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Ranking the United States Presidents


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Well, while we’re talking about history, here’s some perennial fun. C-SPAN came out with a new list ranking the presidents today. Biggest movers from the last list in 2009 were Andrew Jackson falling 5 slots, Tyler falling 4 slots, and Bush 43, Madison, and Eisenhower all gaining 3 spots (Eisenhower moving all the way into the Top 5).

 

Naturally, the biggest mess up would be that Obama is all the way up there at #12. The eighth best economic performance ever? Yeah, thanks for the opinion fanboys. Kennedy and Jefferson are way too high as well, but I’ve almost become reconciled to historians overrating them. Grant is, as usual, criminally underrated and Taylor is always unappreciated as the last man with the standing and will to perhaps alter the path to Civil War had he not died.

 

One of the big issues I find with these sorts of surveys is that you can tell the historians are labeling the presidents based on where they like them to a large degree. For example, I can’t think of a solid reason for putting Buchanan at the bottom of “International Relations”. He had a few botches but certainly nothing disastrous, and he did manage to keep the British out of Central America among other small successes you wouldn’t expect given how hamstrung he was domestically. At worst, he should be middle of the pack, but you can’t give Buchanan credit because we know he was the worst, therefore he’s way at the bottom for no reason.

 

On the opposite end, they’ve got Clinton ranked all the way up at #17 for “Relations With Congress”. Anyone alive during the 90s should just laugh at this. Laugh at this and point. It wasn’t the most dysfunctional Congressional relationship ever, but… the man was impeached for goodness sake.

 

My own Top 10 based on effectiveness:

 

1. Washington

2. Lincoln

3. F. Roosevelt

4. T. Roosevelt

5. Eisenhower

6. Truman

7. Reagan

8. Grant

9. Polk

10. Bush 41

 

Bottom 5:

 

39. Tyler

40. Pierce

41. Fillmore

42. Buchanan

43. A Johnson

 

We just sucked at picking presidents in the mid-19th century. Andrew Johnson's the worst because his racism can be directly linked with 100 years worth of segregation.

 

I went back and forth on whether to include LBJ in the Top 10. Truly, only FDR can touch him in terms of legislative accomplishments. His handling of Vietnam just had so many negative repercussions that spilled over into the domestic side that I couldn’t put him up there. So, I went with Bush 41 who is all-around unobjectionable and had a really solid foreign policy run.

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43. A Johnson

 

We just sucked at picking presidents in the mid-19th century. Andrew Johnson's the worst because his racism can be directly linked with 100 years worth of segregation.

 

 

 

That sounds pretty 'effective' to me. And why isn't Harrison in your bottom five. He died in a month.

 

 

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That sounds pretty 'effective' to me.

 

You got me there. Perhaps I should have just said that I was trying not to be a partisan hack in making the list.

 

 

 

And why isn't Harrison in your bottom five. He died in a month.

 

Eh, Harrison's early death meant that he didn't cause any harm beyond that done by his campaign. That puts him pretty much above any president that was a net negative to the country, doesn't it? And there have been a lot more than 5 of those.

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Presidents ranked properly:

1 Abraham Lincoln

2 Lyndon B. Johnson

3 Thomas Jefferson

4 George Washington

5 Chester A. Arthur

6 Franklin D. Roosevelt

7 George H. W. Bush

8 Bill Clinton

9 Donald Trump

10 Andrew Jackson

11 Ronald Reagan

12 Barack Obama

13 James Monroe

14 John Tyler

15 James Buchanan

16 James A. Garfield

17 Warren G. Harding

18 John F. Kennedy

19 Gerald Ford

20 William Howard Taft

21 Herbert Hoover

22 George W. Bush

23 Grover Cleveland

24 Richard Nixon

25 Woodrow Wilson

26 Dwight D. Eisenhower

27 Franklin Pierce

28 Andrew Johnson

29 Theodore Roosevelt

30 Calvin Coolidge

31 Jimmy Carter

32 Millard Fillmore

33 Harry S. Truman

34 Rutherford B. Hayes

35 William Henry Harrison

36 James K. Polk

37 Zachary Taylor

38 Ulysses S. Grant

39 John Quincy Adams

40 John Adams

41 William McKinley

42 Benjamin Harrison

43 Martin Van Buren

44 James Madison

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I could go on for pages and pages.... but... already did that 9 years ago. Best and Worst US Presidents.

 

Not too many changes from my earlier post. With the exception of Jackson. Completely changed my opinion on him. Maybe top 3 IMO now. I owe this in no small part to the fact that back then, I was still stupid, in my 20s, and had some remaining libertarian tendencies just because it's cool to be libertarian in your 20s when you're rich. I've since seen the light and fully embraced nationalism.

 

 

 


Yes... another one of my long-winded threads. But this time, instead of political theory/philosophy- it's about something everyone can enjoy. (not just the political science geeks out there!) An oldie but a goodie: who are the best/worst presidents in US history?

I've listed my top 5 and bottom 5, with explanations. I've also listed reasons why I didn't include popular top picks in my 5, as well as why I didn't include popular bottom picks.

Feel free to add your lists, or general discussion/comments!!

THE TOP 5:

1. Theodore Roosevelt (R-NY).
F-ck yeah. Teddy was the sh-t. I may have some slight bias to old school NY republicans, but there's no denying his greatness. The fact that he's the only modern president on Mt Rushmore says it all I think. But seriously... Teddy was everything a great president should be. A war hero, a scholar, highly intelligent, oratorically excellent, and pragmatic. In fact, Teddy was probably the last TRUE pragmatist to set foot in the white house. His progressivism runs slightly counter to my laissez-faire leanings, but in all reality.. the 19th century was over and progressivism was gonna happen one way or another. Teddy struck a true moderate route between orthodox capitalism and out-right socialism. Trust-busting but ultimately faithful in the market. He was popular and with good reason. In fact, he was so popular that he ran the most successful third-party run in history.

2. Abraham Lincoln (R-IL).
Sorta an obligatory top 5 pick. Unlike many historians (and much of American public), I do not see the man with a perfect, untarnished record. Civil War leadership, abolition, gettysburg address. Yes, that's all well and good. He was probably the most articulate president ever. He did have some downsides though (e.g. his dictatorial tendencies in the civil war, which might've been necessary). But, all being said, the man is probably the surest embodiment of classical liberalism that has ever existed in US politics.

3. Thomas Jefferson (DR-VA).
Like Lincoln, I feel somewhat obligated to include Jefferson, even though I think he's a bit overrated. Maybe the most influential of the Founding Fathers, his codification of Enlightenment ideals into American culture is undeniable (e.g. Declaration of Independence, etc.). His deism is quite interesting, on one hand, but on the other we have his persistant annoying glorification of agrarian life, fear of modernism and the free market. There is also the occasional blemish (slavery controversy, etc.) On the whole, however, Jefferson's contributions certainly place him in the top 5.

4. Grover Cleveland (D-NY).
A criminally underrated president. Much like Polk, those "in the know" and academics often place him in top lists. But, for some reason he goes underappreciated and relatively unknown by the general public. If Lincoln was the perfect classical liberal, Cleveland takes second place. Cleveland was the last of the Bourbon Democrats, the fiscally conservative/big-business wing of the Democrat Party. Unfortunately, William Jennings Bryan would turn the Democrat party into a populist Christian party in the next election, and it would arguably stay that way until the rise of the New Democrats under Clinton in 1992. Cleveland's first term was marked by economic growth, the second by the Panic of 1893. But I believe Cleveland did a lot more to restore stability than McKinley did. In fact, I credit Cleveland to ending the depression, even though McKinley got more publicity at the time.

5. Ronald Reagan (R-CA).
An admittedly reluctant pick. I will conceed Reagan barely gets the nod over Washington due to ideological bias. A purely objective list probably has Washington at 5. Reagan might be the most witty, comical, and well-spoken president of all time. He's also one of the most polarizing. Among the American mainstream, he was one of the most (if not the most) popular presidents. But among academics... he's the sorta president that you either love or hate. Objectively, Reagan can be credited to leadership in the waning Cold War days, as well as turning around the "dark" 70s. Past that, Reagan's great if you think his neo-liberal, pro-globalization, and anti-new deal policies are good... and Reagan's the devil if you don't.

THE BOTTOM 5:

39. Jimmy Carter (D-GA).
There's no doubt he was ineffective, but some republicans go a little too far in claiming him the "worst president ever." But he was definitely not one of the greats- the energy crisis, stagflation, Iran hostages, etc. etc. He did accomplish some things though (arms reduction). Made a much better humanitarian than president. Also, I think it's hilarious that his nomination for re-election was challenged in 1980- by another democrat (Kennedy).

40. Ulysses S. Grant (R-IL).
Maybe the only president that can clearly be labeled as "corrupt." His whole administration was marked by scandal after scandal. I sometimes wonder if there was one honest person on his staff. Sure, he did roll-back some of Johnson's failures regarding Reconstruction. But he's also maybe the only president that can be directly blamed for harming the economy (Black Friday). Add in his ineffective response to the Panic of 1873, and the fact that he did nothing about people that stole millions of government money, and you got one bad president.

41. Franklin Pierce (D-NH).
Woof. Bad f-cking president. Confederate supporter who made bad decision after bad decision, accelerating (and perhaps even indirectly causing) division that led to the Civil War. For example, his support of the Kansas-Nebraska act led to Bleeding Kansas. Enough said right there.

42. James Buchanan (D-PA).
Worse than Pierce, because his inaction in the face of secession probably had a more direct effect of igniting the Civil War. The reason I don't put him last, is because to some degree- war was inevitable by the time Buchanan took office. By his term, conflict was brewing. The north and south were almost two different countries in reality. I'm not sure exactly how much Buchanan could've done. It is clear, however, that was extremely ineffective, to say the least.

43. Andrew Johnson (D-TN).
The worst president in US history, bar none. The fact that he was the first president to be impeached says it all. Johnson, more than anything else, was responsible for the continued north/south division for almost 100 years, as well as delaying the rise of the "New South." While Buchanan may or may not have been able to do something about inevitable war, Johnson's reconstruction policies lie squarely on his shoulders.

Presidents that many include in their top list, but I didn't:

George Washington (No party-VA):
If I had a top 10, he'd probably come in at 6 or 7. I think Washington is a case where the myth sorta eclipses the man. His accomplishments are many, and obviously he had his role to play in the Revolution. I think he was a better general than president though. I think Washington is more important as a symbolic figure in our national myth than what he actually did while president, but many will disagree I'm sure. The best thing he ever did was refuse to become a king, which would've changed the history of this country immensely. That alone is making me rethink him for top 5. oh well, i'll leave it as it is for now.

Franklin Roosevelt (D-NY):
For some reason, everyone seems to love FDR. Few seem to remember that FDR was a fascist, and arguably the US' first (and thankfully last) dictator. The New Deal may have prevented some of the effects of the depression, but it definitely caused others. The New Deal also led to a culture of entitlement and socialism in this country, that wouldn't be dismantled until Reagan, and arguably still exists. He doesn't deserve to be in the bottom 5 (WW2 leadership), but I cannot put someone who placed people into concentration camps in the top 5.

Andrew Jackson (D-TN):
I can understand why some people like him. The "Age of Jackson" and all that. Let's not forget the man was a near authoritarian, however. Also, how about- Indian Removal? After slavery and the civil war, it just might be the darkest thing that ever happened in the US. A shameful moment.

John F. Kennedy (D-MA):
Way overrated. I understand he's the very symbol of idealism, to many. Tell me what he did other than look good and f-ck Marilyn Monroe.

Presidents that many include in their bottom list, but I didn't:

Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX):
Civil Rights Act, that's all i gotta say. Yeah, yeah... Vietnam. But, really some sort of conflict was inevitable due to the containment policies that were started by Truman. No one would ever advocate the opposite- way too politically risky.

Bill Clinton (D-AR):
Ok, I get it. He f-cked an intern. Wow. NAFTA, welfare reform, and changing the democrat party from a christian socialist party to a globalist moderate party is enough to keep him out of the bottom.

Herbert Hoover (R-CA):
No, he did not CAUSE the great depression. Yes, he was not a very good president. But the perception that he "did nothing" after the stock market crash is blatantly false, and is the result of FDR's smear campaign.

Warren G. Harding (R-OH):
I've never understood why many people put Harding near the bottom, or at the VERY bottom, of their lists. Sure, he didn't really do anything good. But he didn't really do anything bad either. Possible scandal at the very most... but there are much worse presidents in that sense (Grant)

George W. Bush (R-TX):
Sigh. I'm sure at least ONE left-wing nutjob out there will put Bush in the bottom five (or even at the VERY bottom). Yeah yeah... I know... low approval rating, and OMG TEH IRAKS WAR LOLZERS OMG. And pathological bush hate is chic right now. But objectively speaking, Bush will probably go down in history more as a Rutherford B. Hayes than a Buchanan. Rutherford B who? Exactly. Guy has done some good things (9/11 leadership, economy from 03-07), and some bad (iraq, katrina, reckless spending). I put him as below-average, but somewhere in the middle. Anyone who puts Bush near the very bottom is crazy. I don't care how much you disagree with Iraq, but a forgettable war that no one will remember in 10 years is not nearly as bad as say... Andrew Jackson orchestrating a Native American genocide.
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Also, uncovered this great gem of mine from years past as well. In retrospect, Jimmy Carter is a highly underrated president.

 

Can't say I disagree with any of this, some 4 1/2 years later.

 

 

 


I was watching the DNC last night and I was reminded of the RNC last week, when several comparisons were made by speakers of Obama to Carter. I know it has become something of the national conventional wisdom that Carter was a sh-tty president, and honestly, I've made the judgment too:


39. Jimmy Carter (D-GA).
There's no doubt he was ineffective, but some republicans go a little too far in claiming him the "worst president ever." But he was definitely not one of the greats- the energy crisis, stagflation, Iran hostages, etc. etc. He did accomplish some things though (arms reduction). Made a much better humanitarian than president. Also, I think it's hilarious that his nomination for re-election was challenged in 1980- by another democrat (Kennedy).


But I was thinking about it this morning, and I wondered if I had let the conventional wisdom bias my thinking. I realized, that in actuality, maybe Carter is just remembered as a "bad" president because he got owned in the 1980 debate with Reagan, and due to cirumstances largely outside his control, than anything he really did.

Here are some of the successes of Carter's presidency:

-Reduced capital gains tax from over 40% to 28%.
-Appointed Volcker as Fed chairman, possibly the best Fed chairman we had, and probably the true cause of the 80s boom (which is misattributed to Reagan). Though in fairness, Reagan re-appointed Volcker as well.
-Instrumental in the negotiation of the Camp David Accords. Arguably the only positive thing in the past 50 years to happen in the Middle East. People point to Clinton's Oslo Accords, but let's be honest here- they ain't done sh-t.
-Continued relations with China, including recognizing One China, which was key to establishing our trade network.
-SALT II, which was a success.
-Led a fiscally conservative and responsible presidency; implemented necessary austerity measures (though they were unpopular), which were important in curbing inflation.
-De-regulation of many industries (finance, railroads, etc), but most importantly airlines. This is the only reason why any of you people on this message board are able to fly today. While I personally kinda wish the skies were still exclusively for the rich, I will reluctantly confess that de-regulation of the airlines has been a huge win for the American consumer.

One item that is a "mixed bag," and that is the Carter Doctrine and our support of the Mujaheddin. I'm conflicted on this one, because while we succeeded in a short term goal of expelling the Soviets from any route to the Gulf, we ended up creating a monster, in Islamic radical theocracy, that has come back to haunt us. If we're gonna blame Carter for this though, I think we also have to blame Reagan, because he continued the same policy.

Now as far as the so-called Carter failures:

-Iran Hostage Crisis. I think this is unfairly attributed to Carter. First off, he didn't put the Shah there, that was Eisenhower. Second, it's not like he caused the '79 Iran Revolution either. All of these events were completely out of his control- he just happened to be in office when the climax of decades of US policy towards Iran came about. I understand he gets blamed for "inaction," but that is an outright falsehood. First off, there was Operation Eagle Claw. Yes, it was a catastrophic failure, but someone explain to me why that is Carter's fault. Second, what eventually led to the hostages release was due in large part to Carter's freezing of Iranian assets. That was the key to the negotiations at the Algiers Accords, which happened before Reagan was in office. The fact that the hostages were released a day into Reagan's presidency is irrelevant, because the negotiations for their release were actually conducted by Carter over the frozen bank assets. Reagan, I'm sorry to say, didn't do sh-t.

-'79 energy crisis. Again- unfairly attributed to Carter. The panic, sparked by the Iran Revolution and uneven OPEC production, was mainly fueled by people remembering the '73 energy crisis and freaking out, and that crisis was due to Nixon's support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War. I don't see how any of this has to do with Carter, if anything Carter helped the situation due to deregulating gas price controls.

-'70s stagflation. This was caused by the oil supply shock above, which was not Carter's doing. Carter actually deserves credit for ending stagflation, because the appointment of Volcker led to the necessary tight monetary policy and austerity measures, which admittedly caused a recession via high interest rates, but that was the only way to cure the problem. By the time credit was loosened again in 1980, inflation was under control and the recession came to a relatively quick end. However, Carter had already lost re-election by that point and so Reagan gets the credit for the recovery, even though Reagan had actually only been in office for a few months and didn't really do anything.


There is no denying that Carter is a Southern, Dixiecrat bible-thumping Baptist farmer redneck, which tends to be everything I depise. But a careful look at his presidency reveals that he actually didn't make any bad decisions. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't think he is a great president, or even a good president, but he in no way deserves to be lumped in the same group as Pierce or Buchanan.
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With the exception of Jackson. Completely changed my opinion on him. Maybe top 3 IMO now. I owe this in no small part to the fact that back then, I was still stupid, in my 20s, and had some remaining libertarian tendencies just because it's cool to be libertarian in your 20s when you're rich. I've since seen the light and fully embraced nationalism.

 

Okay... but the whole Trail of Tears is still a thing. Not to mention bringing down the national economy because of a spat with a banker.

 

 

 

The real question is when the **** are presidents going to bring back facial hair. MAKE AMERICA BEARD AGAIN

 

Seriously! We haven't had a president with facial hair since Taft's magnificent handlebar mustache later immortalized by the Monopoly's Uncle Pennybags. Because when I'm looking for my historical irony, I go to Hasbro!

 

Paul Ryan made a weak attempt at it about a year ago after he became Speaker, but the man just couldn't pull it off. He wanted to go all William Riker on us and hide his baby face behind some old-fashioned masculine fur for maturity, but it failed spectacularly and was gone within weeks.

 

I'd love it if someone came up through the ranks going full-Hayes, but I fear it could only be a Duck Dynasty guy. Now if someone really wanted to go old-school, they could bring back the Polk presidential mullet.

 

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The real question is when the **** are presidents going to bring back facial hair. MAKE AMERICA BEARD AGAIN

I'd even settle for the John Quincy Adams sideburns at this point.

 

At least Jimmy McMillan tried to do it for New York.

 

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