Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you give it to others.”     William Allen White

April 29, 2008

Tuesday Open Thread: Rating The Presidents

by Doug Mataconis

The Debatable Land has an interesting post asking readers and other bloggers to name the most overrated and under-rated Presidents in history:

1. You may nominate up to three Presidents in each category.

2. Three points will be awarded to your first selection, two to your second and one to your third. If you do not state an order of preference, each nominee will receive two points.

3. Nominations should be emailed to me by clicking here .Or you can leave them in the comments section below.

4. If you indicated whether you are an American citizen or not, that would be helpful. Equally, if you felt like including your own political leaning (conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist etc) then that could also be useful. It’s far from required however. You may also, of course, give your reasons and I’ll endeavour to publish a representative sample of those too. All personal information will, obviously, also be kept confidential… (So, yeah, US government employees can vote too!)

5. The closing date for submissions is on or around Sunday May 11th.

6. Remember: you are not choosing the best or worst Presidents, but those whom you think history and pundits have over-rated and under-rated respectively.

7. If you have a blog yourself, let me know the URL and I’ll include a link to your site when the results are published.

8. That is all. Again, email me! (debatableland-AT-googlemail.com)

Here are my picks:

Over-rated:

  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  2. Woodrow Wilson
  3. John F. Kennedy

Under-rated:

  1. Calvin Coolidge
  2. James Monroe
  3. Grover Cleveland

If you participate, be sure to leave your picks in the comment section as well.

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12 Comments

  1. I agree with your over-rateds.

    For my under-rated, I’d go with

    1. Calvin Coolidge
    2. Gerald Ford
    3. Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Comment by UCrawford — April 29, 2008 @ 12:00 pm
  2. Over/underrated with respect to what? I think historians and pundits have drastically underrated the damaged caused by FDR in his 12 years and overrated the damage our current president has done, though I think most would list these two people in the opposite categories I have.

    Comment by ThomasBlair — April 29, 2008 @ 12:08 pm
  3. Thomas,

    The general consensus of history, I would guess.

    Over-rated to me means a President who gets more credit than they really deserve for things that went right, and not enough blame for things that went wrong.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — April 29, 2008 @ 12:23 pm
  4. Over-rated:
    1. FDR – there should be no debate about this in libertarian circles.
    2. JFK – not because he was a bad President, just unremarkable. He has come to be all things to all people despite having achieved relatively little (in part because he only had 2 1/2 years in office, in part because his Presidency really was unremarkable substantively).
    3. Theodore Rex – the founder of the modern Presidency. He gets bonus demerits in my book as the symbol of the Progressive movement in the early 20th century; plus he was the original neocon in many ways. This isn’t to say that Progressivism was ALL bad (ie, women’s suffrage was a universal good), but anything that ultimately led to Prohibition and emphasized the expansion of the powers of the federal government is not good. FWIW- if TR was not considered part of the Pantheon of Presidents, I wouldn’t have included him on this list. There were definitely worse Presidents (like Wilson). But this isn’t a list of the worst- just the most overrated.

    Under-rated:
    1. Jimmy Carter (WHAT? REALLY? The guy was once my most hated President!)- I’m going to agree with Megan McArdle’s reasoning on this one. We too often forget that he began deregulation and – importantly – stayed off the Fed’s back, allowing it to get inflation under control, at great political cost to himself.
    2. Warren Harding- Only because he’s considered possibly the worst President of all time, but really deserves to be ranked somewhere between the 10th-and 15th worst.
    3. Grover Cleveland – only because I’m a libertarian and he was more libertarian than most. Plus, I’m running short on time to think of someone more deserving.

    Comment by Mark — April 29, 2008 @ 2:08 pm
  5. Over-rated

    1)FDR
    2)Lincoln
    3)LBJ (He was a disaster in almost all respects, but just think of who our other choice was in that election, Goldwater, and how things over the past 40 years could have been so much different if we had elected him instead. We may have actually started moving in a somewhat libertarian direction at that time instead of the huge jolt towards socialism/facism and eventually bankruptcy.)

    Comment by TerryP — April 29, 2008 @ 9:19 pm
  6. TerryP: As much a disaster as LBJ was in most respects, I don’t think he ought to qualify for the list. He is almost universally reviled by the Left and Right for his involvement in the war (though for different reasons), and his Great Society is ignored by liberals and trashed (correctly, IMHO) by the right.
    In some ways, I think history has been mildly unkind to him, at least on the issue of the War…to a very large extent, his hands were tied on the issue from the early going thanks to the decisions of JFK (and anyone who thinks JFK would have kept us out of Vietnam is a crack-head…or Oliver Stone, which isn’t much different).
    He also deserves a good amount of credit for the Civil Rights Act, which was a net gain for liberty despite its intrusions on freedom of contract (ie, its restrictions on state sponsored racism were far more important).
    This isn’t to say he was a good or even average President. Just that he wasn’t as bad as most people generally regard him.

    Comment by Mark — April 29, 2008 @ 10:44 pm
  7. Mark

    You are right that the right holds him in a very bad light, but I think that the left still hold him in somewhat high regard, especially in relation to the Great Society programs. In fact, that seems to be the left’s current basis for trying to get us Universal Insurance. Without Medicare/medicaid we wouldn’t be having this discussion about Universal Gov’t provided health insurance. We would likely be having more of a discussion about creating Medicaid/SCHIP now instead of in the sixties. We would also likely be about 70 trillion dollars better off in the long term and better able to handle our current financial crisis.

    The other thing that makes me put him on the list is the thought about what we could have had in Goldwater and where we might be today if he were President instead. I still believe that most of the civil rights issues would have been taken care of, just likely in a more libertarian fashion, instead of by mandates such as affirmative action.

    Wilson may have been another good choice for third as well.

    Comment by TerryP — April 30, 2008 @ 8:04 am
  8. JFK probably could have been another good choice for third as well and maybe deserved to be there more on my list. He is kind of held up as a “God” to many people on the left somewhat like Reagan is held up similarly on the right. The thing is with JFK is that he only had a very short period in office and many people take what he might have done to insert into their thoughts about him. The more I think about JFK probably should rank third above LBJ on the over-rated list. Now LBJ ranks far ahead of JFK on the worst President list, however.

    Comment by TerryP — April 30, 2008 @ 8:11 am
  9. [...] Hat tip to Doug, The Debatable Land has the question up and is asking for people far and wide to submit their picks. Presumably they’ll tally them up at the end, and he’ll publish an informal report. The link is here. [...]

    Pingback by The Crossed Pond » The Most Over-Rated and Under-Rated American Presidents — May 1, 2008 @ 11:43 am
  10. Overrated:

    1. A. Lincoln
    2. F. D. Roosevelt
    3. R. Reagan

    Underrated:

    1. Calvin Coolidge
    2. A. Jackson
    3. Z. Taylor

    Comment by AbjectDisappointment — May 2, 2008 @ 8:59 am
  11. Martin Van Buren was the greatest American President. End of discussion.

    http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?articleID=289&issueID=24

    Comment by Eric Sundwall — May 3, 2008 @ 2:30 pm
  12. Martin Van Buren was the greatest American President.

    Unless of course you were a black person illegally cast into slavery by Spain, a Mormon settler being targeted for execution by the government of Missouri, or a Cherokee who had land in Georgia (which the feds stole from them). If you were one of those people, then Martin Van Buren was kind of a shitbag.

    Comment by UCrawford — May 4, 2008 @ 9:58 pm

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