Skip to comments.WORST PRESIDENT EVER (vote)
Posted on 08/12/2005 3:25:54 PM PDT by hang 'em
Who is/was the WORST U.S. PRESIDENT EVER? Carter? Clinton? Make your choice and state your reasons.
Teams and tribes probably have a lot to with it. If you were a liberal Democrat and a professor, Wilson was the first of your kind to be elected president. Maybe you even went to Washington or Paris with him. So you taught your students that this was the dawn of the new day, and they might believe you and go to Washington with FDR. And the same would be true of their students and Kennedy/Johnson. This generational sucession was a big part of American liberalism. It was it's founding myth, at least until Carter and Clinton dropped the ball.
If you were a conservative, you'd see Wilson as the beginning of a bad trend, and judge him accordingly. So Taft comes out as the anti-Wilson, and has to be built up. The alternative -- that there was nobody in American politics to oppose trends like the Income Tax Amendment or direct election of Senators or the Federal Reserve -- is too hard to take.
Personalities also must have been important. It's hard to think of Taft being quite as self-righteous, self-centered, arrogant, and domineering as Wilson was at the end of his presidency. So we form an image of Wilson's whole Presidency based on his second term. What if Wilson had been defeated in 1916? Perhaps he wouldn't have been so much the liberal hero or the conservative villain as he later became, and perhaps the ideological differences between the parties wouldn't have developed until later.
How important was Wilson's "presidential" style -- addressing Congress directly and giving it an ambitious legislative agenda? How much of a departure from earlier Presidents was it? Presidential activism certainly does make him look like the precursor of FDR and Johnson, and helped to establish the oppositions of American politics: Wilson Democrats vs. Taft Republicans rather than Cleveland Democrats vs. Roosevelt Republicans. Even TR looked less a proponent of presidential power than Wilson. How did a supporter of "Congressional Government" come around to such a position?
Not true my dear. The slavery in other countries was abolished BEFORE the Civil War. Even serfdom in Russia was abolished just as Civil War started (serfdom in Russia was the last remaining in Europe). And slavery was eradicated much earlier than serfdom!
No, bloody Civil War was very bad and the following abandonment of American blacks who did not get any help to stand on their feet not any better.
The main thing Lincoln achieved was the destruction of the sovereignty of states and creating powerful central government.
Nobody attacked Nazism. It was Nazism which attacked others, overextended itself and was crushed by the Soviet Communists (with the help of USA and England). Communism was not overthrown by force, it was the "history or economics" which "set everything to rights and vanquish[ed] the inefficient system" from inside. We must live on parallel universes, Sir.
CARTER: Because I'm fairly young, and my frame of reference is limited. But he pulled the Persian rug out from under the feet of the Shah, and you can trace all this fundamentalist Islamofacist crap right back to Khomeini.
CLINTON: Number 2, for obvious reasons.
GEORGE W BUSH: Quickly moving up the list. Five years in, and our borders are still porous. And, all evidence to the contrary, he continues to insist that "Islam is a religion of peace." (Did like the tax cuts, though. The economy is doing very well, in spite of what we read in the MSM.)
BEST? RONALD REAGAN (I know this wasn't asked, but I just had to throw it in.)
He should be hung.
What if Wilson had been defeated in 1916? Perhaps he wouldn't have been so much the liberal hero or the conservative villain as he later became, and perhaps the ideological differences between the parties wouldn't have developed until later.Absolutely. His first term was nothing more than a Cleveland term or the other. WWI saved his political a$$, first in opposition to it, and then for involvement in it. What the WW liberals love is his 2nd term, absolutely. They'd have so little to go with otherwise -- especially this, your excellent characterization of his 2nd term:
self-righteous, self-centered, arrogant, and domineering...That character was there during the 1st term, but, as with TR's 1st term, the political hedge moderated excess.
As for Wilson's "presidential style," I'm not sure the State of the Union address given at Congress really changed much. It was dramatic, however, and thereby cannot be ignored. (Btw, Taft holds that modern honor of a Prez addressing the Congress directly, for he presided over a joint House-Senate session in honor of the deceased VP Sherman in 1912.) Wilson was a very, very good speaker. I think it only added to his general political advance and agenda. The Dems were on a roll, and he rolled with it.
And, certainly, his "style" most definitely was an extension of the TR model. I'd add Taft and McKinley to it, for both of those used the presidency effetively. McKinley's management of the Span-Am war was superb and dramatic. Taft employed modern transport, media, and commmunication to great effect and the deliberate purpose of bringing the presidency to the American people. More Americans saw Taft during his presidency than had they seen of any other president.
Furthermore, Wilson was acting on Taft's lead for more Executive-Legislative coordination. Taft even proposed a constitutional amendment to give Cabinet officers permanent, non-voting seats in Congress. He wanted greater coordination and discussion, which was part of the period's efforts to remove politics from government.
Anyway, I agree entirely that the moderns of any period read themselves into history whenever and wherever they can. Absolutely, and that's why to me history is so fascinating. I know I'm guilty of it. Unlike others, however, I'll admit it...
I'm surprised you don't have George W. Bush on that list.
ROFLOL! Insanity, man! Insanity!!
I think Hillary was the worst president we ever had.
1) King Lincoln
It's a stupid idea, because if you let such things go unchecked, they start to look like an unstoppable wave of the future. If we followed such advice, we would have given into every evil under the sun in the hope that it would just go away on its own. That's hardly wise policy. I'm not saying that we go out of our way to slay dragons, but if they come at us, we shouldn't stay our hand because of some theory of economic history that later generations may come up with. If things have worked out for the best in the past, it's at least in part due to the fact that people didn't flinch when action was needeed or give into comforting ideas of economic inevitability.
It all depends on who's ox is being gored -- on who suffers. I doubt most African-Americans would agree with your belief that yielding to the slaveowners on everything would have made things better for them. That was the slave owner's attitude throughout history -- "Give me everything a want and all will be well" -- but slaves and their descendants thought differently. I doubt most Poles or other Eastern Europeans would share your servile philosophy either. But reading your tag line about the "god" of the market suggests that arguing with you is probably futile. Some things do sort themselves out on their own, without people taking action intentionally, but many don't. If you don't recognize that or if you take people's efforts at fighting tyranny or slavery lightly, there's not much point in continuing the argument.
Right now... I have the Rapist leading by a c-hair.
Announcing a withdrawal from the union, declaring oneself not bound by the law of the land, repudiating debts, seizing and destroying of federal property, forming a rival league, calling for an army, firing on US troops -- these were all serious violations of the Constitution. Not abiding with the Dred Scot decision -- if that's what happened was a lesser matter. Perhaps the government would have been with it's right to impose the decision on the states but it's hardly the same as what happened in 1861.
But seriously, the states were virtually autonomous before the Civil War.
But seriously, they weren't. They didn't have the right to coin money, deliver mail, raise an army, declare war, or make treaties with foreign powers. They'd given up a lot of power and the attributes of sovereignty.
The only federal official the people knew was the postmaster.
The hand of government -- especially the federally government -- was light in early 19th century America, but that doesn't mean that the states were sovereign, or that the federal government didn't have powers of its own under the constitution.
Secession was just the next step and not specifically proscribed by the Constitution.
Look at the supremacy clause of the Constitution -- the Constitution and federal laws take presidence over state laws in the federal sphere. Any change in the status of a state couldn't be achieved by the state alone. A "right to secession" was something read into the Constitution by a loose and sloppy reading of the document.
What settled the matter was military action. The Civil War was a second Revolution, but this time the rebels lost.
The revolutionaries of 1776 could make a far better case than the rebels of 1861. In 1776 the colonists had no voice in Parliament. They believed that they had no other way to influence things but to demonstrate and petition. When that channel was closed by the Crown's military action, they took up arms.
The secessionists of 1861 had been represented in Congress -- even overrepresented. They had plenty of channels to resolve things peacefully. But they rejected such Constitutional channels, and unconstitutionally broke with the rest of the country.
Clinton for everything else.
Since Washington's administration a compact theory of the Union, which emphasized the voluntary nature of the Union, had many supporters. even New England was willing to invoke it during the War of 1812. Webster, who so eloquently articulated the idea of a permanent union in 1831, had had quite a different view tin 1813. Lincoln, like Webster a Whig, simply adopted Webster's theory of the Union. in opposition to the Jeffersonian- Calhoun view. Since his side won, that settled the matter, although the lawyers were able to cover up the cracks in the original constitution by means of the 13th and 14th Amendments. Stylistically, the change in view of the country was reflected in the pre-war references that the United States "are," as opposed to 'is" after the war.
The federal government likewise had to turn to the National Guard during Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and probably WWII as well. That doesn't mean that the states are sovereign now. I don't know the exact legal situation of the national guard, but it's not as though the New York National Guard is New York's own army.
Calhoun's theory of government wasn't that of Washington or Marshall. It was quite a questionable theory. Jackson and Madison both rejected it. Most Americans agreed with them in the 1831 nullification crisis. You can find a good overview of constitutional theories here.
The bit about the Civil War changing "the United States are" into "the United States is" is striking, but I'm not sure how solid it is. British usage, and perhaps earlier American usage, requires a use a plural verb for collective nouns. Current US usage doesn't. I don't know all the details, but I wouldn't assume it took a war to change that.
The Civil War did change a lot, but some people assume that everything was the opposite before. If the federal government has power now or if we're one country, they assume the states had to be running things or that we were a loose league of independent states before Lincoln. I'm not sure that's right. The relationship of the federal government and the states and the constitutionality of secession were certainly debateable then. But "debatable" means that people disagreed then, not that the agreed on the opposite of what's accepted now.
I am sorry, I think that using the democratic procedures and victim status to find what is true is a complete nonsense.
Did you ever nominate whom you think is the worst president ever? Just curious.
Then you have to consider two pretty much acknowledged failures: Hoover and Carter.
Beyond that, I don't know. Harding and Grant didn't do the presidency any service. If the criteria is managerial ability they score low, but how much permanent harm did they do the country?
FDR did a lot of harm, but the country did get through some really difficult times under his leadership without losing its representative system of government. So how do you balance out the good and bad?
The ones historians will puzzle over for a long time are the two Johnsons and Nixon. Once Andrew Johnson was a hero for saving the presidency. Now some historians see him as possibly the worst President for having botched Reconstruction and representing the worst racial attitudes, untempered by more humane concerns.
If someone names Lyndon Johnson as the most horrible President of the twentieth century, I won't argue. There's a lot to be said for that. The question is to what degree the resolution of the civil rights question outweighs Vietnam and the mess at home. I don't have an answer to that.
Nixon is another president we'll puzzle over for a long time. I'd understand if someone hates him. But would Humphrey or McGovern have done better with the cards America had thirty-five years ago?
We're fortunate that Reagan brought the country back in the 1980s or we'd have to judge Nixon and Johnson and Carter a lot more harshly. Another country with other leaders would have real trouble overcoming what we went through in the Sixties and Seventies.
How about yours?
LBJ is the worst going away, his abuse or power, his facilitation of a dependency class, his knowing wasting of American lives on a lost cause, a loss he facilitated and extended, and his letting of the inflation genie out of the bottle. Carter is perhaps second. We were lucky to get Reagan to undo the damage. Jackson might be number 3, for the spoils system, and what he did to the Indians.
I rank FDR as the third BEST president, for getting the US through the depression without a revolution, for many of the institutions he created, such as social security and the SEC, and the banking regulations, and of course, for his saving of Europe from its lights going out, perhaps forever.
What war in Europe/bombing of London?
The Great Depression was triggered by the stock market crash in October 1929.
WWII didn't start until 1939.
Yep, I'd say Carter, too. He didn't seem to be able to shift his executive skills to the larger job of being president. Like Clinton, who was awful and will always be remembered as not too bad because he was also lucky not to have to deal with some major disaster (we were lucky about that, too), he just wasn't up to the requirements of the job.
And like Clinton he didn't just slink away after he wasn't president anymore. I'd say that's a triumph of ego over the facts. It amazes me every time I see one of their faces on the news.
I rank FDR as the third BEST president, for getting the US through the depression without a revolution...I really don't understand this proposition. You're saying that had FDR not adopted his New Deal reforms the country would have gone into revolution? What's the evidence?
By my studies, the empowerment of the radical elements followed and did not precede the New Deal. Furthermore, FDR was elected on a conservative plank. Where was the revolution in '32?
I more or less agree with the ratings. On the whole it looks like a more balanced list than we usually see. They asked equal samples of Democrats and Republicans or liberals and conservatives to rate the Presidents.
Lyndon Johnson is too high. You can't do that much damage and expect to remain "average." I might also drop Ike a peg or two. I don't have anything against him, but his presidency wasn't as significant as Polk's or Jackson's, though he is more agreeable to modern racial attitudes. I'd probably also kick Harding a place or two up the list. He didn't do any lasting damage.
Madison is problematic. You don't let a foreign army burn down the White House and end up that well thought of. Rutherford B. Hayes is also surprisingly high. That may not be so strange. Maybe he really was an average President all across the board, as opposed to more powerful 20th century Presidents who did much good and much harm to the point where it balances out in the end. Still, the man who ended Reconstruction ... Grant and Andrew Johnson have more or less switched places, because of changing attitudes towards post-Civil War policy.
I'm not especially happy with how high they've put Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy, and Bill Clinton. But it's a change from the earlier surveys that put Wilson in the "near great" category. It's also striking that Coolidge and Hoover don't wind up in the cellar, where liberal historians had put them for some time.
The Presidents at the bottom are those without any constituency today, though. Except for Harding, they're Whigs or pro-slavery, anti-Black Democrats from the Civil War era, and nobody has any trouble with where they end up. More recent controversial figures -- Hoover, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Clinton -- are saved from the cellar by their supporters. Nobody's going to go out on a limb for Buchanan or Pierce, Tyler or Fillmore.
Carter, because we are still suffering the effects 25 years after his disasterous presidency.
I agree with your comments (as you know I think LBJ was the worst president in history), except I think Wilson is right where he should be. He created the federal reserve system, which while the kooks don't like it, is critical to running a modern economy.
I can't prove there would have been a revolution, just that it was a risk. And Huey Long was waiting in the wings. Roosevelt was very worried about Huey.
It is Southern!
Jimmy Carter, the George Washington of the Iranian Islamic Revolution is the worst President ever.
FDR - and we have been sinking deeper and deeper into the cesspool of socialism ever since.
There is no one that comes close to the damage done by FDR.
BillyBubbaloo Clinton. A national disgrace. I will refrain from adding to the list.
The Presidents at the bottom are those without any constituency today, though.Great point.
Thanks for the ping. This one looks rather more reasonable than other lists. I do believe, as you wrote on the other thread, that it's a consensus list in which weightings are the product of averages of opposing viewpoints. How else, I ask, could TR rank no. 5 but by appealing simultaneously to modern liberals and conservatives? -- a uniquely TR game.
By my view, of course, he doesn't belong there. In trying to be all things to all sides, he was ultimately much less than he's been credited, and what he took credit for himself. His first term was affirmation of McKinley, and his 2nd term was a product of his age as much as his personality. We've been down this road before, so you needn't bother. TR's truest TR moments came sporadically during his first term, briefly in 1905 following his large election, and in 1907-8 when he lost control of Congress and was thereby freed just to be Teddy... His importance was in image and personality. In action (irony intended), he's a far lesser force than those of the top 10.
While TR's emotional impact was larger than his actions, that's yet an accomplishment for a president, although I don't believe it makes for greatness. I think it rather slides him down another five notches, at least, and at least to below Jackson, whose impact was akin to TRs, only more enduring. After all, Jackson created (or sustained) a political party. TR created two opposing ones... lol!
Btw, I think the only way TR could be a top five president is by subscribing to the co-option theory. If the theory is valid, then he must be heroic, for he thereby saved the nation from socialism. I think that is bunk, so downward he falls on my list.
re "[Wilson] created the federal reserve system, which while the kooks don't like it, is critical to running a modern economy.The kooks like to blame Wilson for the income tax and for the Fed. Both were products of their ages, and both were spurred by Taft as well as by Wilson. While Wilson sponsored and signed the first personal income tax, Taft launched the 16th amendment that made it constitutionally clean. (The entire movement was launched by Democrats in the 1890s, pushed foward by TR; while Taft did not like the personal income tax, he exchanged the 16th amendment for a new tariff -- a much larger story).
As for the Fed, Wilson's principal contribution to it was to be there when the bill hit the Oval Office. A Democratic Congress sent him the bill, but they inherited the idea and its core form from Taft and Nelson Aldrich, the supposed reactionary Senator who launched the whole idea back in 1908 and in 1912 proposed legislation that marked its essential and enduring form.
I guess, in some sense, Aldrich can be blamed for the Great Depression...
Clinton because he has put us in so much danger by selling secrets to the Chinese and also by not taking out Bin Laden.
MikeinIraq said it best:
I am going to go with Clinton.
Jimmah Cahtah was just an inept buffoon...Clinton was doing it on purpose...
Huey Long was more scary to FDR within his own party than for governing generally. FDR understood that Long threatened his own base, which, if taken, would empower Republicans. A Long candidacy in '36 would have been damned more interesting than what it was without him. If he had lived to make the run he would have been a far larger threat to FDR than to Landon.
The old line that "Franklin Roosevelt saved the US from violent revolution or dictatorship" is one that people can't toss around as easily today as they did in previous years. But the danger to us is that we have become too complacent and assume that such things can't happen here. Things weren't fated to end up as they have. They could have turned out much worse.
FDR's significance may have been more international in the end than domestic. It may be that Americans don't go in for revolution, dictatorship, or socialism, but that hasn't been true of much of the rest of the world. Roosevelt might have pursued a policy more akin to that of Britain in the 1930s with better economic results.
But British leaders -- McDonald, Baldwin, Chamberlain -- weren't especially charismatic figures on the international scene and couldn't match the appeal of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin to many. Even Churchill's appeal was limited by the continent's dislike for British Toryism and imperialism.
We needed much wider support to rebuild Europe and Asia and make a common front against the Soviets. FDR's attractiveness to foreigners had a lot to do with what we were able to achieve later on, and it was precisely some of the things that American conservatives deplored about the New Deal that made many Europeans and Asians look to America with hope.
So the West may have been fortunate in having a figure like Roosevelt who had an attraction across a wider spectrum of opinion. It may have been a cheap magic, and it didn't always work, but it did have its successes.
The other thing is that America had its 20th century "revolution" in the New Deal, and a rather moderate revolution it was. We went through it and saw its weaknesses and failings. So we weren't inclined to major changes after the war. That wasn't true of Britain and much of the rest of the world. They were still hungry for fundamental changes after WWII, and they got them.
I doubt many people are going to agree with the last generation of liberal historians that FDR was our greatest president. But simply because we got through our greatest Depression and the world's most important war with Roosevelt in the White House, there's a limit to how far FDR's stock can fall.
Googling around, though, I found out that in 1942 FDR ordered a 100% marginal tax rate on income over 25,000 dollars. Every dollar you earned above that would go directly to the federal government. Of course, $25,000 was a lot more money then. And there was a war of great significance going on. The tax didn't last. Congress settled for a 90% top bracket. It stayed in effect for some time after the war (though there were those loopholes). But it's a good indication why liberals love Roosevelt and conservatives don't, and why it won't do to get too sentimental about the man.
100% rate.... love it! Any stats on compliance along with that one?
I loathe the high/higher tax rates of the 30s/40s/50s. Rather than raise revenue it only served to reinforce existing wealth and limit its new creation. On the corporate side, it enhanced the position of existing companies and stifled new competition. One of the more painful results of the New Deal was the hardening of big business -- ahh, that old progressive ideal!
Good thoughts on FDR. I do not think, though, as many put it, that Americans don't like revolutions. More accurately, it is that our core ideas are incompatable with drastic change, and, most importantly, don't need it. Often, those core principles must be reinforced, and it is a great service of those leaders who render it. Ultimately, Americans are, at heart, very, very American -- this is the legacy of the Founding.
This Americaness, I believe, is both the larger impulse against "change" and the basis of American distaste for radicalism. That is, ultimately, Americans believe in themselves, so they more readily return to their beliefs rather than seeking new canons. Above all, I do not believe that we must adopt radicalism in order to defeat it. That's lame and weak rationalization for bad politics -- and demagogues.
Most dangerously incompetent: Clinton
Most underappreciated: US Grant
My vote exactly.
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