Back in 2011, Matt Damon made headlines when during an interview with Elle, the once very vocal Obama supporter threw some shade Barry’s way by saying, “You know, a one-term president with some balls who actually got stuff done would have been, in the long run of the country, much better.” Because balls are important when trying to lead people.
And we don’t mean balls as in 2 (or more) testicles inside a scrotum, but metaphorical balls built on grit and fortitude, tenacity and a sheer “don’t give a fuck”-ness.
So who were the ballsiest leaders in history? Here are our picks:
7. Margaret Thatcher
We should just start calling Lady Thatcher “Lady Balls” from now on. Sure Thatcher did away with much of the welfare state in Britain and caused mass unemployment amongst working class communities, but she did it with such grim determination it’s hard to deny her ballsiness. You may not agree with her policies, but she was definitely a badass. Not only was she the only woman to have served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, she was also the longest serving in modern times
6. Abraham Lincoln
Honest Abe Lincoln helped keep a fractured nation intact, he abolished slavery, and he is regarded as one of the best Presidents in U.S. history. He was a downright genius, but he was humble enough to lean on more knowledgeable advisors. He knew when to embrace peace, but he also knew when to put his very large foot down. Oh, and he also happened to deliver one of the most powerful speeches in the history of our country, asserting that our “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” No big deal.
5. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords
Gabby Giffords, a staunch proponent of health care, gun control, and immigration reform, and only the third woman in Arizona’s history to be elected to the U.S. Congress, took over headlines when she was SHOT IN THE HEAD during a failed assassination attempt. After a grueling bit of rehab, she’s recovered some ability to walk, speak, read and write, and though she had to resign from her congressional seat in 2012 in order to focus on her recovery (which she did to a standing ovation from the House), she has promised to return to public service in the future.
4. Simon Bolivar
Latin America has had a rough go of things ever since the first Conquistadors dropped anchor and decided that exploitation was a pretty great plan, but in the early 1800’s, one man, Simon Bolivar, decided to fight back against the foreign royalty running the show, rallying countries to declare their independence and helping them win it by utilizing guerrilla warfare techniques against the more well-trained Spanish army. It took him 9 years (and a few false starts) to get the first country, Venezuela, free, but after that he marched through South America, liberating a handful of other countries and eventually being elected present of the liberated territories.
General rule of thumb: if you fight an uphill battle for freedom for over 10 years and eventually free over half a continent from imperialist rule, you’ve got major balls.
3. George W. Bush
One of the more controversial additions to this list, but when you get over the emotional hurdle that he’s on the short list for “Worst Presidents in U.S. History,” you have to recognize that he might have the biggest figurative pair of anyone on here. In the face of devastating failures, consistently bad decision-making, and vocal public outrage, he announced Missions Accomplished well before they actually were and just kept on grinning with that “Are we sure he’s actually aware of what’s going on?” smirk of his.
2. Winston Churchill
“The British Bulldog” is a legend, known just as much for his love of cigars, guns, booze, and quippy quotes as he is for helping save Britain’s ass during WWII. He also gave one of the greatest, ballsiest pump-up speeches of all time in the face of a potential Nazi invasion:
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France. We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
Supposed progeny of deities aside, Mahatma Ghandi is the face of “nonviolence civil disobedience,” the ballsiest form of conflict resolution. He led India to its independence from Britain and helped inspire civil rights movements across the world (cough MLK Jr. cough). His birthday, October 2nd, is International Nonviolence Day, and if you think there’s anything unballsy about nonviolence, try asking your friend to punch you in the face and not cower like a baby once he cocks his fist.
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Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.