President Bad Ass

Mount RushmoreAbraham Lincoln’s second career as a vampire hunter is well-known these days. And while I am warmed in the belly by visions of Ole Abe plunging wooden stakes into chests as he steps up on the dais at Gettysburg, I am fairly certain it is a fictional second career.

Still, it’s fun to think about.

These days, we tend to equate the term “President of the United States” with a picture of a stuffy older man standing behind a podium, starting wars on a small tribe in Timbuktu that’s rumored to sit on an oil deposit.

We rarely imagine our presidents as men of action or daring or danger. It is rather difficult to envision an American President as we know them in office heading a charge against an enemy stronghold or bailing out of an airplane under fire.

But several U.S. presidents did heroic acts such as these, and in almost every American war. This post is dedicated to the top five bad ass Presidents of the United States.

5. President George H.W. Bush

We all think of President Bush’s rather lulling boring voice, telling us that there will be ‘No new taxes’ a few months before he nails the country with a load of new taxes. He is remembered as a good president who was sort of a weenie. However, President Bush was the youngest pilot in the Navy during World War II and was shot down by the Japanese and bailed out into the Pacific. He floated alone in a life raft for four hours, all the while imagining how he needed to get back safely so he could go on to sire dangerously incompetent sons.

Nevertheless, this makes him a Presidential Bad Ass, as do the facts that after his rescue he participated in the rescue of other downed pilots for a few months, played college baseball, married into money, was director of the CIA, puked on the Prime Minister of Japan and then started a war which he won about two months later.

Oh yeah, and when (then) former-President Bush went sky-diving at age 80, he probably wondered why people call it an adrenalin sport when nobody shoots at you.

4. President Harry Truman

OK, we know President Truman as the man who ended World War II by dropping The Bomb on Japan. An act for which he deserves to be called a bad ass, not because it was a John Wayne-like act, but because it was the first time in the history of the world that anyone ever had to do anything that disturbing and controversial. That took some guts. Ironically, the next time the U.S showed guts like that, it was again against Japan and President Bush was covering their Prime Minister in them.

But while looking at this modest man who looks more like an accountant than a president, it’s easy to forget that Truman was an artillery officer in World War I. He had terrible sight so he memorized the eye chart to pass and was sent to France, where he saw combat. During one sudden attack, his men started retreating and he kept them in order by berating them with curses he had “learned while working on the railroad in Sante Fe.” He could be a Presidential Bad Ass simply for having visited Sante Fe before 1920 and not getting an STD.

Truman is also a Presidential Bad Ass because he made probably the second most controversial decision of the first half of the 20th Century – he desegregated the U.S. Armed Forces. This decision was plausibly more destructive to his presidency than was The Bomb to Nagasaki. But he did go on to be reelected. Know how?

Being a bad ass. And cursing.

3. President James Monroe

Every American knows the heroic exploits of George Washington in the Revolutionary War: crossing the Delaware River, winning the Battle of Trenton, creating the Philadelphia Cheesesteak, among some other stuff.

But what about President James Monroe? Monroe was in the boat with George Washington crossing the Delaware and then fought with distinction and was wounded at the resulting Battle of Trenton. He did all of this after an intense winter of dysentery, frostbite, cleaning George Washington’s wooden teeth and watching terrible preseason football. He was one bad SOB.

Interestingly, as a result, he has also been memorialized in famous American paintings. First, in Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware, he is the man in the boat holding the American flag and in Capture of the Hessians by John Trumball he is the wounded soldier in the bottom of the painting.  

Oh yes, and during his presidency, Monroe created the Monroe Doctrine, which essentially told Europe to stay the f*ck out of the U.S. This worked well up until Americans decided that nobody in the country made good pizza and that we really wanted good music.

2. President James A. Garfield

Garfield is probably known most for being one of the four American presidents who have been assassinated. In fact, he is probably most well-known for being the least well-known of the four presidents who have been assassinated.

But before that, he was a President Bad Ass. This guy saw some of the worst combat in the U.S. Civil War and did so while carrying a beard that weighed more than Ulysses S. Grant’s whiskey barrel. He was (mostly) known as a fearless leader who led from the front. The climax of his military career came in form of a dramatic ride across the front line to ascertain the Union Army’s right flank during Battle of Chickamauga. This allowed the Union to resituate and win the battle. And, oddly enough, it allowed Ambrose Bierce to survive to tell the world how overrated James Garfield was.

After the war, he did a few things, played some golf, became president, was shot, then waited for me to write this blog post about him.

1. President Theodore Roosevelt

I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you have done, Theodore Roosevelt did it better. This guy is the crème de la crème of Presidential Bad Asses. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Governator has a tattoo of Theodore Roosevelt on his bicep.

Let’s start with the history books: (Posthumously) awarded the Medal of Honor for his famous ride up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt was one four-eyed bad ass. This military action occurred after he resigned his post as Secretary of the Navy to join the army, after he walked a beat as NYC Police Commissioner, after he beat asthma as a child, after he almost died on an expedition that he led into the Amazon and after he worked as both a cowboy and a deputy sheriff in North Dakota. Do you like DeadWood? Who do you think killed it?

Oh yes, and this was before he was shot in the chest before giving a speech. By the way, an assassination attempt he survived and a speech he gave.

His genes made his kids so impressively tough that one of them won a Medal of Honor in World War II and another went through life with the name Kermit.

Case Closed.

  1. #1 by Fredi on November 8, 2012 - 8:47 pm

    Damien, this post brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for the extremely well researched history lesson.

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on November 8, 2012 - 9:28 pm

      Thank you Fredi! I really appreciate that.

  2. #3 by Gabrielle on November 8, 2012 - 8:49 pm

    I hate it when people say history is boring. You should read about the women who fought in the civil war. Sara Edmunds was a spy, concealed wounds to not be found cross dressing and eventually won herself veterans benefits.

    • #4 by Damien Galeone on November 8, 2012 - 9:29 pm

      Hey, that’s a great tid bit of trivia, Gab. Now I know what my Wikipedia fun shall start with tonight before bed. Thank you!

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