Inspired by the Quinnipiac Poll which found Barack Obama to be the worst president since World War II, I decided to make my own list ranking the Presidents of ‘Murica since the war. I count peak, in Presidents, more heavily than career length, with one exception.
Honorable mention: Gerald Ford. I can’t really fault him as a President, as he basically did nothing of note except pardoning Nixon (which saved the country from a trial it really didn’t need at the time). He gets an Incomplete; if he had played himself on the Simpsons, I would have given him a C+.
The objectively bad Presidents
11. Jimmy Carter. Carter did more damage in a shorter time than anyone else. If Barack Obama is “the wrong way to be a President”, Jimmy Carter is the “Max Power” of Presidents. The energy crisis and Iran were managed extremely poorly. Nice guy, bad President.
10. Lyndon Johnson. Credit where credit is due — he used Kennedy’s death to launch himself into a landslide victory. That’s good politics, at least, if nothing else. Great Society was a trainwreck, and I don’t know if anybody was hated by more of his subordinates.
9. Barack Obama. Won the Nobel Peace Prize for “not being George W. Bush.” Has mismanaged almost every foreign crisis he’s been involved in. Obamacare is not as a big a trainwreck as The Great Society… yet. I appreciate his moral position on gay rights, but that’s not enough to overcome the other problems.
8. George W. Bush. Afghanistan was a good move that might turned out badly; Iraq was not. So much failed potential in domestic programs — privatizing Social Security would have been a big step towards getting him out of this group. No Child Left Behind places way too much on standardized testing. Patriot Act itself isn’t horrid, but the potential for mischief is not worth the cost.
The President I have trouble ranking
7. Harry S. Truman. Soft on Communism immediately after the war… but ended segregation in the military. Containment was the right play if we weren’t going to go to a general offensive against the Soviets. Handled Korea okay, faced up to Douglas MacArthur and won. Not nearly enough credit for Civil Rights as a whole. He didn’t do anything objectively bad, in my opinion, but could have done better.
The good Presidents
6. Bill Clinton. Gets way too much credit for “fixing” the economy (for which the President deserves less credit than how good the weather is, except the President can’t do as much to break the weather), but deserves some. Made real progress with Ireland, handled the Balkans better than a lot of other people have (which is, admittedly, grading on a curve). Might be a kind of a jerk towards women, but as more time progresses, he gets a bit more shine to him until we have a president who’s objectively better.
5. Richard Nixon. I really like what he did in foreign policy — reaching out to China gave the US a counterweight to the Soviets, getting us out of Vietnam as delicately as possible (after actually trying to win the damn war). Even did a pretty good job with the Middle East. Solid healthcare reform plan. Created the EPA, a mixed blessing, perhaps. However, Watergate was unbelievably stupid and completely unnecessary. A bit weak on science.
4. George H. W. Bush. Possibly the most successful single term President the country has ever had. The First Gulf War was a masterpiece of foreign policy foresight and military strategy. Had the guts to raise taxes, which is sometimes necessary and not always an evil if coupled with spending cuts. Worked more on science than Nixon did. Ended the Cold War (even if he was cleaning up what Reagan had already started).
The great Presidents
3. John F. Kennedy. A willingness to aggressively fight the Cold War in a way that no President had before or since. His victory in the Cuban Missile Crisis could be the single greatest foreign policy achievement since World War II. Cut taxes, worked for civil rights reform, and funded the space program. Vietnam is a major blemish on his record, maybe the only one. There’s no way he could have been worse than Johnson in 1964.
2. Ronald Reagan. Devoted a lot of attention to the economy, even if the results didn’t come out as planned. Displayed decisive leadership when it was needed. An aggressive, well considered foreign policy on the whole is slightly diminished by Iran-Contra.
1. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The man killed Nazis. Ended the Korean War, worked effectively with the Soviets in the Suez Canal Crisis. DARPA and NASA. Built infrastructure, something governments are supposed to do and keep forgetting about because it isn’t sexy enough. Continued Truman policies in desegregation. Economic prosperity. Effectively used his Vice President (Nixon) in a way that few Presidents have since.
So, that’s my list. I suspect Kevin’s — if he ever comes to the site again — would be quite different.