General Question

deepseas72's avatar

Who was the greatest US president, and who was the worst?

Asked by deepseas72 (1049 points ) January 20th, 2008
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28 Answers

sferik's avatar

Greatest: FDR
Worst: GWB

Fallstand's avatar

Iunno bout the best but George W is awful

gooch's avatar

Ronald Regan- The best
Jimmy Carter- The worst(but a great statesman and person)

hossman's avatar

I’m not sure it’s possible to narrow either category down to a single recipient, my best effort is:
Greatest: Lincoln, Washington, Reagan, Truman, Teddy Roosevelt
Worst: Carter, Coolidge, Taylor, Jackson, Van Buren
Biggest Wastes of Potential Greatness: Clinton, Eisenhower, Ford, Wilson
Simultaneously one of the Greatest and one of the Worst: FDR

jz1220's avatar

Best: Woodrow Wilson

thegodfather's avatar

@hossman

I have to agree that FDR was both good and bad on the nation. Greatest has to be Lincoln, though. How he got America through the Civil War and kept the nation together despite the intense inner crisis is astounding. I wish we had a Lincoln running for office right now…

The worst, though, has to be Taft.

aaronblohowiak's avatar

@thegodfather—the cessation of the south was driven in large part BY LINCOLN. If you think slavery was the cause of the civil war, you need to do some more reading about the politics of the day—it was about economics and federalism vs centralized gov’t.

Washington wasn’t all that great, people—he followed Hamilton right into the creation of a national bank.. an act seen by most of his cabinet as unlawful, unconstitutional and a bad idea all around.

FDR helped to extend the reach and power of centralized banking institutions by allowing (some would argue, encouraging) the closing of smaller banks and strengthening the system that consolidated power in the “federal reserve” (which is not a gov’t agency..)

I think Nixon was probably our best president (integration of schools, liberal social policies, pro universal healthcare—a real ‘pinko’ for today’s US.)

hossman's avatar

godfather, if Lincoln was running for office right now, and expressed openly he would use the same tactics he used to preserve the Union during the Civil War, he would receive the same or more criticism as Bush receives for very similar tactics. If Lincoln ran honestly right now, he’d either win in a landslide or be unelectable, depending on whether the positions espoused by the media as the thoughts of Americans genuinely reflect a majority of voters.

It occurs to me that perhaps the accusations made against Bush and Hillary that they are divisive and that they are or will be bad for America, could be analogized to aaron’s inference that Lincoln’s election drove the Civil War. Perhaps in certain moral or political situations, the country needs someone who is willing to do what needs to be done, even if it divides public opinion. I’m not attacking aaron’s statement, he is correct that Lincoln’s election can be viewed as a cause of the Civil War. It could also be viewed as merely the proverbial camel’s straw. Perhaps the Civil War was inevitable and Lincoln’s election merely moved it up. It could be argued that triggering the Civil War was a good thing for this country. After all, it’s easy to say the U.S. should have taken the time to resolve its issues amicably when you aren’t a slave.

heyu1021's avatar

I think bill clinton was a great guy. I’ve only been alive through 4 presidents. George w. Is just a blob.

phoenyx's avatar

I think George Washington was the greatest. I’ve also become a big fan of John Adams as well (after reading David McCullough’s biography of him). I think Warren G. Harding was perhaps the worst.

Wikipedia has a ranking.

hossman's avatar

I forgot about Harding. He probably would have made my worst list.

hossman's avatar

And Harrison. Forgot about Harrison, who gave us the Curse of Tippecanoe, or the zero year curse. Which, if true, would please a lot of the hate Bush crowd.

ezraglenn's avatar

Best and most Bostonian: JFK
Best and not Bostonian: FDR
Worst and Funniest: William Henry Harrison
Worst and Least Funny: Richard Nixon

hossman's avatar

Wow. I must have missed the humor in Harrison, who committed quite a bit of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Is there some Harrison humor I have missed, or are you referring to the circumstances of his death?

hossman's avatar

@ aaron: And let’s not forget Nixon’s contributions to implementing civil rights legislation. He did have elements of what they used to call “pinko” about him, in fact, many of the far right never forgave him for even talking to the Chi-Comms. Must have been his Quaker background.

The left never forgave him for Alger Hiss. Too bad for them it turned out Nixon was completely right about Hiss.

Rtop's avatar

Best: Washington (he got an amazing number of things right)
Worst: Harding (buffoon; corrupt; put us on track to Great Depression)

Some previous answers show bias towards recent presidents. I found it pretty interesting to see what historians think. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_rankings_of_United_States_Presidents

Interesting that Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and both Roosevelts were top 5 in every survey of historians. Especially interesting is that there wasn’t that much overall difference between ratings by liberal vs. conservative historians (the 1982 survey).

hossman's avatar

I think many historians, on a question this straightforward, are able to put personal political beliefs aside for the purpose of academic analysis. Certainly we are more aware of recent Presidents. With recent Presidents, it is also impossible for us to gain the perspective of long-term historical events. If you read the contemporary letters and newspaper accounts, the public opinion of Washington and Lincoln were not nearly as flattering as our own histories. Washington was labeled monarchical, power-hungry and senile, Lincoln was called arrogant, divisive and a war criminal. Maybe someday the accounts of Clinton and Bush will calm down, much as history is reconciling the “legacies” of Nixon and Reagan.

trainerboy's avatar

Best- Reagan
Worst- Carter

jameiiy's avatar

Bill Clinton

GG's avatar

Worst in history: George W Bush

Why? He has terribly damaged the economy by running up a massive debt to fight an unwinnable war. He has turned back the clock on civil liberties at least 50 years, maybe 100. He has rewarded his buddies in the oil industry with billions in profits and impoverished pretty well everyone else. He has driven down the US dollar to the point that it’s no longer the world currency. He has ignored his citizens in pain, in poverty, and in illness. And he has the gall to call himself a Christian?!

Bigwavegetsrealgold's avatar

Richard Nixon. He reopened the relationship between China and the US.

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

I’m impressed.

I honestly considered not clicking on this question becuase I was sure the thread would be just another predictable, emotional, light on facts GWB bash fest. (Oh, what a coincidence, out of all the Presidents in our history the worst one ever happens to be the one that just went out and you’re barely old enough to recall any other.

It’s refreshing to see reasonable, balanced, historically accepted answers (Harding for worst, for example). It’s also heartening to see that Nixon was properly listed as a great, despite his obvious fautls.

IMO:

Harding, FDR, Johnson = worst.

Washington, Lincoln, Jackson, Reagan = best.

Ron_C's avatar

If you rate them by the improvement or damage to the country, I would say that Washington and FDR were the best and Reagen and Bush, Jr. were the absolute worst.

ItsAHabit's avatar

Lyndon B. Johnson may have been a mediocre president but was clearly a great drinker. He would ride around his Texas ranch in an open convertible in hot weather. He drank his “scotch and soda out of a large white plastic foam cup. Periodically, Johnson would slow down and hold his left arm outside the car, shaking the cup and ice. A Secret Service agent would run up to the car, take the cup and go back to the station wagon (following the President’s car). There another agent would refill it with ice, scotch, and soda as the first agent trotted behind the wagon. then the first agent would run the refilled cup up to LBJ’s outstretched hand, as the President’s car moved slowly forward.”
http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/FunFacts/AlcoholTrivia.html

ItsAHabit's avatar

Jimmy Carter was the worst president in the last 50 years. But he became the BEST ex-president. After he left office the Iranian hostages returned home, inflation soon began to drop, taxes were reduced, prosperity returned, “stagflation” became just a bad memory, and the national malaise was replaced by confident optimism.

Ron_C's avatar

@ItsAHabit the only problem is that part of the country prospered while Reagen started the process of sealing Social Security and sending jobs overseas.

Poser's avatar

Worst: Tough call. Right now I’m leaning toward Teddy Roosevelt.
Best: None

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