Sunday, June 13, 2004

Greatest President of the 20th Century (Part One)

(If you didn't read the Introduction post from earlier this evening, go read it first)

Bottom of the Barrel One of the first elimination criteria I came up with was that any President that ran for reelection to a second term and lost can't qualify for greatest. While I said earlier that this was not just a popularity contest, it seemed reasonable that if a President, with the power of the office behind him, can't get reelected, then there must be some huge negatives that should disqualify them from the greatness discussion.

If we accept that, we disqualify Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter and Bush. As Harding is generally considered one of the five worst Presidents in history, I'm going to add him to this list as well.

I find a lot of parallels between Hoover and Carter - both were engineers that paid too much attention to detail and were much more comfortable with numbers than with people. Each started efforts and programs to correct serious economic problems (the roots of which in both cases went much further back than their terms) that their successors were able to take credit for. Both were defeated for reelection by charismatic leaders that clearly then set the terms of the political debate for years to come (Roosevelt's New Deal and Reagan's conservative revolution). I think they're both unfairly maligned to some extent, but clearly neither can be called the greatest President of the century.

Taft was TR's handpicked successor, but tried to walk a line between TR's progressivism and the conservatism of the other half of his party - and the whole time all he really wanted was to be on the Supreme Court (a wish that was finally granted). He continued the trust-busting of the previous administration, which certainly didn't endear him to the more conservative arm of the party, but the increased tariffs and the retreat from internationalism caused TR to pull a large chunk of the Republican vote with him away from Taft, opening the door for Wilson's win in 1912.

Ford never really had a chance, but he didn't help himself in any way. The response to the runaway inflation resulting from the Nixon wage and price freezes (remember WIN buttons?) was woefully inadequate and the pardoning of Nixon really hurt Ford's reputation.

Frankly it's too early to adequately evaluate Bush's administration - but clearly whatever one thought of the Persian Gulf war, any positive view was negated by his handling of the economy and the continually growing budget deficits.

Harding is generally viewed as a disaster. I have nothing with which to argue against that.

So that's six down, eleven to go!


Post a Comment

<< Home