Saturday, February 24, 2007

The 10 Worst Presidents

This week's edition of US News and World Report ranks The 10 Worst Presidents. I like US News and World Report for several reasons. First, because of its conservative slant, it is a great compliment to my Time magazine. I always recommend reading two sides of a story before making any judgement. The second reason is that it has a lot of articles about American history.

If you can get past the ads aimed at our older Americans, America's most conservative thinkers, those that Tom Brokaw calls "Our Greatest Generation", then it is a pretty good magazine. I don't mean to offend "the generation" but I know when I see Ed McMahon promoting a bathtub that opens from the side so that you don't have to step over the edge, there is a possibility that the product is not aimed at me. I think we can agree the magazine has conservative readership.

Now to the business at hand, The 10 Worst Presidents of the United States.

According to USNews, their list is as follows... (worst being at the top)

1. James Buchanan
2. Warren Harding
3. Andrew Johnson
4. Franklin Pierce
5. Millard Fillmore
6. John Tyler
7. U.S. Grant
8. William Harrison
9. Herbert Hoover / Richard Nixon
10. Zachary Taylor

A pretty good list with the usual suspects rearing their ugly heads.

The essence of the article is about whether or not these lists can be viewed as accurate based on the political ideology of the president versus that of the public at that time. Harvard historian, Arthur Schlesinger Sr. believes that what weighed most heavily in determining the worst president was whether they "took the side of the progressivism and reform, as understood in their day." In other words. any president who did not agree with the majority of public opinion during their tenure is most assuredly viewed as a poor president.

George Bush, for example, is already being penciled in as a failure and will undoubtedly join the list when his administration is distinguished.

Many of these presidents are listed in the bottom ten due to inactivity or passiveness in times of American strife or historical challenge.

U.S. Grant (#7) and Warren Harding (#2) turned a blind eye to corruption within their administrations. Herbert Hoover(#9) did nothing to get America out of a depression. James Buchanan, who preceded Lincoln, did not believe there would be a Civil War and his decision not to deal with secession is ranked as the worst presidential mistake of all time.

In ranking the presidents there is a bias towards activism. Those that do, don't make the list. Those that don't, do! Unless the action is misplaced or controversial, like Nixon (tied for #9) and Watergate or Lyndon Johnson, who didn't make the list.

The USNews list is derived from the average of "five major and relatively recent" presidential polls, which spawned a more accurate representation of the least successful presidencies. Because of a tie at #9, there are actually 11 in the list.

To be fair, here is another list from the book Presidential Leadership, which ranks all the presidents. I'll include only the bottom 10.

1. James Buchanan
2. Warren Harding
3. Franklin Pierce
4. Andrew Johnson
5. Millard Fillmore
6. John Tyler
7. Jimmy Carter
8. Zachary Taylor
9. Richard Nixon
10. Herbert Hoover

Jimmy Carter, U.S. Grant and William Harrison are the only presidents who made only one list. That said, I think we can get a pretty good idea that the remaining leaders can be considered, failures.

FYI -- The only three presidents to be considered "Great" according to Presidential Leadership's criteria, are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and FDR. No surprises.

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1 comment:

Geoff Elliott said...

It's quite unfair for anyone to rank William Henry Harrison on any list of "worst" or even "best" U.S. presidents, due to his brief 31 days in office. He most likely would have been a failure in office, but we shall never know.

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