Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was thinking about past presidents this President’s Day. Is it “Presidents’ Day” or “President’s Day.” In a way, every day you have a presdient is “President’s Day.” But there is something collective about “Presidents’ Day.” In your Maximum Leader’s heart this day is always Washington’s Birthday. He doesn’t mind the adding of Lincoln to the mix, but he does feel a little churlish considering James Buchanan and Millard Filmore on this day.
So, in what might become an annual exercise, your Maximum Leader throws up for your consideration his list of the Greatest Presidents of the United States, in ranked order:
1. George Washington. The first president, and the overriding shaper of the office. He set down many of the precedents that still function today. He established the cabinet system, and gave shape to the executive branch. He set down the major goals of US foreign policy (shunning entangling alliances) which held until (arguably) the Second World War. He also flexed (for the first time) federal supremacy over the states by putting down rebellions in Pennsylvania.
2. Abraham Lincoln. He saved the Union.
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Obviously your Maximum Leader doesn’t have to like the man’s politics for them to make the list. Created the modern presidency (characterized by a strong executive). He also created the modern federal government (characterized by not only supreme federal authority but by an all-intrusive federal government).
4. James K. Polk. Your Maximum Leader has always believed in the greatness of James K. Polk. Polk promised four things would be accomplished during his presidency. 1 - the Indian question in the south would be resolved; 2 - Texas would enter the Union; 3 - California would become part of the US; 4- a northern border with Canada west of the great lakes would be fixed. Polk said if these four things were not done in his four years, he would not seek another term. During his term he: sent the army in to round up and move the Indians in the south, he faught a war with Mexico and acquired Texas, California, and other western lands. He was (thanks to British/Canadian intransigence) unable to negotiate a northern border with Canada. He refused to run for a second term, and retired. (Your Maximum Leader will also add that he died shortly after leaving office - which your Maximum Leader also thinks is a generally good thing for ex-presidents to do.)
5. Theodore Roosevelt. He started moving the nation towards global superpower status. Started necessary progressive changes and sensible regulation of the American economy.
6. Andrew Jackson. The first populist president. First to utilize the presidential veto and thereby create the modern system by which laws are made in the US. Not fond of his actions towards the Bank of the United States.
7. Harry Truman. Had a tough act to follow, but did very well at it. Used the Bomb to end the war. Nationalized the Coal industry to break an illegal strike. Suddenly woke up and smelled the coffee concerning Soviet aggression and started defending US interests against communists. Without Harry Truman we would have no Israel.
8. Dwight Eisenhower. Balanced budgets, built interstate highways, kept the Soviets at bay, lowered his handicap while in office.
9. Ronald Reagan. He redefined the role of the modern federal government. (If you don’t think so, look at the administration of Bill Clinton and guess again.) And he won the Cold War.
10. Thomas Jefferson. Overall he doesn’t score lots of points with your Maximum Leader for his presidency. But you have to give credit to him for the Louisiana Purchase.
Here is the 2009 edition, and here is the 2006 edition. Your Maximum Leader just realized that three men to serve as president in sucession are on this list this year. FDR, Truman & Ike. Hummm… Amazing stretch when you consider it. Perhaps those three will be the American version of the “Five Good Emperors.”
Your Maximum Leader, for your edification, will add to this list of greatness his list of Presidential Flops. Here is the list (in no particular order): Millard Filmore, James Buchanan, Warren Harding, U.S. Grant, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Nixon. Your Maximum Leader always feels badly putting Nixon on that list. Nixon really has the bipolar presidency. Greatness in so many areas and abject failure in others. It is sad. Your Maximum Leader knows that many conservatives would like to add LBJ and Bill Clinton to this list. Honestly, your Maximum Leader doesn’t believe that either man belongs on this list of bad presidents. Using the conventional method judging presidential greatness LBJ and Bill Clinton don’t belong on this list. If your Maximum Leader were going solely on his political persuasion the worst presidents in US history would be FDR, Woodrow Wilson and LBJ.
Anyhoo… Judge them for yourself if you like…
UPDATE: From our friend Skippy… The Daily Beast’s list of the best-read presidents.