Creative Destruction

March 28, 2006

Presidents, good and bad

Filed under: Politics — bazzer @ 6:36 pm

"Worst. President. Ever."

Everybody has their favorite president, and most people have probably given at least some thought as to their least favorite (let me guess: Bush, right? Did I get it right?) But how many people have actually sat down and ranked all of our recent leaders from best to worst?

I tried it as an exercise the other night, and it was tougher than I expected. I also think my exact rankings are somewhat fluid, and you're subject to get slightly different answers depending on what day of the week you ask me and what kind of mood I'm in. Still, here's my first stab at it: From best to worst, I ranked all the presidents I've lived through (I've got considerably more presidents under my belt than Adam) and here are the results:

REAGAN:

The good: Dramatic flattening of the income tax structure, breaking inflation, rebuilding the military, deregulation. Hands down favorite.

The bad: Paid only lip service to reducing the size and the price tag of government. Left office with more cabinet-level executive departments rather than fewer.

CLINTON:

The good: Welfare reform, controlled spending, (nominally) balanced budget.

The bad: Raised taxes.

BUSH 43:

The good: Recognized immediately the scope and magnitude of the global war on terror. His response set the precedent for future leaders.

The bad: Spent money like a drunken Lyndon Johnson on shore leave.

FORD:

(mediumest president of all time)

BUSH 41:

The bad: "Read my lips."

The good: Clarence Thomas (hee hee hee)

CARTER:

The bad: Misery index, "malaise."

The good: Legally protected the great American tradition of home brewing. This alone is enough to save him from the bottom.

NIXON:

The bad: Watergate, wage and price controls.

The good: I guess he did his damnedest to secure American victory in Vietnam, and actually came closer to succeeding than many people realize.

JOHNSON:

The bad: Escalated involvement in Vietnam, created the modern welfare state.

The good: Uh….

So that's pretty much it. Something there to piss off everybody, no doubt. I'm considering making this into one of those blog challenge "tag-you're-it" things, but, well, those are just annoying. Still, if anyone here is inclined to follow suit, please do. It'll help us all get a feel for one another's political thought processes.

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9 Comments »

  1. Aw, c’mon now! Give Johnson some credit for the Civil Rights act! It totally wouldn’t have passed without him

    Comment by Adam Gurri — March 28, 2006 @ 8:08 pm | Reply

  2. Fair enough.

    Comment by bazzer — March 28, 2006 @ 8:14 pm | Reply

  3. “Worst. President. Ever” doesn’t equate to “presidents I’ve lived through.” It’s a commonplace gloss on history that recent history is the most important. (To you and me, as we live it, perhaps it is, but then there can be no claim to objectivity.) Also, I have a hard time listing as accomplishments of a president things that merely happened when he (not yet she) was in office.

    I’ll probably say this a lot as we continue posting, but the exercise of ranking presidents poses very poor questions and converts complex issues into an inappropriate linear scale. Even if it were possible to assess presidents in terms of good/bad, what is the point? What is learned? Why the popularity contest?

    To answer your question briefly despite my misgivings, and I hate to split across party lines, but the venal corruption of the Reps. far outweighs that of the Dems. Incidentally, I don’t regard the flattening of the tax structure a worthy accomplishment — quite the opposite.

    Comment by Brutus — March 28, 2006 @ 9:33 pm | Reply

  4. > what is the point? What is learned? Why the popularity contest?

    ‘Cuz it’s fun. Now quit being a stick-in-the-mud.

    Granted, it’s terribly glib and presumptuous to distill years of governance into a few simplistic soundbites, and then attempt to rank them as one would American Idol contestants. Such an exercise says much more about the ranker than our presidents. Which is, of course, precisely why I did it.

    So do I interpret your post correctly? That your ranking would simply be to lump the Democrats together at the top and Republicans on the bottom?

    Comment by bazzer — March 28, 2006 @ 11:58 pm | Reply

  5. Incidentally, I don’t regard the flattening of the tax structure a worthy accomplishment — quite the opposite

    Sounds like a great start for a post!

    *walks away innocently as though he had never made such a suggestion*

    Comment by Adam Gurri — March 29, 2006 @ 2:25 am | Reply

  6. Would hardly be worth it for me since I’ve only been around since Reagan, so for what it’s worth I agree with your ranking of those eight. My only moment of uncertain wavering was the Carter/Nixon ranking; Carter sucked in virtually every way, but Nixon sucked in fewer but far grander ways. Altogether the latter surely did more damage, even though I have less visceral dislike of him.

    Comment by Matt McIntosh — March 29, 2006 @ 2:56 am | Reply

  7. Addition to your BAD category for Bush 43:

    Proceeded to disregard said scope and magnitude of the global campaign against terrorism in just about every facet imaginable. Allowed his party to continue on with Washington-as-usual politics instead of focusing on the Global Armed Conflict Against Violent Extremism.

    Which, in my book, drops him between Carter and Nixon. And there’s no way that I’d put Johnson under Nixon. Hunter S. Thompson had him pegged: the man’s only positive quality was his fascination with football, in all facets of the game.

    Comment by offcolfax — March 29, 2006 @ 10:25 am | Reply

  8. Comparing presidents is like children comparing the quality of their respective educations, in fact people are different and require different teachings. With time, people also evolved. The same can be said for presidents and nations. Sometimes, after a right wing government, a liberal one might be needed. Both are right in evolving in their respective directions. Advancement is made from a step to the right, a step to the left.

    Comment by Vilon — March 29, 2006 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

  9. So is good dancing, Vilon 🙂

    I think that this is something, like many things, where the most important step in the analysis is coming up with the standard that you’re going to judge them by.

    Framing the question and setting a standard is probably the most underestimated and underdiscussed aspect of theoretical interpretation…ever.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — March 30, 2006 @ 12:25 am | Reply


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