to ascertain that fact from most of our written and oral histories.
Interestingly enough, Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, had just taken office weeks before the assassination, replacing Lincoln’s first VP, Hannibal Hamlin. As previously noted, such an action has been known to seriously shorten the life expectancy of sitting presidents. The ‘lone gunman’ Booth, by the way, was quickly silenced when he was allegedly killed in the act of taking him into custody.
Looking back at the American Century, it’s hard to agree with those who would claim that the current Bush coup d’etat signals the death toll for democracy in this country. The ugly truth is that democracy died long ago, if it ever in fact existed here at all. The Bush ‘transition,’ in reality, is just business as usual in this great country of ours.
Coups have always been a prominent part of the American political scene. Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and possibly Harry Truman all took office as the result of coups just in the last century. Richard Nixon appears to have done so by violently eliminating the competition.
Just because they are not recorded as coups in our history books doesn’t mean that they didn’t occur. And rest assured that when the official history of the current ‘election’ is written, the Bush coup will not be recorded for what it was either. As everyone knows, conspiracies don’t exist in this country; things just sort of happen.
Like, for instance, in September of 1975, when two assassination attempts were made on President Ford. Had either attempt proven successful, Nelson Rockefeller would have stepped up from his position as the appointed vice-president to become the second consecutive unelected president of these United States.
And like when two men allegedly attempted to assassinate President Truman in November of 1951, as plans were being made for the 1952 presidential election campaign. The attempt of course failed, but Truman did rather unexpectedly opt not to run for a second elected term of office, clearing the way for an Eisenhower presidency.
In fact, every president who has taken office this past century as a direct result of assassination has inexplicably surrendered the job while still eligible for another term of office. As previously noted, Johnson did so in 1968. So did Teddy Roosevelt in 1908, clearing the way for William Taft. And Calvin Coolidge did likewise in 1928, clearing the playing field for Herbert Hoover.
There is one potential bright spot amidst all this discussion of assassination. The twenty year curse is still in effect! For the uninformed, this refers to the fact that, beginning 160 years ago, every president prior to Reagan elected in a twenty year cycle has died in office. These presidents were, in chronological order:
William Henry Harrison – elected in 1840, assassinated (?) in 1841
Abraham Lincoln – elected in 1860, assassinated in 1865
James Garfield – elected in 1880, assassinated in 1881
William McKinley – elected in 1900, assassinated in 1901
Warren Harding – elected in 1920, assassinated in 1923
Franklin Roosevelt – elected in 1940, assassinated (?) in 1945
John Kennedy – elected in 1960, assassinated in 1963
Had Reagan succumbed to his wounds, he would have joined that list. It can still be said though that every president elected on that twenty year cycle (since 1860 at least) has been the victim of a serious assassination attempt. This is true even if we assume that FDR’s untimely death was by natural causes. On February 15th, 1933, a man named Giuseppe Zangara attempted to assassinate Roosevelt, but failed. He instead shot and killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who was with the president. Zangara was, of course, indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced and executed in less than five weeks.
Will the twenty year curse hold for the man who is about to take office following the year 2000 election? And if so, will the assassination attempt succeed? Will it be perpetrated by yet another ‘lone nut’ assassin? Frankly, it doesn’t appear very likely. It just wouldn’t seem quite right to have a Bush be the victim of an assassination plot, but you never know. I’m thinking of Al Gore as the lone gunman. He could always claim that he shot Bush in a duel. It’s a longshot, but it worked once before.