In what is becoming an annual exercise…

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…

Carry on.

UPDATE: From our friend SkippyThe Daily Beast’s list of the best-read presidents.


Washington: You left off restoring faith in the public credit by adopting Hamilton’s Plan, setting us on the course of industrialization.

Lincoln: Freed the slaves. How could you leave that off? Been drinking the NeoCondeferate Kool-Aid?

Roosevelt - Dragged us kicking and screaming toward war with Hitler. Luckily, Japan sped up the process, but Roosevelt literally saved the world (per Churchill on America’s entry: “Now we’ve won.” Also importantly, Roosevelt saved capitalism by adopting Keynesian economics. Without the relief part of the three Rs, we might have had a revolution.

Polk: Can’t agree with you on this one. He provoked a war in order to expand slavery. That’s bad.

Jackson: I’m swinging around to the idea that Jackson was less a populist than a Bonapartist - someone who poses as a champion of the masses and supports universal suffrage to overwhelm that pesky educated middle class. Support the Gag Rule and postal censorship in the South. His deregulation caused the panic of 1837 (and poor Van Buren took the blame).

Harry Truman: Signed the G.I. Bill. Can’t leave that off.

Reagan: I used to teach that Reagan had stopped America’s creep towards unitary government - even Bill said “the era of big government is over.” But G.W. Bush took us back in the other direction and Obama’s not advocating a smaller government. Perhaps he will be seen as a blip on the size of government from the perspective of a few decades. But his speeding up the end of Soviet domination earns him a place on any list.

Jefferson: An abject failure as president. And I don’t have to give him credit for Louisiana - it was Toussaint L’Overture and the British navy that caused the sale - which would have been made to any American president. Jefferson assaulted the independence of the judiciary, destroyed our trade with embargo, gutted the military (he, not Madison was responsible for the 1812 debacle).

I’d argue for LBJ’s place at the table if not for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. LBJ was the hard, pipe-hittin’ mofo who rammed the Civil Rights bills down the throat of Southern Democrats. And he did so knowing that it would end the Democratic party in the South (Nixon would exploit Southern racism and paint the South solid read - a paint that remained until 2008. He put what was right ahead of partisanship. We could use LBJ today.

I didn’t realize that my blurbs had to be so detailed…

Isn’t freeing slaves included in preserving the Union? I sort of think it is. It was evident that the Union couldn’t be preserved with slavery…

Roosevelt and Truman (as President) and Ike (as Allied Commader) did save the world. If I wasn’t clear enough about that, I should have been.

I continue to stand by Polk. I don’t think that slavery was a prime mover manifest destiny. By the same rationale (that being we shouldn’t have expanded to keep slavery contained) we should never have moved far beyond the Appalachians…

Agreed on Jackson. But he is a key figure in defining the powers of the presidency as a powerful executive. That puts him on the list.

As for Reagan. It is possible that your assement will be borne out. I think it is a little too soon to say that. It is possible that Bush and Obama will do a great deal to move the nation towards a feeling that the government needs to be limited. I don’t think you can underestimate the Cold War either.

I don’t have a strong feeling about Jefferson. He has made my past few lists, but I could just as easily left him off. (And he’s been left off many a time.) Frankly, I’m not wedded to the locations of any of these men after number 5.

I can’t put LBJ on the list. He is a top 25 type of guy, but there is so much negative with LBJ too. Civil Rights is his singular accomplishment. But I’d argue that Vietnam & the creation of the Nanny State keep him far off the list.

Huck Foley, groveling minion said:

W.G.Harding? Oh we were JUST talking about him, someplace nearby … hold on … ah!
(Sneakily cross-posted, without permission, from another blog-comment-thread):
“Ever heard of the Depression of 1920? NO?? Probably because it initially was worse than the Great Depression, but lasted less than 1 year.”
Huck Foley:
That LUNATIC Warren G Harding! Him and his Tax Cuts For The Rich!!!! He should have known better!!! The key to ending recessions is to massively over-regulate all businesses and tax all incomes!
The proof????
Notice how brilliantly that all worked for Franklin Dumbenuff Roosevelt, for TEN SOLID YEARS !!!

There may be, um, some mildly ironic content in the above excerpt, sir.

Huck, I have to stand by Warren Harding as an awful president. The corruption of his administration far outweights any positive he might have done, insofar as rankings go. As I alluded, ranking presidents is hard because there are so many variables that you have to consider. Take Jimmy Carter. He gets big props for the Camp David Accords, but the cost of getting Camp David were huge. He micromanaged the who deal and had to leave every other aspect of governance to aides. Additionally, you have hostages, malaise, etc. The one great accomplishment (and it was great) is overshadowed by all the other crap.

Huck Foley, groveling minion said:

“stand by Warren Harding as an awful president. The corruption of his administration far outweights any positive he might have done”

Maybe so. But didn’t the corruption leave office when he did, with the positive economic effects lingering on afterward?
And, I realize this is setting the bar somewhere below floor level but, … I’d honestly rather have a sickeningly corrupt president that implements a sane economic policy than Barack Rezko Obama, who scores giant negatives on both metrics.

Hey Huck. I agree with your problem on the low bar… I suppose I have a streak of naivete in me that I’d prefer a sane president who isn’t corrupt. I don’t know how to well answer that hypothetical you give. I don’t think Obama is corrupt in the Harding Administration sense. In fact, I don’t see much direct evidence of corruption (in criminal sense) at all in Obama’s Admin. I don’t see much I like in his economic policy either.

miriam said:

I’d like to put in a word for George W Bush. He kept us safe. And he never whined like his successor.

Thanks Miriam. I read over your comment and I kept thinking about my mentioning W. in the list of presidential flops. I was likely premature in putting W. on that list. It is too early too tell. I think that in the end Iraq will be viewed badly, but really that is a time will tell outcome as well. I also think that his refusal to try and exert any control over an overspending Congress of his own party will be viewed badly. One can argue that Iraq and Afghanistan have made America safer; but our friends on the left have been contesting that point since 2003. It really is just too hard to tell right now. You are correct about W not being a whiner, that is a big plus. Sadly, not many of our countrymen took it upon themselves to learn the lesson of not whining themselves.

Huck Foley, groveling minion said:

“I don’t think Obama is corrupt in the Harding Administration sense. ”

We’re not likely to know, one way or the other, until some goodly while after he’s left office.
When and if any major media outlets ever get around to asking “Okay, why DID Tony Leavenworth Rezko buy Barack StateSenator Obama a house?”, comma, that could be the start of a vast unravelling … or, you know, not.
But I’d like to know. Why did that happen. I know why it’s never been covered, but why did it happen?

Tiresome disclaimer:
Yeah yeah “bought him a house” is a gross oversimplification of the real estate deal involved. But it’s more fun to ask it that way, because it obligates the askee to split the hairs about the details, none of which makes Tony or Barry look any cleaner.
I’m evil that way, as a proper minion ought to be.

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