In Honor of Presidents’ Day

Instead of my Top Five Greatest Presidents (which remain, in order, Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Theodore Roosevelt and Truman), I present my Top Five Worst Presidents:

  1. James Buchanan: weak and vacillating, he came perilously close to treason as the Civil War broke out.
  2. Richard M. Nixon: Needlessly prolonged the Vietnam War, corrupted the White House to new heights, exploited racial and class divisions in the country that remain to this day. What’s not to hate?
  3. Andrew Johnson: prickly racist who condemned the newly-freed slaves to a century of serfdom and brutality.
  4. Warren G. Harding: corrupt and incompetent, formulated economic policies that led directly to the Great Depression.
  5. Andrew Jackson: set the pattern of relations between whites and Indians as one of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Note there are no recent presidents on either list. Despite compelling evidence that George W. Bush belongs at or near the top of this list, I remain firmly convinced that it requires a minimum of 20 years in order to properly evaluate a president’s ultimate legacy and place in history.

Rating the Presidents

In honor of Presidents Day, my votes for the top 5 best and worst presidents (revised after some discussions):

The Best

1) George Washington:  the presidency was designed with him in mind and he gets the nod solely for the fact that every single thing he did in office established precedents that continue to this day.  The United States would be a different place today if anyone but him had been the first chief executive.

2)  Abraham Lincoln:  one of the few presidents of whom it can be said that he saved the nation.  Without Lincoln, the United States of America would not exist.

3)  Franklin Roosevelt:  the same reason.  In fact, FDR saved the country twice; once from the Depression and again from fascism.

4)  Theodore Roosevelt:  transformed the United States into a world power, reinvigorated the institution of the presidency after decades of torpor following the death of Lincoln, and established the National Park System.

5)  Harry Truman:  ended World War 2 on the best terms available, avoided World War 3 over China and integrated the Armed Forces, thus laying the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement.

The Worst

1)  Richard M. Nixon:  corrupt, venal, paranoid and vicious.  The severe damage he did to American politics and the presidency, and the brutal dividing lines he carved into American culture remain with us today.  This, plus the senseless cynical loss of life in Southeast Asia more than drown out positive accomplishments like the opening to China.

2)  James Buchanan:  feckless and incompetent.  Dithered while the Civil War erupted around him and took actions at the very beginning of the war that come close to treason.

3)  Warren Harding:  one of, if not the most corrupt administrations in American history, plus began the isolationism that nearly lost the world to fascism ten years after he died.

4)  Andrew Jackson:  set the pattern of brutal military action against Indian tribes that would determine American policy for the next 50 years

5)  Ulysses S. Grant:  not really fair, since he wasn’t personally corrupt but his weakness led to an incredibly corrupt administration that linked the Republican Party with the robber barons for decades.

Published in: on February 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment