Matt has a post here about the Presidents in his lifetime. This struck me as a cool idea, and since the blogosphere would be nothing without people taking other people’s ideas, I thought I would jump in with my rankings of the President’s in my lifetime (1959-2005).
Starting from the bottom:
10. Bush II: Not just the worst President of my lifetime. The worst President ever. Heads an administration that is ten times more corrupt than Nixon but with none of the pragmatic streak Nixon had. The nicest thing I can say about him is that I think he sincerely believes the crap he spews. The worst thing I can say about him is that I think he sincerely believes the crap he spews. The deaths of thousands of Americans, and tens of thousand Iraqis, are directly on his head.
9. Reagan: Overrated hack. His sole contribution to the end of the Cold War was to stand around doing nothing, this despite the protestations of the intelligence community requesting action. By this standard, Reagan should also get credit for the sun rising every day, my graduating from college and law school, and the Challenger disaster. Signed into law the largest single tax increase in U.S. history, and if you want to see a young Republican’s head explode, you can point out that fact.
8. Kennedy: Pretty boy who looked Presidential instead of being Presidential. Unable to get a single piece of substantive legislation passed. Gave birth to phrase “Vote Early, Vote Often”. His becoming President may have been the single worst thing to happen to the Democratic party in the history of the party – it added a great deal of fuel to the paranoia Nixon exhibited, it put the Dems in position to suffer the consequences of Vietnam, and it gave the Republicans the opportunity to craft the Southern Strategy that would serve them very well in seven Presidential elections.
7. Ford: Caretaker President. More notable as punch line to a joke or assassin’s target than as President. On the other hand, didn’t actively try to make society worse, and didn’t inspire cult of devoted and deluded followers.
6. Bush I: Nice guy, smart guy, way in over his head guy. Very knowledgeable about foreign affairs, yet let others wrangle foreign policy away from him.
5. Carter: Not given anywhere near enough credit for what he actually did. Despite popular misperception, economy actually stronger under Carter than any of the three Republicans who followed him (Reagan, Bush I, Bush II). Devoted humanitarian who truly cared about people.
4. Eisenhower: Led country to strong economy, peace, and stability. Perfect post-war President.
3. Johnson: Effective Senator who became an effective President. Got more substantive pieces of legislation passed before noon than most Presidents get passed all day. Put in place framework for Great Society that improves lives to this day. Refused to run for re-election rather than try to defend indefensible foreign policy decisions.
2. Nixon: Rated solely on his crimes, he’d be in ninth. Rated on the good qualities, second. Those crimes are well documented: domestic spying, authorizing break-ins, assassination plots. Not so well documented are the good things he did – improved the economy, ended the war, opened up China and the Soviet Union (this did much, much more to end the Cold War than Reagan ever did). Truly cared about working class families and working class people, as that is where he came from. Hated wealthy people who pretended to be working class (he had a hatred of the Bush family so intense that Bush I was considered by many to be the most likely candidate for Deep Throat). Supposedly won enough money playing poker in the service (where he actually, you know, SERVED) to finance his first run for Congress.
1. Clinton: One of the top five Presidents ever. Maybe top three. By any qualitative measure, country was better off after eight years of Clinton than any other period this century. Would STILL be President today if not for those pesky term limitations. Lied about sex to the American public, causing harm to no one, prompting Republican outrage orgy, unlike Bush II, who lied about the existence of weapons of mass destruction, causing the deaths of tens of thousands, prompting nary a peep from the Republican party. Beautiful political instincts mixed with, what is by all accounts of people who have met him, a genuine concern about the people. It was an honor to vote for him twice.