Monday, February 21, 2005

Rating the Presidents

Rating the Presidents

Having read biographies on most of the presidents, and being fascinated with Presidential history, I thought I might humor myself some today. Here is a listing of one person's top five, bottom five and three most underrated presidents.

Top Five:
1. George Washington: It all started from scratch with Washington and he was the setter of much precedent. He was able to begin the United States in effect. He kept the nation together as President when he was perhaps the only man who could do so. Washington also kept the U.S. out of "foreign entanglements" and at the time, that was critical. His appointments, particularly of Hamilton and Jefferson, eventually led to irreconcilable problems, but initially helped create the form this country would take. Perhaps Washington's greatest feat was stepping down and proving that the U.S. could have a transition of leadership without violence and would not become a monarchy.

2. Abraham Lincoln: Lincoln finally forced the nation to deal with the black mark of slavery that had haunted it since its formation, but his ultimate interest was in keeping the Union together. He asserted the strength of the Federal Government and denied the States the right to over-ride national interests. He was steadfast in his devotion to the country, stood firm in the face of civil war and kept the country from becoming broken apart. While he at first believed blacks should be removed from the country and allowed their own homeland, he still eventually became the man who issued the "Emancipation Proclamation." This greatest of documents was the effective end of slavery, although by no means was the end of racial hatred. Had he lived, I believe he would have had the strength and convictions to allow the nation to heal. He would have prevented the Congress's overly, harsh treatment of the south in the post-war Reconstruction.

3. Franklin Roosevelt: He altered the shape of the social structure of the nation and institute reforms that were the building blocks of a more balanced society. FDR also restored the country's hopes during the heights of the devastating Great Depression. His most important historical role, of course, comes in World War II. His guiding the U.S. into the war on behalf of the allied nations arguably saved the world from global fascism and terror. He stood firm at all costs.

4. Teddy Roosevelt: Roosevelt went to war with the monopolistic corporations that were dominating America at the expense of the nation's best interests and the well-being of the average man. He won. Further, he asserted the strength of the U.S. Navy to the world, stood up to mine owners, brought about the Panama canal, was an ardent supporter of the environment and parks system, effectively creating them, and added to the Monroe Doctrine his Roosevelt Corollary which stated that the U.S. would address serious issues of wrong-doing within the Western Hemisphere. He also won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role as mediator in Russia-Japan negotiations.

5. Harry Truman: Will appear again in this entry as an under-rated President, Truman was able to keep the American economy humming despite the winding down of the war machine. That is no small achievement. His Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan kept Turkey and Greece from falling behind the Iron Curtain and re-built post-war Europe. The Berlin Airlifts stood up to the Soviet Union and kept West Berlin "alive." He supported the creation the state of Israel and the Truman Doctrine led to the birth of NATO. There will always be arguments about his use of the atomic bomb in Japan. Was it necessary? Did it shorten the war? I come down on the side that supports its deployment, however horrible, as I believe Japan would have fought to the last man. Truman saved many American lives, and that had to be his focus.

Bottom Five:
1.   James Buchanan: An economic panic would not help his standing, but he ranks near the bottom because he felt that the President had no role to play on the slavery issue. He was an observer who was not up to the role of his office and watched as events passed him by.

2. George W. Bush: Time will likely serve to cement his place near the bottom of Presidential history. Corruption, small-mindedness, divisive policies, the melding of Church and State, and stubborn denial of reality harm his standing. The lies that led to Iraq, his economic and environmental policies that only served the monied interests of the country and his lack of qualifications for the office further point him out as a terrible leader and President. Update: (12/12/15) Does George W. Bush deserve credit for the actions he took just before he left office to save the banking and auto industries? Also, much of the de-regulation that led to the economic collapse began under Ronald Reagan, and even had some moments during the Clinton presidency. However, America is on the verge of no longer being the preeminent economic power in the world. Bush's term ended in chaos. In any crisis, whether the economy or Katrina or 9-11, Bush led like a deer in a car's headlights. Add in our sullied reputation due to the Bush Doctrine, our abuse and torture of detainees, continued environmental destruction, secretive decision-making, the outting of a CIA operative, and much, much more, and you are left being forced to consider Bush among the worst presidents in U.S. history. Being virtually forced to confront the economic crisis, and writing a 3 page bill to address the initial stages, thus insuring that it would be almost impossible to prosecute anyone on Wall Street, makes it hard to credit Bush more than minimally for going against his conservative "principles" in the waning moments of his presidency.

3.  Warren Harding: This is simple. His time in office was filled with corruption, criminal behavior and personal friends getting rich at the government trough.


4.  Andrew Johnson: Completely unable to compromise and deal with others, he contributed to Congress's strong-arming of the South by not being able to meet anyone "half way." He could not lead.


5. William Henry Harrison: His death shortly after taking office gave the nation another weak President, John Tyler, but he makes the bottom five because any man too stupid to put on a coat and then stand in the cold long enough to contract pneumonia and die 30 days later deserves a place on this list.

Three Under-rated Presidents:
1. John Adams: Yes, the Alien and Sedition Acts harm his standing, but he governed in a difficult time, too. With the country splitting between France and England, he kept the U.S. out of war and ignored the venom being spewed for action from both sides. A cooler head prevailed. He also was part of the transition of government, first from Washington, and then to the opposing party and Thomas Jefferson. This can not be under-estimated in importance. Also, he appointed John Marshall to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

2. Harry Truman: See above.

3. James Madison: Often criticized for entering the country into the War of 1812 and seeing the White House burn, he is viewed unfairly. A Congress unwilling to supply the necessary funding to defend the nation contributing to the country's lack of military readiness against England. Still, he perservered and the U.S. eventually won the war by not losing it. The war itself, in many ways was forced upon him by the British antagonism via impressment and in supporting Indian aggression. The ultimate victory of the War of 1812 was the changed psychology of the U.S. relationship with Great Britain, who would no longer threaten the young country again, and would now, instead, see it as closer to an equal. The war also gave the U.S. final confidence in itself and ended all treasonous talk from the Hartford Convention protagonists pushing for northern secession.

Comments:
This is based on my readings of many of the Presidents with support from a presidential survey with great detail done by over 1,000 historians.

1. Washington
2. Lincoln
3. FDR
4. TR
5. Truman
6. Jefferson (Very hard not to put Jefferson in my Top 5. He is my favorite historical figure. But he was a greater contributor to the U.S. overall than as a president. The Declaration of Independence, his work for religious freedom, the "Notes on the State of Virginia, the founding of the University of Virginia, and his counterweight to Alexander Hamilton in Washington's cabinet were all equally important measures of his historical grandeur. As a president, there is much to point to that was positive - eliminating deficits, the Louisiana Purchase, a restoration of Republican principles, etc..., There was also the negatives of his role in the tensions with Great Britain that led to the War of 1812.)
7. Ike
8. Wilson
9. Madison

10. Monroe
11. Obama (Comments on Obama)

12. Polk
13. McKinley
14. J. Adams
15. Kennedy
16. JQ Adams

17. LBJ
18. Jackson
19. Cleveland
20. Clinton
21. G.H.W. Bush

22. Taft
23. Hayes
24. Carter

25. Ford
26. Nixon (Yes, he was a crook. But he also open doors to China, was strong on the environment, and was fairly moderate economically.)
27. Coolidge
28. Taylor
29.  Reagan (Exploding deficits and debt, high corruption, financial deregulation, environmental ruination, income disparity far outweigh "winning" the Cold War.
30.  Van Buren
31. Garfield
32. Grant
33. B. Harrison (At least he didn't die within a month.)
34. Arthur
35. Fillmore
36. Pierce
37. Tyler
38. Hoover
39. WH Harrison (How good can you be for dying as a result of your Inauguration speech?)
40.  A. Johnson

41.  Harding
42.  G.W. Bush
43.  Buchanan

There is no 44 because Cleveland served non-consecutive terms.

1 comment:

Scott Wolman said...

Someone left a comment claiming Obama should be the 8th worst. Their reasons were ridiculous and clearly lacked knowledge of the time he was in office. Plus they blew it somewhat on other analyses of the bottom-feeders. That said, I deleted the post because the dummy did not post it here, but on a poem that had nothing to do with politics.