Today is Presidents’ Day. One of America’s minor national holidays. Most people in education, finance and government have the day off; for the rest it is a regular work day. I’m old enough to remember when we had a day off for both Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays but along the way they got consolidated and now we supposedly honors all 45 men (Grover Cleveland was counted twice in the presidential numbering “system”) who have occupied the office of the Presidency. Enough (and incomplete) history.
I have lived under 14 presidents. Today I though I would rank them with the exception of Joe Biden because his term is incomplete. Keep in mind that I describe myself as an American, a progressive and a Democrat in that order. My life has occulated between working and middle class and that very much colors my perception of things including presidential job performances.
Deciding between the top two spots and the bottom two spots was difficult. Otherwise, I feel I have lived under four good, three mediocre and six bad presidents. I’ll briefly review them in those clusters.
1. Harry Truman
Truman takes the top spot because he ended World War II earlier and with less loss of life. He also took the first steps in disintegrating the military and thereby American society. He along with George Marshall, a Republican, ended the Cold War – using the Sun Tzu most battles are won before they are fought theory – with the Marshall Plan.
In handling a transitional economy, he did what he perceived as best for the nation which included taking on the unions; hardly a comfortable task for a New Deal Democrat.
2. Barack Obama
Like every other occupant of the Oval Office there are pluses and minuses but Obamacare alone put him near the top. It is the Social Security of post World War II America.
In full disclosure he was my last boss, albeit at a very low level. I honesty don’t think that affected my decision.
3. Lyndon B. Johnson
Perhaps one of the most imperfect men to ever occupy the Oval Office he left two major pieces of legislation that make for one heck of a legacy. They are the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In his time in office most of us hated him for his handling of the Viet Nam War but his Great Society legislation more than counterbalances ‘Nam.
4. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Yes, I think I can be objective in evaluating a Republican. Ike teamed with Democratic Senator Al Gore, Sr. to make the interstate highway system a reality. Decades later it links almost all of America and is a crucial part of our economy.
His exit address where he warned of the military-industrial complex still resonates today. For the most part he continued Truman’s transition to a prosperous peacetime economy.
5. Bill Clinton
For the most part Clinton did a good job. His misguided (I’m being kind) affair with Monica Lewinsky resulting in his impeachment forever tarnished his legacy.
He receives little to no credit for it but it appears he was in large part responsible for the relative peace in Ireland.
6. John F. Kennedy
I think Kennedy is one of the most overrated presidents in American history. If we had a less “gentlemanly” press in his day I can only imagine what they would have made of his “extracurricular activities”. The Cuban Missile Crisis far overshadows his mistake in the Bay of Pigs incident.
On the domestic ledger he had many irons supposedly in the fire but it was LBJ who made them a reality.
7. George H. W. Bush
His complicity in Ronald Reagan’s illegalities cannot be ignored. The chronological achievement of his time in office was the end of the Cold War. Most historians actually credit Reagan for it and I have already said that if you want to credit a president his name is Truman and if you want to credit a Republican his name is Marshall.
The bottom line on Bush 41’s administration is no crowning achievements or scandals that became public anyway. A Gentleman’s “C” which is very fitting in his case.
8. Jimmy Carter
This ranking always makes me unpopular with fellow Democrats and progressives but while perhaps the finest man to every occupy the office (Obama is also in that conversation) Carter was ineffective.
The Camp David Accord was the highlight of an administration in which despite his obvious brilliance Carter seemed to be over his head.
9. George W. Bush
Two wars and a recession. Not much to brag about there. To me the most amazing thing about W is that he managed to get reelected.
He has had a much better post presidency than presidency. Trump has made him look smart by comparison (at least W reads) and he has been savvy enough to basically keep his mouth shut and just do his paintings.
10. Gerald Ford
Ford was a short time president. He is the answer to the trivia question: Who is the only President that was neither elected to that office or the Vice Presidency?
I still remember his WIN (whip inflation now) buttons. They didn’t work and looked stupid. (Ford is not viewed as one of the geniuses to occupy the Oval Office.)
While I agreed with it at the time, I now realize I was wrong. Ford’s pardon of Nixon stinks to high heaven and set up many of the problems we are still trying to sort out today.
11. Richard Nixon
Watergate, Viet Nam and “Your president is not a crook.” Enough said!
12. Ronald Reagan
To date, no president has ever done more to harm the working/middle class than Ronald Reagan! The big difference between him and Trump is that Reagan was likeable. Both were BS artists.
You can sum up Reagan in one story told about him that he took pride in. It supposedly illustrated that he was an optimist. The tale is told that he came upon a huge pile of horse manure and said there has to be a pony under there somewhere. No Mr. Reagan it’s just a pile of horse poop (mindful of my PG rating).
Reagan flagrantly and deliberately broke American law to advance policies he favored. While he did not personally profit it was still illegal and arrogant.
13. Donald Trump
A year after leaving office revelations of Trump’s transgressions are still making news daily with no end in sight. Trump is the worse because he personally profited of his in office “sins” and he tried to retain his office via a coup. Even Nixon had some final respect for the office, America and its Constitution.
Is he the worst of all time? I don’t feel qualified to answer that question, but in my lifetime he is in last and it doesn’t look like he will climb out of that position.
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