I was in a text conversation the other day with a friend of mine who deeply, sincerely believes that Barack Obama is the worst president in American history. I think that view is barking mad. I think there are several worse presidents and I figured I’d go through American history and see what ones come up.
Please note: I am not saying that these were bad presidents or that they didn’t do good things during their time in office. I am, however, saying that they are, at this point, worse presidents than Obama.
1. Andrew Jackson (Democrat, 1829 – 1837) – Not a horrible president by any means, but there’s that whole Supreme Court thingy. See, there was this effort to remove Indians from their land. The Indians in question weren’t happy about this, and took the federal government to court. In Worcester v Georgia, the court ruled in their favor. Jackson, who was president at the time, wasn’t about to put up with that, and he basically ignored the court ruling. This alone is an impeachable offense, and, indeed, he should have been impeached and removed from office.
2. John Tyler (Whig, 1841 – 1845) – Tyler wasn’t so horrible as a president, but it was what he did after leaving office that makes him especially infamous. You see, he was heavily in favor of states rights, aka: slavery, since that’s what that term basically meant back then. Once he was out of office he basically retired for a while, and then, when the Civil War broke out, turned traitor against the United States, supported the Confederacy and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives. He died before he could take office, thank goodness, but here we have a clear-cut case of a former President who committed treason against the United States government. Hard to sink much lower than that.
3. Millard Filmore (Whig, 1850 – 1853) – What can you say about Filmore? The guy was so unpopular that basically his presidency killed his party. Let me restate that: this guy was so bad in office that he ended up being the last Whig president. He signed the Fugitive Slave Act, which was a big mistake. He also didn’t even get his party’s renomination for president, which is usually a pretty rote affair. Really, he’s only remembered for not having been very good at his job. He’s the first in a sad line of really crappy pre-Civil War presidents.
4. Franklin Pierce (Democrat, 1853 – 1857) – Apparently a nice guy. But not a very good president. Where to start? First off, he was an alcoholic. Secondly, he was a very weak and indecisive president. He also didn’t get his party’s nomination for re-election, and, just to top it off, became a traitor when he supported the southern cause in the Civil War.
5. James Buchanan (Democrat, 1857 – 1861) – Well, first off, he was almost certainly gay. Let’s get that out of the way. It has nothing to do with his status as a bad president, but it should be mentioned. He was extremely pro-slavery, which was a surprise to many, given that he was a northerner. But he was almost certainly romantically involved with William Rufus King, who was vice president (for six weeks until he died), under Pierce. His views probably helped Buchanan to come down on the wrong side of this issue. He also forced slavery onto Kansas, and as a leader was very weak and unable to respond as the clouds of succession and war began to gather.
6. Andrew Johnson (Democrat-Union, 1865 – 1869) – So this guy got impeached and was only kept from being forced out of office by one vote. He was extremely racist, and didn’t want to grant freed slaves any of the same rights as white people. At least in part because of his actions, blacks were kept away from any true equality for nearly 100 years.
7. Ulysses S. Grant (Republican, 1869 – 1877) – And then there’s Grant. As a general, he got the job done. As president, well…he presided over a very corrupt regime, which may not have been his fault, but was ultimately his responsibility, at least in part because of all the cronies he appointed. He also didn’t put a stop to election violence during his second term, thus allowing what were essentially terrorist organizations (ie: the Klan, which was to the Democrats of the day as the Provisional IRA was to Sinn Fein), to take control in the south. He’s someone who I describe as “an honorable failure”. He should have stayed in the military and then retired to write his memoirs. He was not at all qualified to be president.
8. – Warren G. Harding (Republican, 1921 – 1923) – Harding typically ranks at or near the bottom of presidential rankings. He was another one who presided over an extremely corrupt regime, and may have been in it up to his eyeballs, with the most notable scandal of his time being the Teapot Dome scandal. Also, his middle name was Gamaliel, and that’s just silly.
9. – Herbert Hoover (Republican, 1929 – 1933) – He presided over the start of the Great Depression and, for ideological reasons, did nothing really to prevent it or to repair the damage or to help the people. He made some token gestures, but nothing that worked. Ten years before, he probably would have been an acceptable president, and gone on to simply be forgettable. As it is, he was just not the man for the job.
10. – Richard Nixon (Republican, 1969 – 1974) – The really sad part is that Watergate was the tip of the iceberg. Nixon’s entire presidency seems to have been built around an abuse of power so huge that his few accomplishments (reopening relations with China, the creation of the EPA, etc), will forever be overshadowed by the real, severe, lasting damage that he did while in office.
11. – Gerald Ford (Republican, 1974 – 1977) – He was ok as president except for one notable thing: the pardon. In pardoning Nixon, Ford thought he was doing the right thing, but he wasn’t. He enabled Nixon and his people to escape any real serious punishment, and allowed people on both sides to completely reinforce their views of government. He also prevented the American people from having to face up to what was done in their name, and that alone makes him less than great.
12. – Jimmy Carter (Democrat, 1977 – 1981) – You wanna talk about honorable failures? Carter has made an exceptional ex-president, and is clearly a good, decent man. But he was not up to the job. Had he come into office in a smoother time, he might have been ok, but as it was he wasn’t able to properly respond to the energy crisis, and arguably did a bad job handling the Iranian hostage crisis.
13. – George W. Bush (Republican, 2001 – 2009) – This one is, admittedly, a bit more subjective than the others. But here we have a man who, and let me make this clear, turned us into a nation that used torture. We used it a lot. In doing so, he violated US law and violated international law, and made it so that we can no longer have the moral high ground when chiding other nations for using torture. That alone places him on the bad presidents list, but we also need to remember that he took us to war in Iraq on intelligence that was, at best, very flimsy and at worst outright fabricated. In doing so, he seriously damaged our reputation abroad and enabled us to take our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, which means that a war that should have ended years ago is still dragging on.
So there you are. A mix of the mediocre, the incompetent and the malevolent. All of which are to greater or lesser degrees, at least at this point, worse presidents than Obama.