Heinlein’s heroine Maureen Johnson had this to say in To Sail Beyond the Sunset:
But why are the people of the United States and their government always the villains in the eyes of the revisionists? Why can’t our enemies – such as the king of Spain, and the kaiser, and Hitler, and Geronimo, and Villa, and Sandino, and Mao Tse-tung, and Jefferson Davis – why can’t these each take a turn in the pillory? Why is it always our turn?
This was written in 1982, so of course Saddam Hussein is not mentioned. But he’d fit right in, and the question still stands more than 20 years later.
Now of course serious historical research does turn up some less than savory aspects of the character of our nation’s heroes. And it can be depressing to note, for instance, that the man who wrote that it was “self-evident” that all men were created equal failed to apply that self-evident notion to his own slaves.
But we must keep our perspective. It’s the words, more than the men themselves, that influence us across the generations and make our country what it is today. And Jefferson’s words, long after his death, motivated men who took those words more seriously than he did to take up arms and drive slavery off of our continent.
But in any case, it doesn’t make sense to compare flesh-and-blood rulers against ideal rulers unless you know of some way to produce those ideal rulers. So far, no such rulers have shown up; until they do, I’ll take most any American President and Congress, past or present, over the available alternatives. Or, as Ashish Hanwadikar notes, after linking to one of the less savory alleged actions of the Lincoln administration:
It is a fact that our leaders are made up of myths! Beyond their great legacies lies some horrible crimes that we choose to ignore because it doesn’t fit the great leader story! If this is case in a free society, I shudder to think how much horrible “leaders” like Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mugabe, KIM Jong Il and others!
So true! Our guys aren’t the only ones that hide skeletons in their closets. Which means, given what we already know about some of the non-Americans, past and present, that (mis)ruled various parts of the Earth, their skeletons must be frightening indeed.