ForumTouchy Subjects ► WORST. PRESIDENT. EVER.
Who's the worst and why? Don't say Trump (yet). Even if he is/will have been, give his administration a chance to close the book on itself. But present leadership excluded, who was the worst?
Harry S. Truman. [source]
Probably depends on how we define worst. Some presidents owned slaves, which in retrospect was.... quite bad. But it's hard to say because I've lived under so few presidents - so even if we defined "worst" I feel like I would only be able to judge the worst president that I've lived under. Frankly, I can't even remember the names of every president in order, and so I certainly don't know what some of them did during their presidency or what it was like to live under that presidency.
I usually say Teddy Roosevelt, not because I don't love a large number of his policies and accomplishments, but because people seem to have this odd cult-of-personality fondness of him and I want to play devil's advocate against that. Yes, he was a badass who busted trusts and wrestled bears or whatever, but people tend to forget he pretty significantly expanded the power of the government and the presidency. Oh and he also incited a rebellion in Columbia and then economically exploited the Panamanian people to make (and then profit from) the canal. The US government incited and then bankrolled a revolution, wrote the Panamanian constitution for them, sent warships down when Columbia protested, and then paid Panama a pittance for absolute control of the canal land.
We only gave it back when it stopped being profitable for us.
Millpond said:
Harry S. Truman. [source]

I have enormous time for Harry Truman. Definitely a flawed man and an unpopular president, but he was one of the few presidents who was willing to make the hard choices -- like desegregating the military -- against all advice and at the cost of his popularity. I think the best example of his character is that he owed his career to a mobster despite being anti corruption, and even though it was unpopular and Pendergast had long since lost his connections and friends, Truman still sent condolences and paid respects at his death. Truman also was snubbed by Eisenhower at his inauguration and didn't even complain when he went back to being a dirt farmer at the end of his political career.

Least favourite presidents? After the War of 1812, the British made the Americans agree that Ohio Territory was Indian territory, but because they wanted to set an example for Russia (who wanted to divvy up Europe post-Napoleon) they didn't enforce it. The US spent the next few decades claiming Indian land in Ohio Territory. So Madison was a cock.

Also, can't stand Andrew Jackson, gold standard loving, duel happy, Native hating asshole.

Edit: Just remembered Madison was opposed to Andrew Jackson's (as a general, not a president) Native-killing policies. Monroe on the other hand also instituted the Missouri Compromise, so that guy.
I have a really hard time picking. It's close between Nixon and Jackson, both of whom are heroes of our current C-i-C.
James Buchanan is always a contender.

Also, I would rate several slave-owning presidents very highly. I don't think owning slaves during a time when most wealthy, land-owning Americans owned slaves has much bearing on how good a president a person was or even how good a person he was.
Jimmy Carter so would-be up there sold the Panama(?) Canal for beans and had drugs shipped in from Mexico
It's absolutely wild to me that anyone would consider Carter considering who bookended his term.
I'm voting for Reagan.
Probably a flawed question, since everyone is just going to pick presidents that don't reflect their own views. That said, I'm only sticking to presidents I've lived under, and out of those I'd probably pick Obama as my 'Worst President'. I know he's popular, but I just don't support a majority of the decisions he made and the actions he took.
Obama was more disappointing than bad. Other than Iraq and Libya he didn't make a lot of truly poor decisions like Bush did.
George W. Bush was just a horror show to live through. I remember thinking at the time that every single week news was coming out from the administration that broke the record for the most inept and/or draconian government in our history. But now, Generalissimo Donny makes me long for those days. At least then it was only weekly, not daily, or hourly.

Obama very graciously dealt with abject racists (birtherism), dogwhistle racists (the TEA Party), policy obstructionists (Mitch McConnell), and so much other shit. I honestly feel like even if you don't agree with certain aspects of his policy, which I certainly don't, you have you admit he was at the very least ideologically consistent, morally incorruptible (in his personal life), and a role model for young black men. He's following the tradition of laying low during the administration of his immediate successor, but I'll bet he becomes an excellent ex-President in the future.
This is a very difficult one to decide. Since I'm the history guy, I have to say that Hoover was the worst. What he did to try to stop the Great Depression unintentionally made it a lot worse than it ever should have been.
Probably a flawed question, since everyone is just going to pick presidents that don't reflect their own views.
Is there objective criteria by which to judge presidents impartially, or is this thread a sectarian head-count?
We could measure all sorts of factors. Unfortunately, not all of them would work for all the presidents.

Examples: GDP (though arguably not a very good indicator of presidential quality), approval rating (a bit wishy washy), number of indictments pre- peri- and post-presidency (but this is more moral than some might like), policy changes for or against "progress" (a bit too subjective).
Fwip said:
I'm voting for Reagan.

I'm curious as to why Reagan? I've never heard anybody consider Reagan in the bottom-half of presidents before, let alone worst.
Reagan is definitely one of the worst in terms of the social and economic progress of the working class.
Fwip said:
I'm voting for Reagan.

I'm curious as to why Reagan? I've never heard anybody consider Reagan in the bottom-half of presidents before, let alone worst.

Definitely near the bottom for gay rights (AIDS crisis), workers' rights (union busting), minority rights (drug war escalation), foreign policy (Mujahideen, Iran-Contra) and should arguably be held responsible for the culture of greed that culminated in the erosion of banking protection that lead to the '08 crash.

I'm hesitant to call him the worst since people I know who were alive and politically active at the time -- in particular my father -- who admit that while in hindsight almost every one of his policies have had negative long term consequences, at the time that was definitely not obvious; at the time they were largely beneficial or at least par for the course for leaders of the time.

It's kinda like the Lange government here: Rogernomics was basically critically necessary for the economic stability of New Zealand, but its consequences have basically been a disaster for a not-very-small portion of the population.
Definitely near the bottom on some issues, but generally when you think of the worst of something, you mean overall. He had strong leadership, oversaw an economic recovery, started the EPA, spent most of his terms with high approval ratings. I don't think it's reasonable to say the president of the 80's is responsible for predictable human greed 2-3 decades later.

Importantly, one of the jobs of a president is leadership, and Reagan was overall a pretty good leader. His foreign policy was generally pragmatic and effective. He deserves some credit for peacefully overseeing the Cold War's end. He was actually far less militaristic than most modern US presidents.

Overall, he seems pretty middling president. His economic failures weren't as significant has W Bush or Truman. His human rights record isn't as bad as Jackson. He wasn't corrupt. His policies were generally bad, but none of them seems like it's enough to label him the worst of all time. That's a very strong statement.

Edit: not sure why I put the EPA here, it was Nixon. Probably because Reagan and Nixon are both in my list of not particularly likeable Republican presidents.
Far less militaristic? No. He just started the tradition of engaging in conflicts the general public doesn't hear about.
The EPA was started by Nixon, and I do think it's fair to hold him responsible for the general change in culture that started in the '80's, it's really hard to ignore the fact that a lot of current economic problems started with privatisation and union busting under his watch; much the same way that we can credit NAFTA for the loss of a lot of working class jobs in the USA. Most of the stagnation in wages in the public sector -- particularly education -- began in the Reagan era.

What I don't think is fair is to exclusively consider the long term effects of legislation passed in the 80's and 90's. While it's super fair to credit NAFTA with a loss of manufacturing in the USA, and the loss of farm work in Mexico, and the general depreciation of wages on both sides of the border, not signing NAFTA would have been equally economically problematic.
Sorry, you're right, EPA was Nixon. Not sure why I put that in the list.

@Scoggles, there's lots of presidents before Reagan that engaged in military engagements without telling the public what was going on.

You could still have Reagan and not have the economic problems we see today without the further actions taken by the Bushes and (to a lesser degree) Clinton. Unless you can point to a specific action Reagan took that made the collapse 2-3 decades later unavoidable, I don't think it's anywhere close to fair to credit him for that collapse.

So, again, what we're looking at is a generally middling performance during a period where he was dealing with multiple inherited crises . I haven't seen anything listed that puts him at the absolute bottom of any significant category, let alone the overall category of overall performance.
I dunno, supporting Saddam even after the use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war and Iran-Contra are up there.

Edit: To make a more clear point: As a president he was unusually comfortable with actively participating in the dirtiest aspects of American foreign policy.
I was thinking more about Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, various operations throughout Central and South America and the Persian Gulf...
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