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Qualities of the Historical Douchebag
A-List ego, D-List status.
--Urban Dictionary definition of "douchebag."
Consider historical figures like Aaron Burr, George McClellan, Herbert Hoover, or Douglas MacArthur. No slouches there. Each one nearly got to the top of whatever game they were playing. But in the end, each ended up in the dustbin of history.
Perhaps they were giant douchebags.
When it came time for them to reach the top, there was some quality about them that kept them from it. In every case, it was self-inflicted.
Aaron Burr got into Princeton at age thirteen. He first applied when he was eleven. He worked his way to the top of his class. Distinguished himself in the early battles of the Revolution. He met with consistent and enviable success with the ladies. He hit on John Hancock’s fiancé, carried on an affair with the wife of a high-ranking British official, and deflowered a fourteen year-old British spy before turning her over to the authorities. After the war, he ran a successful legal practice and got himself elected Senator and Vice President. He ran for President twice and nearly won, in a field of contenders that included John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and a slew of other founding fathers.
George McClellan fought with distinction in the Mexican War, became an expert in military logistics and engineering, was a successful railroad executive, and by age thirty four commanded all the Union forces in the early days of the Civil War. He was nominated to run for President against Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and got elected governor of New Jersey.
Before the stock market crashed, sending the country into the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover was considered one of the greatest living Americans. He was worth four million dollars at the age of forty (100 million in today’s dollars). He essentially solved the world food crisis that arose during the first world war. He kept the Allied Powers fed, which was integral to victory. After the war, much of the world was starving. It was Hoover who made sure they were fed. He was talked about as a presidential contender in 1920, and served as Secretary of Commerce in the Harding and Coolidge Administrations. He was so effective and indispensable that they called him the “Secretary of Commerce and under-secretary of all other departments.” He was America’s fixer: when the Mississippi River flooded catastrophically in 1927, the governors of six states along the river asked President Coolidge to appoint Hoover to handle the crisis, even though as Secretary of Commerce he had no business being anywhere near a natural disaster. His popularity skyrocketed due to his administration of flood relief, and he won the White House decisively in 1928.
Douglas MacArthur was the valedictorian of his high school and First Captain of his class at West Point, where he graduated at the top of his class. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor in 1914. He won seven Silver Stars in the First World War and was nominated for another Medal of Honor. He was the first recipient of a Purple Heart (at his own insistence). After the war he became the youngest superintendent of West Point in a hundred years. He was promoted to the army’s youngest major general at age 44. By age fifty, he was the Army’s Chief of Staff. He was a lieutenant general ten years later and a full general six months after that. And he finally got his Medal of Honor.
Not too shabby. So what happened?