Now, I love a day off from work as much as the next person….however, I am not always a fan of what the holidays represent themselves. And frankly there are few holidays I despise more than President’s Day. Why, you ask?
First of all because it glorifies a single individual in a single post as worthy of admiration because of the post they hold, not because of the content of their character. This is very disturbing…of the 43 men who have held that office I can think of 13 off the top of my head, without any research, that I feel completely content to see listed in the history books as having been charged, tried, convicted, and shot for their abhorrent behavior in office. 13 easily, if I did some research on some of the more forgettable ones I’m sure I could come up with another 9, which would make it half the people who have held the office worthy of execution (yes I have a very low opinion of most politicians). Most of what is left is at best forgettable.
Further they are certainly not the most memorable men. Even most of the great presidents had their best days before their term of office (when you’ve signed the Declaration or Constitution, serving a few years in an elected post is kind of an also-ran moment by comparison), not to mention men like Franklin and Hamilton who did more for this nation than most presidents could ever hope to.
Also it lends an air of power to a branch of government which is supposed to be the weakest of the three branches. Yet we have no holiday for members of the Supreme Court…or god forbid the confederacy of dunces in Congress.
I have one last point but I’m going to save that for the end.
But in the spirit of the day…and in the spirit of how much I loathe some of our Presidents…I’m going to go through my favorite 5 and least favorite 5 presidents.
1) That the president overall actually improved the nation/world from when they entered office by actions they actually took. (Or conversely made it worse).
2) That they took action rather than having it foisted upon them.
3) The totality of their character and/or the acts outside of their presidencies should not be considered.
So let’s start with the worst.
#5 Andrew Jackson
“King Mob” as he was unaffectionately referred to. Some historians refer to him as the first president to be truly democratically elected…I prefer to think of it as first time mob rule of the rabble that the Founders tried to prevent was brought back into style. Not only is this a man who unconstitutionally invaded Florida (without orders from anyone) and then executed foreign nationals in a show trial as a General, he didn’t do so great a job as President either. Ignores a Supreme Court order, unconstitutionally saying the Supreme Court can enforce it’s ruling when it sends its army to enforce them (because in Jackson’s mind, might makes right). Then of course there was what that case was about, illegally moving Indian tribes into Oklahoma in a genocidal forced march that would make Bataan look like a Sunday stroll. And in addition to the man thinking he was a monarch above the Constitution rather than a public servant under it, he also in my mind had no understanding of economics in any way, shape or form.
He is also Newt Gingrich’s favorite president.
#4 Woodrow Wilson
A man who used a war to vastly expand government powers and didn’t pull them back. A progressive’s progressive, and a virulent racist. I quote a New York Times opinion piece trying to defend Wilson “He was opposed to female suffrage. He supported Jim Crow. He wrote about Anglo-Saxon racial supremacy. He makes a good bad guy.” Wow, with a defense like that who needs a prosecution? Granted, Teddy had bigger dreams of federal encroachment, but luckily he wasn’t able to get them passed. And while I’ve always loved Wilson’s line about making the world “safe for democracy” his vision of democracy (as a socialist paradise under a single world government) is very different from my definition (a world of independent capitalist republics). Oh, and his League of Nations and his utterly incompetent diplomacy laid the ground work for WWII. Thanks Woodrow.
As a cherry on top his Secretary of State was a politician who usually makes my list of most hated non-presidents in U.S. history, William Jennings “The Cowardly Lion” “I do not think about things I do not think about” Bryan. The man has been dead for almost a century and I still hate him.
#3 Dim Jimmy Carter
Where do I begin? Letting Afghanistan fall to Russia, because that didn’t start any long term problem. Letting Iran fall to fanatics, no long term problems there. Creating the worthless Departments of Energy and Education…Education especially seems to have turned out great! Ruining the economy? The boycotting of the Olympics—i.e. the single most inane and idiotic move in the history of foreign diplomacy. It would be hard to imagine coming up with a president more inept at his job (but it looks like the Democrats did just that in 2008). And how could I forget to point out that this piece of shit is a vicious Anti-Semite.
The Great Society. A typically bigoted liberal move that believe that minorities were incapable of helping themselves thus they needed to be helped. Which is bad enough, until you consider it doesn’t actually work but actually makes the problem worse. Oh, and by the way, I love sending thousands of troops over to a country, but telling them it’s a police action and they can’t actually fight back with the usual force the U.S. military can muster, making them little more than sitting ducks for the Vietcong. Good call on that one. Remind me how many countries fell to communism because this man didn’t want to actually fight a war?
And of course, the worst president of all time…
What kind of man sends a boat load of Jews back to Nazi Germany knowing what will happen to them? FDR.
What kind of man promises half of Europe to a butcher named Stalin? FDR.
What kind of man shreds the Constitution to create a socialist state and make people dependent on the government by preventing real growth? FDR.
What kind of man has the hubris to be the first person to ever take 4 terms in office? FDR.
What kind of man creates internment camps for loyal American citizens who just happen to be Japanese? FDR.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt not just the worst president in the history of the United States, but in the running for worst American ever.
Dishonorable mentions: Nixon (do I need to explain why?), Teddy (progressive lunatic), Ford (worthless sack of well you know), Bush (pick either one)
A note on Obama. While he will certainly be making the bottom 10, it’s unfair to judge his actual impact until, at the very least, his term of office is over.
Okay so the foul taste of that bunch of losers is done let’s move onto the top 5
This is a little harder because for #2, 4, and 5 all did their best work before their presidencies (and numbers 4 and 5 were certainly not perfect in their presidencies…but no one is perfect so I must be lenient)
Granted, nothing he did in his presidency compares to writing the Declaration of Independence. Nothing. However, Jefferson held the nation to a usually strict diet of limited government, which luckily is a policy that the nation continued for the next few decades and wasn’t completely abandoned until the 20th century. And I cannot chide him for the preemptive war against the Barbary pirates that established U.S. power abroad. And while an un-Constitutional move, it’s hard to critique the Louisiana Purchase.
However, his pro-French bias is unforgiveable. France during the Revolution and Napoleon was pretty much the worst nation on Earth, and to not recognize that is just a little insane and almost unforgivable. That’s why he gets put down at #5.
Like Jefferson, his best days were during the Revolution. And the Alien and Sedition Act, while understandable in the context of dealing with the insanity of the French Revolution was still wrong. However, Adams kept the U.S. out of a war when we most needed to not be in a war. He also appointed John Marshall Chief Justice of the Supreme Court…that point alone gives him a position at the top of this list, as the Marshall Court is almost entirely responsible for establishing the capitalist nature of this nation which in turn created all of the prosperity for this nation. Thank you John Adams.
Oh and one last thing. Adam’s last act. After losing re-election, he left Washington. The first time there was a transfer of power from one party to the next in this nation, Adams offered no challenge. That seems second nature to us in this country, but think about a lot of other nations. Leaving peacefully when you lose is the exception not the rule for most of human history. John Adams, while not exactly graceful in his exit, set the precedent that would allow this nation to exist for over 200 years.
A through and through economic conservative. A man who broke the Klan’s influence in government. A man who limited the scope of government. And if it hadn’t been for Hoover the economy might have only had a slight hiccup in the late 20’s instead of a massive depression (which FDR only made worse). If only we could have more like him.
The indispensible man. Like Adams and Jefferson, who can doubt that his best days were during the Revolution? But while his presidency was actually a little unremarkable it set a tone and style for all who would follow. Need I say more?
I’m conservative, are you surprised about this one? But let me justify this. Reagan did something that almost no other president ever did. Almost every other president did things in a reactionary nature. Something went wrong, a President tried to fix it (or didn’t). To a lesser degree every president before and after Reagan lived out Rahm Emmanuel’s statement of “never let a crisis go to waste,” although maybe not so cynically. But Reagan did something no one else did. Unlike the 14 other presidents before him who, to varying degrees, recognized the evil of communism and the danger it posed, Reagan didn’t just sit by and wait for a problem to fix to come up. He out and out declared war on the greatest evil on Earth at the time…and he did it “without firing a shot” as Thatcher observed.
He did something because it was right, not because he was responding to an immediate problem. This is long term thinking seldom seen in leaders or the general public. Go on, name for me a president, who during their term showed this kind of long term thinking. Yeah Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison all showed it in creating the nation, but not necessarily in their presidencies. There is no question that the world is a better place for what he had done.
Oh, and for all the compromises he had to make with the Democrats in Congress, he cleaned up a lot of government spending and taxation problems.
James Madison, Grover Cleveland (called the last libertarian president), McKinley (if for no other reason than he saved us from a Bryan presidency), John Quincy Adam (for starting a plan of infrastructure to help the growing economy, although I would have preferred more private investment).
A note on Lincoln and why he’s not in the Top 5
He did the right thing…but when the right thing was the only option open to him. It’s like praising Obama for ordering bin Laden to be taken out…no sane person would have done differently. Why would I praise someone for taking the only logical option open? No sane president would have let half the union go. I have a hard time praising Lincoln for doing the sane thing. I prefer to look at what else he did. He couldn’t pick a competent general if he tried. The best he did was when he offered the post to Lee…but there he botched the job at convincing Lee to take it, and I think that this was not an impossible argument to make (but I may be wrong)…that still doesn’t forgive the fact that the rest of his choices were subpar. What were his best choices? Grant (a drunk’s drunk) and Sherman (who by any modern standard, a major war criminal).
And then there are his massive violations of the Constitution. Which were necessary for the time and the crisis. But while forgivable, violations of habeas corpus and the rule of law in some cases should not be praised.
His economic policy during the war was questionable at best…but what I can tell of his economic beliefs as a whole however suggests to me that if he had just let the South go, then after a year of living under his quasi-socialist leanings the Northern states would have probably joined the confederacy leaving Lincoln ruler of D.C. and nothing else.
There is his cynical attitude to slavery (free them in the Confederacy but not in W. Virginia) that makes me wonder if the 13th Amendment would have passed under a Lincoln presidency.
And then there is that little phrase “for the people.” I cannot find that phrase anywhere in the notion of U.S. government before Lincoln.And that phrase is the justification for the entitlement state, for the gross expansion of power, for every modern attack on capitalism. Government FOR THE PEOPLE, like it’s a service. Thank Abe.
He saved the union, but I’m not sure it’s something any other president would not have done. He responded to a crisis, but not particularly well. He encouraged Sherman’s bloody war crimes across the South and I’m not convinced would have tempered the vindictive nature of Reconstruction (given the accusatory tone of his Second Inaugural).
He is considered great because people have a knee jerk reaction to making saints out of martyrs. But he wasn’t a saint…or a particularly great leader. He was a good leader, but not the best.