Worst. President. Ever. No.
All right, Atrios has got me to thinking about this tonight. As I'm sure you know, I've bristled in the past to people claiming W is the worst president ever. I caused quite a stir in the old lefty blogosphere three years ago, when I said we should reserve judgement when Helen Thomas claimed W was the "worst president in American History." As one of the few historians in the lefty blogosphere at the time, I still think we have to wait and judge W when all the facts are in. As I'm sure you know, there have been some real turkeys in the past.
Josh is right, however, in that W clearly is worse than Ronnie. Ronnie realized his fiscal policies weren't working and moved to do something to rectify his error. Ronnie followed the largest tax cut ever with the largest tax raise ever. He also eventually repudiated his cold war recklessness and sought peace with Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union.
In contrast, W, in a rather pathological way, glories in his ignorance and reckless commitment to his most foolish decisions, including both his ruinous fiscal policies and the damned fool's errand he commited the United States to in Iraq.
Now, is W one of the "Bottom Five?" Sure. I'd agree with that. Who are the "Bottom Five?" I'll list them here and you can all assess and agree or disagree with my choices. You are welcome to list your additions or criticisms in comments.
1. James Buchanan -- This president, who presided over the secession of most of the southern states, has to be the worst ever. Buchanan wanted Kansas admitted as a slave state, despite the fraudulent nature of the "elections" that the repugnant Missourian David Atchison and other thugs had foisted upon that territory. The events in Kansas convinced many Northerners that the Democrats were incapable of settling the slave issue in a way that Northerners could stomach. Later, when states began to secede, Buchanan said he didn't believe states had that right but that the Federal government was powerless to do anything about it. Therefore, Buchanan's policies toward Kansas did the most to bring about the Civil War and his inaction when states began to secede, despite his vehement insistence that states could not secede, only solidifies his position as the worst president ever.
2. Franklin Pierce -- This president inherited the relative calm of the post-Compromise of 1850 political climate, yet made foolish decisions that would lead to disunion. Pierce allowed Stephen Douglas to convince him that the Kansas-Nebraska Act was a reasonable approach to the controversy about the expansion of slavery. The Kansas-Nebraska Act led to the splintering of the Democratic Party, the end of the Whig Party and the creation of the Republican Party which stood for stopping the expansion of slavery into the territories. It was Pierce who recognized the fraudulently-elected legislature in the Kansas territory that made criticism of slavery a crime in the territory. "Bleeding Kansas" primarily took place during Pierce's presidency and he did nothing to restore order to the Kansas territory. For many northerners, the rejection of the Missouri Compromise embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the corresponsing transparent attempt to spread slavery north and west was enough to make them write off the Democratic Party for the rest of their lives. Therefore, Pierce clearly is one of the worst presidents ever.
3. John Adams -- Adams was an impressive revolutionary and an incredible intellectual and one of the founding fathers but a very disappointing president. Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, an astonishing attempt to quiet Democratic Republican criticism of the administration by throwing administration opponents in jail. The Alien and Sedition Acts and the PATRIOT Act both stand as two of the boldest assaults on civil liberties in this nation's history. As I've argued in the past, Adams also "wagged the dog" during the Quasi-War with France, insisting that the Democratic-Republicans were unpatriotic because of their French sympathies. Any president who presides over a major assault on civil liberties to shut up his political opponents and wags the dog certainly deserves a "bottom five" ranking. With all respect to David McCullough, Adams is laudable for many things but not for his tenure as president.
4. James K. Polk -- Polk, often listed as one of the "most effective" presidents by historians, certainly deserves his "bottom five" position because of his use of the United States military to take thousands of square miles of territory from Mexico through the Mexican-American War. While historians have often marveled at his ability to achieve such a land grab in only one term, I'd suggest that the means clearly do not justify the ends. Taking territory from another sovereign nation through military means are in no way laudable nor moral and certainly should not be celebrated as a great presidential achievement.
5. George W. Bush -- Do I really need to account Bush's sins for you? IraqWar II and the transparent dog-wagging in the 2002 midterms, the NSA spying scandal, and the DeLay and Halliburton-fueled culture of corruption in Washington are just a few of the highlights. I believe W's administration will eventually edge out Grant's as the most corrupt ever in monetary terms and his illegal wiretapping of Americans will ultimately be realized by historians as one of the largest violations of civil liberties in American history. I suspect we'll discover that Bush's administration has been eavesdropping on tens of thousands of Americans and that they have done much more of this than they're admitting to at the moment but, at this point, we don't know that for sure.
I'm also not sure I'm that attached to the rankings (although I'd contend that Buchanan and Pierce always should be at the top of the "bottom five") and I'm sure many of my Democratic brethren will note that my list includes three Democrats, one Federalist and one Republican.
Yes, you'll also notice that Nixon and Reagan don't make my list of the worst ever. I simply don't believe they belong there. Would they make my "bottom ten?" Perhaps. However, I'd contend that these five are certainly the worst ever -- but there are lots of major contenders in this category.
One thing is clear. We've elected a lot of turkeys president in our history and I'd contend George W. Bush is certainly one of the worst of them.