Following up my last list, of top academic books for a popular audience, here's my contribution (as a dual citizen) to the Greatest American debate.
I'm going to leave aside the inventors and sportsmen and explorers, as I simply am not that interested in them, to look at the candidates whose contribution is in the sphere of civic activity. In this category, Muhammad Ali was a great sportsman of course, but also an inspiration in the black struggle for freedom in the US and globally, and Einstein, an inventor, but also a critical Zionist and campaigner for world peace. For me, they deserve to be in the list of great Americans. I like the fact that Americans voted for Einstein, as a naturalized American, a refugee - which says something about the essence of what Americanness is.
Then there are the people on the list who were or are actually opposed to core American values like liberty, justice and democracy: worst of all Walt Disney, who flirted with fascism (see Leni, Walt and Walter: Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschafte and Straight Dope Staff Report: Was Walt Disney a fascist?) and Henry Ford, who more than flirted with fascism (see The International Jew, Power, Ignorance, and Anti-Semitism: Henry Ford and His War on Jews and Henry Ford and the Jews). I am personally uneasy about Billy Graham, a man who has talked about the stranglehold the Jews have on America, and their responsibility for porn. I'm a bit uneasy about Bill Clinton, a man who abused the citizens of America by abusing the office of president. I'm unhappy about Reagan, a man who armed death squads in Latin America.
My vote from the AOL shortlist would probably go to Thomas Jefferson, who helped frame the values that I believe the likes of Reagan and Ford abused. His fight against the Alien and Sedition Act should inspire us today.
Forgetting the shortlist, I'd like to nominate another adopted American, a friend of Einstein's: Hannah Arendt, anti-fascist and anti-Stalinist (see also this post). I'd like to see John Brown in the list. And I'd like to see Thomas Paine, another adopted American. Finally, why didn't Johnny Cash make the top 100 when Michael Jackson did?
Files under: heroes of freedom
Blog links: Jaybeas Corpus: Who's really surprised?, Gjoblaag: The Greatest Americans? HA!.
Book links: John Adams, Hitchens' Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, 1776