Athena is learning about the presidents these days, not through school, but via the Animaniacs, whose “President’s Song” she is memorizing much in the same way she memorized their “50 states and their capitals” song (clearly, Animaniacs are her Schoolhouse Rock). While she was running down the presidents in the songs, and because she is into quantifying stuff as only a nine-year-old can be, she asked me which presidents I thought were the worst ever. Here are my top bottom five:
1. James Buchanan: Broke the country. Worst ever until someone else breaks the country, so let’s hope he’s not seriously challenged. I’ve written about him before.
2. George W. Bush: Provisional ranking, both because of my own personal biases and because the judgment of history takes a while. That said, there’s no doubt he’s a bad president by any account that doesn’t have “we haven’t been attacked since 9/11!” as the sole relevant justification for an entire administration. Massive deficits, torture, housing crisis, “unitary executive,” politicization of the Justice Department, so on and so forth. Won’t be missed; best Dubya can hope for is that everybody agrees never to speak of him again after January 20, 2009.
3. Richard Nixon: Who I think was actually a decent president overall, policywise, but then there was that whole Watergate thing, and that’s really hard to get around. A shame about the paranoia.
4. Warren G. Harding: Look, the dude himself knew he was bad, saying: “I am not fit for this office and never should have been here.” Looking at the scandals or his administration, notably the Teapot Dome affair, it’s hard to argue the point. The reason I personally don’t rank him higher than Nixon: He had the decency to die before his term was done, forestalling more damage.
5. Ulysses S. Grant: Great general, lame president. Black Friday, Panic of ’73, inability to pass legislation, and scandals all over the administration, etc; really, just a mess. Decent ex-president, however, and wrote what are generally considered the best memoirs of any president (mostly about the Civil War, however).
If I had to drop Bush from the list, I’d bump the three below him up a notch and then the anchorman spot would be held probably by either Franklin Pierce or Andrew Johnson, neither of whom was any great prize.
It probably hasn’t escaped notice that four of my five worst presidents are Republicans; sorry about that, GOPers. If it’s any consolation, the lone Democrat, James Buchanan, really is the winner by a wide margin. And there’s the fact that Abe Lincoln gets my vote for best president, and he’s a Republican (I’m quite fond of Theodore Roosevelt, too).
I don’t really have an extensive ranking system for worst vice presidents, but I will note that the two vice presidents I consider to be the worst, Aaron Burr and Dick Cheney, both shot people while in office. Coincidence?
Your picks for the worst presidents?