So, our resident Penguatroll listed the presidencies in rank order from Truman on. Here’s my list.
12. Barack Obama. We’ve still got two years left, but you can fill out a 16-seed bracket with legitimate scandals. He’s a complete joke when it comes to foreign policy. Quick: name someplace with which the US has better relations than in 2008, or a place which is significantly better off as a result of US foreign policy than in 2008. Well, I can answer that second question: Iran and Russia. On domestic policy, we have “Recovery Summer” 5 years running, the ever-giving miracle known as Obamacare, and scandals ranging from selling weapons to Mexican drug lords, using the IRS to spy on oppositional political groups, etc. Lately, the only way one Obama scandal gets out of the news is if another one gets in (think Obamacare, the ever-unfolding IRS scandals, the Bergdahl exchange, the EPA ruling that they control everything, and so on). Further, a Vice President says a lot about a President: George W. Bush had Dick Cheney, who could shoot a man in the face; Bill Clinton had Al Gore pre-supercrazy (and only kinda-crazy); Ronald Reagan had George H. W. Bush, who knew hundreds of ways to kill a man and probably tried them all. Barack Obama has Joe Biden.
11. Jimmy Carter. Carter was history’s greatest monster. On foreign policy, he was at least as bad as Obama, and in a time in which foreign policy mattered more. Nevertheless, at least Carter worked on airline deregulation, brought on Paul Volcker, and wasn’t using the IRS and FBI against political enemies. Also, Carter only had one term in which to fail, whereas Obama has the opportunity to fail over twice as long a stretch.
10. Lyndon Johnson. The Great Society is a millstone around the necks of future generations and Johnson’s mishandling of Vietnam in 1964 for political reasons was unforgivable, and the idea that anybody thought clowns like Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy were the best options for running the DOD seriously angers me. The joke about Johnson that Barry Goldwater used was that Johnson was the mayor of a one TV tower town. Johnson should have stayed there.
9. John Kennedy. Our Penguatroll gives Kennedy way too much credit, in my opinion. The Cuban Missile Crisis came about for two reasons: first, Kennedy mis-handled Bay of Pigs so badly that he probably should have been impeached; secondly, Kennedy was such a clown at the Vienna Summit in 1961 that Khruschev decided he could push the envelope. In other words, Kennedy took the United States to the brink of nuclear war to make up for his previous failures. I give him credit for not cracking, but a President Eisenhower or President Nixon would never have been pushed that far in the first place. Oh, and a President Nixon in 1961 would have prosecuted Bay of Pigs effectively and kept Cuba in the western sphere of influence. Bonus negatives for the aforementioned McNamara and Bundy; this was Kennedy’s doing.
8. Gerald Ford. Ford didn’t do much and basically just exists. He got an unfair rep because he tripped on airplane stairs once and he didn’t understand the easy way to whip inflation (hint: stop printing so much money). The Nixon pardon hurt him short-term, but like our resident Penguatroll argues, it’s probably for the best in the long run.
7. Harry Truman. I give him credit for a muscular response to Greece and Italy during tumultuous times. I’m not a fan of Truman’s domestic policy, which was an attempted expansion of the Roosevelt policy. Thankfully, a post-war Republican party forced significant spending and tax cuts and really stymied Truman; otherwise, he would have ended up lower on the list.
6. Richard Nixon. I give him credit for fighting in Vietnam, as opposed to the slipshod “limited war” crap that Kennedy and Johnson ran. I also give him credit for reaching out to a post-PedoToad China and formalizing their turn against the Soviets. I take away a lot of credit due to his terrible economic policies. Also, I want to give him some residual goodness for his days on HUAC and the work he did in nailing Alger Hiss as a traitor and Communist spy. On the other hand, the EPA was a bad idea which has become worse and worse over time. Nixon was also responsible for price controls and was the true poster child for stagflation, even though Carter gets a majority of the scorn. Nixon was truly the anti-Clinton.
5. George W. Bush. Flip-flip 4 & 5 if you want; I already did. With regard to foreign policy, here’s something you probably don’t hear very often: US foreign relations improved significantly during the Bush administration. President Bush was wrong on Vladimir Putin, but at least eventually realized it. On the other hand, he expanded US influence further into Europe, drawing in countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, and Georgia. More importantly, he improved relations with India significantly. It’s important to remember that US-India relations were historically pretty sour (part of why the US was so friendly with Pakistan during the Cold War), but under Bush they improved. Unfortunately, Obama failed to follow through on these lines and has ruined potential American influence expansion globally. On Iraq, I consider it to have been a success as of 2009: the Baathists were defeated, Iraq was no longer a haven for international terrorist organizations, and the potential for a free and democratic Iraq was there. Unfortunately, candidate Obama was strongly against the war and President Obama pulled American troops, leading to a situation in which ISIS controls a third of the country and the dictator-in-training is cozying up to Iran to solidify his tenuous grasp on power. I think 25,000-40,000 troops with the right leadership would have prevented this scenario. On domestic policy, Bush was full of ups and downs: the 2003 tax cuts were great and free trade agreements with several countries helped. On the other hand, No Child Left Behind was a bad idea (hint: if Ted Kennedy was for it, you should probably be against it), bailouts were a terrible idea, and spend-spend-spend is never a good idea. Bush had good ideas like Social Security reform, but instead of pushing that harder, went for amnesty and Harriet Myers.
4. Bill Clinton. A person with a combination of Nixon’s foreign policy and Clinton’s domestic policy would have been…well, probably Dwight Eisenhower. A person with a combination of Clinton’s foreign policy and Nixon’s domestic policy would have been nestling between Obama and Carter at the bottom of the list. Clinton was the politician qua politician of our generation. I absolutely hate how much of a slimy, slippery toad he was (but no PedoToad, as at least he liked his girls over the age of 18), but after Hillarycare went down and Republicans won the Congress in 1994, Clinton returned to his populist centrist routine. The end result was prosperity throughout the ’90s for a president beset by scandals that nobody seemed to care about.
3. George H. W. Bush. Tony calls him “[p]ossibly the most successful single term President the country has ever had.” I say no: James K. Polk was that by a landslide (and land grab). Despite that, I agree with his assessment that Bush was solid. On raising taxes, Bush’s bald-faced lie is probably what made him one of the most successful single-term presidents rather than a very successful two-term president.
2. Dwight Eisenhower. Ike showed us that Presidents should play a lot of golf. As a side note, a lot of people make fun of Barack Obama constantly playing golf, but honestly, I’d rather he be hitting the links than doing stupid things. Eisenhower had a pretty solid idea of what a president should—and, more importantly, should not—be and helped America return to a sense of normalcy after World War II. I give him a lot of credit and rank him rather higher than most historians would on the all-time list. On net, the interstate highway system was outstanding, although there have been cultural costs (as well as benefits).
1. Ronald Reagan. Beating the Commies, beating stagflation, beating History’s Greatest Monster (and Walter Mondale, but seriously…), all that adds up. Reagan was the prior generation’s politician qua politician, but used his powers for awesome rather than sliminess. I rank him the second-best president of the 20th century, behind the great Calvin Coolidge.
Net difference, throwing out Ford (because somebody was too chicken to include Gerald Ford in a ranking): 15 points of ranking. We only had one match (Truman), but you can definitely see three groups in which we shuffle candidates: Reagan-Eisenhower-Bush, Nixon-Clinton-Truman-Bush, and Obama-Johnson-Carter. Kennedy is the only president in which we have a serious disagreement, and that’s without me talking about how much of a drug-addicted creep he was.