a superlative presidents' day

You are invited to make your own nominations in the comments, with one stipulation: the incumbent is not eligible for any of these, because 1) I think we should judge the entirety of the term(s), and 2) aren't you just a little tired of talking about him?

Best President
I've turned this over in my head for years, and I always come back to the same answer: George Washington. He set every precedent that counts, from eschewing any title more ostentatious than "Mr. President" to gracefully ducking out after two terms. This country was very fortunate to have a fan of Cincinnatus as its first executive.

Worst President
George W. Bush is certainly my generation's Richard Nixon, but Richard Nixon was Richard Nixon. The man might very well have committed treason while running for president in 1968 (and likely lengthened the Vietnam War in doing so), and it really kind of went downhill from there.

Most Underrated President
This is difficult; there are a lot of presidents I (and most people) just don't know very much about, which almost certainly makes several of them more literally underrated than George H.W. Bush. Still, we're talking about a man who ushered the U.S. (and really, an awful lot of the world) more or less safely through the collapse of communism, and assembled a truly broad international coalition to contain Saddam Hussien. He wasn't perfect--and I certainly have no love for the Bush family--but can you seriously imagine Mike Dukakis pulling all that off? I can't.

I just wish I could go back in time to 1945 and talk him into getting a vasectomy.

Most Overrated President
In my bones I want to say Reagan, but seriously, what is that thing you Boomers have for John F. Kennedy? He averted a nuclear war only because he damn near started one. (And don't try to tell me the Soviets started it by moving missiles onto the island to repel a U.S. invasion, because a U.S. invasion of Cuba wasn't exactly a paranoid fantasy, was it?) If he hadn't been martyred, we'd blame him for Vietnam, too.

Most Complicated President
Being born in a city that was burned to the ground by Union forces during the Civil War probably has more than a little to do with it, but I don't know how anyone could answer this with anyone other than Abraham Lincoln. Ending slavery? Awesome. Prosecuting a war that killed approximately 2% of the U.S. population? Less so. Regardless of what you think of Lincoln: we are still living the legacy of the Civil War in our politics today. A century and a half later.

Would it have been better to simply let the South go? Would doing so have ultimately threatened the security of the remaining United States? I have no idea, and neither do you. Like I said...it's complicated.

Alright...whaddaya got?


Gino said...

per Lincoln: i see yer 'southern-raised boy' is still alive and well.
and i agree.
i also place him close to W and LBJ in terms of potentially worst.

if the South was let go, loss of the Mississippi for shipping northern goods would have gone with it.
i still believe that this economic aspect of a real CSA had as much to do with the war as Northern hubris and Lincoln's ego.

the North was lucky to have slavery as an 'issue'... because their other excuses dont pan out.

Worst: FDR, for reasons i'm sure you already know.

Over rated: totally JFK. i agree.

Best: if not Washington, that Quincy guy who served during the War Of 1812. he had swingin nads, too.

and there is NOTHING over rated about Reagan. he wasnt perfect, but he was as good as they say, not as bad as is claimed... politics is tricky like that.
for me, Reagan today, Reagan tomorrow, a 80-84 'Reagan' in the office forever...
he didnt have all the answers, but he had wisdom, like GHWB, and convictions.

Mr. D said...

Best -- Washington, still and probably always. Others were highly consequential, but Washington was the best. Our greatest blessing was the overall quality of the first five presidents we had.

Worst -- I've changed my mind on this a few times, but I'm thinking Woodrow Wilson. Imperious, racist, acted as a dictator during WWI. Really an awful man. LBJ was pretty awful, too. And Nixon, of course.

Most underrated -- Grover Cleveland, maybe. He did a good job of steering the country out of the Panic of 1893 and he was perhaps the most honest president of them all. Polk had a good four year run and had the sense to get off the stage. It would have been interesting to see what McKinley would have done had he not been assassinated, too.

Most overrated -- Kennedy. Teddy Roosevelt is also overrated.

Most complicated -- Lincoln is a good choice. So is Clinton, who was a disgrace personally but was perhaps the most talented politician to ever hold the office.

RW said...

Reassessing history as I've had to do in the last two years it has become obvious to me that I was very wrong about a lot of concepts that I once held dear. FDR has gone from the bottom third to the top third for me. World War II was living proof that the way out of a depression isn't to sit around waiting for fat cats to make jobs - they won't do it no matter how many tax breaks you give them. You get a country out of depressions and recessions by spending. You don't cut benefits, you extend them. You don't reduce the size of government because that just adds to the jobless roles. You increase the amount of government jobs. You increase government spending. This flies in the face of conservative dogma, but that alone probably makes it right.

So I'd have to say the best President is FDR.

Worst President - Andrew Jackson. His support for States Rights in the case of the disputes between Georgia and the Cherokee Nation, which ended in the Trail of Tears, gave credence to that philosophy and eventually fed the flames of the South's ego, hubris, and stupidity. States Rights has been responsible for more of the evils in America than anything I can think of, and should have been thrown onto the ash heap of history along with Nazism and Sovietism. But more than that, Jackson pretty much embodies the ugly white man. What constitution?

Though Carter and Hoover ran a close second & third.

Most Underrated President - Chester A. Arthur. "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired ... more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe." He was a Tammany Hall serf who once lost a job because of the very reforms he later championed as President. He surprised everyone. And can you imagine - one of the biggest criticisms against him was that he continually failed to GET RID OF the federal budget SURPLUS.

Most Overrated President - JFK, especially because he is the shining model of brilliance for just about everybody from neocons to liberals. God knoweth why. Or how. He plainly didn't know what he was supposed to be doing in the office early on and then when he was finally kinda getting the idea he got popped. The only thing that was really important about him was that he wore sunglasses, smoked little cigars and had interesting friends. He should have stayed a Senator. Or run a nightclub.

Most Complicated President - Richard Nixon. By any standards he was a hot mess with a streak of genius and a talent for making a bad situation worse. In the realm of foreign policy was anyone ever better? He changed the whole equation. He had, on the global stage, a series of remarkable achievements beyond what anybody else in that office ever came close to. And yet he was one of the most petty, vicious, callous, and downright criminal persons ever in the White House.
A Republican who instituted wage and price controls. Yet he would have made probably the best Secretary of State ever.
He liked to identify with "the average guy", but created the “Imperial Presidency.” He was certainly what is today known as a "reverse snob."
He had the data (re: the Pentagon Papers) that showed that the whole Gulf of Tonkin "incident" was no incident at all and that we went into Viet Nam in response to something that NEVER HAPPENED, but still he persisted in escalating the war in an effort to win it. His actions started the Culture Wars (with his “silent majority bullcrap) but also the end of the Cold War. A politician who didn’t like to shake hands.
Complexity squared.

Brian said...

I had a feeling this would be interesting.

My second ballot (because it's my house so I can) would probably be

Best: Eisenhower
Worst: Wilson
Underrated: John Adams
Overrated: Reagan
Complicated: LBJ (though RW's case for Nixon is very compelling)

Bike Bubba said...

Lincoln wins in my book for most complicated. My take on "letting the South go" is that since the key provocations were all related to slavery and tariffs imposed on the South, that there would have been war anyways. Maybe not in 1861, but soon afterwards for sure.

Most underrated? What about Calvin Coolidge? Quiet prosperity looks pretty good compared to his predecessors and successors, no?

Worst? Carter, Hoover, Nixon, FDR, and LBJ are all strong contenders, but let's not forget the "current occupant." Came in on a promise to restore harmony in DC and has does exactly the opposite. Combines the honesty of Clinton with the competence of Carter.

Brian said...

(clears throat, taps impatiently on the original post)

Mr. D said...

(clears throat, taps impatiently on the original post)


RW said...

lol... "let's oppose everything he does no matter how small, how minute and how insignificant. We'll stomp our feet, wave our flags, and whine until we're blue in the face about everything. He's an undocumented Muslim socialist from Kenya. never mind what the conservatives at Harvard said about him, nobody pays attention to that, just keep throwing shit on the wall and see what sticks. Then, after we bloody up the whole field, we'll just point our fingers at Obama and say 'see? he didn't bring any unity to the process.' And everyone will believe us and no one will notice what our part in it was because - heh - the American people are idiots, easily manipulated. And in 2012 he won't get re-elected because we'll have shown what a LIAR he is."