Report by Richard Geno
Another Conservative Forum packed house welcomed John Yoo, law professor at UC Berkeley. Professor Yoo, an expert on presidential executive power, discussed the various presidencies over the more than two centuries of American life. The title of his new book, "Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush," served as the backdrop for his talk.
John started by talking about how different scholars look at presidents as time passes. He pointed out three presidents in particular who were not particularly popular when they left office who have moved into the top 10 of presidents as determined by historical scholars. Those three are Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.
He also referenced a recent survey conducted by Parade Magazine where their readers felt John Kennedy was the greatest president ever. He pointed out that Kennedy is one president who has significantly been diminished in the minds of scholars over the past twenty years. John listed the top ten greatest American presidents as determined by scholars as follows:
1. George Washington
2. Abraham Lincoln
3. Franklin Roosevelt
4. Thomas Jefferson
5. Teddy Roosevelt
6. Ronald Reagan
7. Harry Truman
8. Dwight Eisenhower
9. James Polk
10. Andrew Jackson
Professor Yoo pointed out that George Washington set the tone for the presidency for the next 200 years. He indicated that the founding fathers felt having Washington as the first president was more important than the Constitution itself. His "Neutrality Proclamation" was his greatest act, as he insisted that we stay out of the Napoleonic Wars.
Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South. It was also very important to Lincoln that the 13th Amendment was passed prior to the end of the Civil War.
Several things John Yoo said during the course of his presentation indicated that he had done his homework regarding The Conservative Forum. As he began his discussion on Franklin Roosevelt, he referenced that one of our recent speakers (Burt Folsom in February, 2011) had indicated that FDR was one of our worst presidents. As a conservative, John indicated that he might agree as it relates to his domestic policies; but that he felt FDR earned his standing as the third greatest president based on guiding the country through World War II.
He then transferred his attention to the four worst presidents led by James Buchanan. The other three were Franklin Pierce, James Madison and Andrew Johnson. Perhaps the biggest surprise on that list was to hear the name Madison, one of the key founding fathers. Despite being a key figure in the creation of the country, Madison was a very poor president.
Indicating that he was philosophically opposed to virtually everything President Obama was doing as president, John did say that he was pleased that he had recently changed his mind regarding keeping Guantanamo open, and deciding to try the enemy combatants at a military tribunal rather than in the civil courts. The audience of approximately 275 people gave him a standing ovation when he finished his remarks.
For the first time in over seven years and our having 80 invited speakers, we drew the attention of demonstrators who made more than a half dozen attempts to silence John Yoo. Given his legal brief provided to President Bush in dealing with enemy combatants, John has been targeted by individuals who vehemently disagree with his opinion. He was very calm about the interruptions, given he has experienced this on many occasions. In the meantime, it was a first for us; and we want to reassure our members and guests that we have already taken many precautionary steps to minimize the impact if something like this should ever happen again.
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