Who are your Top Five Presidents?

Salon is SO predictable. For President’s Day, they post a piece posing the question, “Who’s the worst president of them all?” And of course, since that site is totally in the grip of Bush Derangement Syndrome (still), it boils down to a choice between George W. Bush and someone else. In this case, Buchanan.

Of course, being Salon, that’s why they ran it. But you know where they would go before you clicked on the link, right? So partisan. So parochial. So lacking in historical perspective.


Me, I’m not interested in a worst, or a worst list, because that just doesn’t seem in the spirit of Presidents’ Day, which is about celebrating rather than tearing down. So, who are your Top Five, All Time, Desert-Island presidents?

Oh, and if you include Barack Obama, which to me would be the flip side of picking W. as the worst, as if you can’t think outside your own 21st century chauvinism, I’ll just quote Barry at you:

Couldn’t you make it any more obvious than that? What about the Beatles? What about the Rolling Stones? What about…Beethoven? Track one side one of the Fifth Symphony?…

(You sort of have to know Barry to get that. And if you don’t, I definitely recommend that you read High Fidelity, which is where I got this mania for Top Five Lists. The movie’s fine, but read the book.)

My own list is a little shaky, but I’ll just throw some out there to get this started:

  1. Abraham Lincoln — The guy who held us together at the fulcrum of our history, and did it with heroic force of will and epic strength of character while at the same time maintaining his own instinctive humility. He seemed at times to stand alone, politically, in his insistence on holding the nation together (and thank God he did). No one outdoes him in rising above finger-in-the-wind politics to embody leadership; only Washington and FDR come close. That brooding statue at the memorial is the visual evocation of what I’m talking about, which is what makes it so iconic. Of course, if you’re of pacifist tendencies, you have to note that no one person in our history was more singlehandedly responsible for the shedding of more American blood — without his force of will, the nation likely wouldn’t have stayed the course that long. But then, you have to ask yourself, was it worth it? Unfortunately, we’re still fighting over that in SC.
  2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt — Again, almost superhuman leadership through crises of such scope and sweep that they stagger the mind. Argue all you want about the effectiveness of the New Deal, I think it was this cripple’s ebullient refusal to be a cripple, or let his country wallow in its troubles, that pulled us through the Depression more than anything. As for the Second World War — the nation was right to feel panicky when he died just before we’d finished winning it; his leadership was that critical on an abstract, spiritual level. The fact that we went ahead and won it quickly is a testament to what he’d already done, but also, it should be said, proof that the nation’s greatness and strength exceeds that of one man, however great the man. You could say that anybody who was president through those crises would be deemed great after they ended successfully. But I would say the nation was very fortunate to have this particular man at that time. And the people of this country knew it, which is why they elected him four times.
  3. John Adams — OK, he’s not necessarily the greatest AS president (in fact, that was one of the low points of his career), and sure, there’s that business where he let the more partisan Federalists maneuver him into the Alien and Sedition Acts. It’s just that, if you take his whole life — and his whole adult life pretty much was devoted to getting this country started, being the most eloquent advocate for independence, getting backing from abroad (the French, the Dutch) for the revolution, suggesting Washington to head the Continental Army, (and suggesting Jefferson do the final writing on the Declaration), and on and on — it’s hard to imagine one guy contributing so much to a new country. But he did. I guess I’m putting him on here as a sort of Lifetime Achievement Award.
  4. George Washington — Back when I was in college, it wasn’t fashionable to emphasize Washington as much as some of the other Founders. You know, because he was so obvious, it was uncool. (We were like Barry, in other words.) I tended to focus on the idea guys — Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton. But over time, I’ve come to understand better the importance of his leadership — both in terms of being an inspirational leader that the country could rally around (something he cultivated consciously, which would make some dismiss him, but I think he saw what the country needed and provided it), and in terms of his self-effacing refusal to become a king or a facsimile of one. In other words, my understanding and appreciation has progressed beyond the cherry-tree myth.
  5. Theodore Roosevelt — I used to think that Teddy was on Mount Rushmore for the same reason that people tend to put W. and Obama on their best and worst lists (depending on their inclinations): He was the president at the time, so they put him up there. But having read the first book in Edmund Morris’ trilogy (I need to get to the second; it’s sitting on my bookshelf waiting), I’m far more convinced of the role he played in transitioning the nation from what had been since 1776 and taking it to what it would be in the 20th century. His building up of the Navy would have been enough to get him on a Top Ten list. But then you look at his Progressive initiatives, his passion for reform, and that takes you much further. A lot of detractors would dismiss his imperialism, but I think that’s another sort of temporal chauvinism — applying today’s standards to a man of another time. I would look at the positive side of that — he saw the importance of the United States taking its place alongside the “Great Nations of Europe,” and saw aggressive posture as essential to that. In other words, you can take his “Bully!” a couple of ways. But in my book, as you know, I think the world is better off with the United States in the leading role, rather than some of those “Great Nations,” as they were then. And I worry about a future time when a nation that would never, ever produce a TR is in that role. Roosevelt personified American vigor, optimism, innovation and industry, making him a sort of archetype, an embodiment of the nation at that point in history — much the way JFK did later.

Wow. Barry would really be dismissive of MY list. It’s like, Mount Rushmore minus Jefferson, plus two. But I can’t help it; the “name” presidents do tend to be among the best, if you’re honest about it. (And I was going to put Jefferson on there, crediting him for the Louisiana Purchase and dealing with the Barbary Pirates — both flying in the face of his own ideology, and I love it when politicians rise above their party lines — but I wanted the other five on there more.

Go ahead, argue with me.

46 thoughts on “Who are your Top Five Presidents?

  1. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    1.FDR–New Deal.
    2. LBJ– Took over and had to hit the ground running–implemented the Civil Rights Act and the New Society
    3. Abraham Lincoln–like duh
    4. Woodrow Wilson–WW I,presided over another rough time in our history
    5. George Washington–set the standard

  2. Lynn

    During my lifetime:
    1. LBJ–civil rights, Medicare
    2. Richard Nixon–Environmental protection, proposed universal health coverage and China
    3. Reagan–GE Theater at its best
    4. Bill Clinton–Southern Dem not Reagan Dem
    5. Harry Truman–desegregated military

    Sorry I can’t list JFK a sentimental favorite.

  3. Rob

    1. Ronald Reagan
    2. The Gipper
    3. Ronnie Reagan
    4. “Dutch” Reagan
    5. The Great Communicator aka Reagan

  4. bud

    I’ll just stick with the 20th century. In order, best to worst:

    1. Bill Clinton (Peace and Prosperity for 8 terrific years)
    2. Teddy Roosevelt (Champion for the Environment)
    3. FDR (New Deal and War Pres)
    4. JFK (Terrific Vision)
    5. Ike (Vastly under-rated)
    6. Wilson (Tried to keep us out of war but events caught up)
    7. Carter (Camp David Accords)
    8. Bush Sr. (Sane tax policy)
    9. Reagan (Over-rated but not entirely awful)
    10. Truman (They had it right in 1952, not really that good)
    11. Taft (At least didn’t seem to do much harm, pretty cool that he was also on Supreme Court)
    12. Coolidge (Began march toward Great Depression)
    13. Johnson (Vietnam is his legacy. Stays off the bottom thanks to brilliant domestic agenda)
    14. Ford (Loses points for Nixon pardon)
    15. Nixon (Stayed in Nam too long)
    16. Harding (Scandal prone)
    17. Hoover (Terrible on the economy, but at least he was a good man)
    18. George W. (Simply awful. Bad as moral leader by constantly lying. Failed to protect us pre-9-11. Waged the wrong war. Terrible decision maker esp. post Katrina. Responsible for two recessions. He’s the gold standard for the bad president)

  5. Greg

    I’m no Camelotian, but you have to wonder if Kennedy would have made this list if he’d survived. And of course, had he survived, there may have never been a Johnson or Nixon. Vietnam and the social changes defined LBJ and Nixon, but in my eyes LBJ doesn’t come off that well. And, Nixon, well….
    It’s good to note, between Brad’s list and Kathryn’s, all but one (Teddy) were defined by wars or revolutions. Interesting.

  6. Brad

    Hmmm… I’m detecting a theme there with Rob’s.

    Bud, you surprise me. I realize you like TR’s Progressive agenda, but… there was probably no president in our history more unabashedly imperialistic, or a bigger advocate of beefing up the military (sure, his cousin beefed it up far more, but that was unavoidable — TR was under no such pressure). I can see ME accepting that, but not you.

    Ummm… Steven… How does one out of five equal 40 percent?

  7. Brad

    Teddy, too, was defined by war, Greg. You know, the Rough Riders; his charge up San Juan Hill: Much later (2001), he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on what he termed “the great day of my life.”

    Adams, on the other hand — well, the pivotal moments of his life were intertwined with war, but he neither participated in it directly, nor did he preside over a full-fledged war during his time as president. There was the Quasi-War, of course, which he worked hard to end before it could erupt into the real thing.

    Adams, in his own way, did more than Washington to establish the nation and win the Revolution — but his contributions were political and diplomatic.

  8. Andrew

    The Eisenhower Presidency is grossly underestimated.

    Massive challenges in those years and he led very, very well.

  9. Karen McLeod

    1. Abraham Lincoln (without him I don’t think we’d be a country today.
    2. James Madison (not so much for what he did during his presidency, but what he did before his presidency–Louisiana purchase, write our constitution, the bill of rights–and he did get us thru the war of 1812.)
    3. LBJ (civil rights, medicare, war on poverty)
    4. FDR (a strong president for hard times–gave people work during the depression, and saw us through a hard war.
    5. Teddy Roosevelt (for our parks)

  10. Ralph Hightower

    I will limit my picks to those those that were Presidents I didn’t learn about in history books.

    Top Presidents:
    John F Kennedy: Visionary. A new vision for America, but more importantly, a goal to land men on the moon.
    Bill Clinton: Prosperity
    George Bush: He grew up fast after 9/11

    Worst Presidents:
    Richard Nixon: Watergate.
    Gerald Ford: Stagflation.
    Jimmy Carter: Inflation!
    Ronald Reagan: That giant sucking sound of jobs moving from the US to Mexico; liberalization of border policy.
    George Herbert “Hoover” Walker Bush: Recession; a quick war in the Gulf couldn’t jump start the economy.

  11. bud

    Teddy may have embarked on a military buildup but he was not overtly imperialistic in the way the British were. Ok, there was the Panama thing but that turned out well and Jimmy Carter had the good sense to rectify that situation. Another reason to like Carter. Teddy also scores big points for his trust-busting.

  12. Ralph Hightower

    Oops! I switched Ford & Carter!

    Ford had the “WIN” buttons: “Whip Inflation Now”

    Carter was Stagflation.

  13. Jesse S.

    “Ummm… Steven… How does one out of five equal 40 percent?”

    Duh, the 3/4th compromise. It also created 900% of all anti-matter.

  14. Brad Warthen

    Of the people others have mentioned who MIGHT have come closest to my list, I’d say Truman (little guy who grew to fit the job and be a leader), Madison (but as Karen said, his best contributions were before he was president, and I had already picked Adams for that reason; didn’t want to overdo it), and Wilson (for his internationalism).

    A number of our liberal friends point to LBJ, forgiving him for Vietnam. Well… I don’t think of LBJ so much as a president. I think of him as a powerful lawmaker who sort of fell into the job of president, and was successful BECAUSE of his legislative prowess. Which I suppose is pedantic of me.

    If he’d created Medicare for ALL, I might have been more impressed. As it is, he doesn’t make the Top Five, or even come close.

    By the way, I want to congratulate Ralph for his list, which is WAY UnParty…

  15. Brad

    Steven, Adams didn’t want to fight out the slavery issue on the national level, because he saw it as too divisive to the new nation. He was appalled by the institution, but he knew the new nation needed the Virginians, and even, yes, the South Carolinians (who were probably the touchiest on the issue).

    Interestingly, you can draw parallels to Lincoln’s position. He was deeply opposed to slavery, but he put the preservation of the Union first. As he famously wrote to Horace Greeley, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

  16. Phillip

    Brad, I’m just relieved that you didn’t put Reagan (I know you’d never dream of that) or Wilson (but I thought you might put him on) on your list.

    “Internationalism”? An interesting way of putting it!

    Andrew brings up a perhaps more interesting list to consider: top 5 underrated and overrated presidents. Certainly I would agree with him that Eisenhower’s stock should be (and is) rising with the passage of time. Reagan’s stock will continue to fall.

    I have to save my biggest expression of astonishment for Kathryn, Lynn, and Karen, however, for their high ranking of LBJ. Obviously the achievements in civil rights are enormous. But being the “decider” as it were behind America’s involvement in the Vietnam War surely has to keep him far away from any “top 5.” Was there any American President more directly responsible for a greater number of senseless deaths of human beings than Lyndon Johnson?

  17. jfx

    I don’t know how anyone can pick LBJ…he really ran away from greatness. His handling of Vietnam was, in retrospect, abominable, his War On Poverty was about as effective as the eventual (and, laughably, ongoing) War On Drugs, and he bailed on the job after his one full term. He slunk back to the ranch and curled up in a whiskey bottle. I give him credit for holding us together after JFK, and for a truly admirable vision of social progress. But reality hurts.

    Surprised Eisenhower’s not getting more nods, being that he was the last sane Republican president.

  18. Mark Stewart

    I would argue that the Lincoln of 1864-1865 saw that only by eliminating slavery entirely could the Union endure. His was the pivotal time in our nations history, post 1779. He started out strong but continued to rise to the occassion.

    Wilson was sort of our version of Chamberlain – and the exact opposite of T.R. Teddy kind of faded as the years wore on – I think he would probably have tarnished his ranking had he won the presidency again as a Bull Moose.

  19. NC Shooter

    1 – Ronald Reagan
    2 – Dwight Eisenhower
    3 – Harry Truman
    4 – Theodore Roosevelt
    5 – Richard Nixon

  20. Brad

    Mark, my understanding is that Lincoln found a way to accomplish BOTH his goals — preserving the Union and ending slavery.

    I just made the comparison to Adams because while both opposed slavery passionately neither wanted to tear the nation apart over it. Hence what Abe said to Mr. Go West, Young Man.

  21. Norm Ivey

    1. Lincoln–who else could have done what he did?
    2. FDR–his Rural Electrification Act could be a model for implementing alternative energy today.
    3. Eisenhower–for the Interstate system, keeping an eye on the budget, and warning against the military-industrial complex.
    4. Washington–for the obvious leadership and wisdom he showed and because he called Henry Laurens “the father of our country.”
    5. LBJ–for the Civil and Voting Rights Acts.

    Honorable Mentions:
    Truman–for the heart- and gut-wrenching (and correct) decision he made concerning the use of atomic weapons.
    Ford–as Archie Bunker says, “He’s doing a hell of a job for a man nobody voted for.” The pardon was the right thing to do.
    Reagan–not a fan of his politics, but he was the right man for the times.

    Best ex-Presidents: Carter for his humanitarian and peace efforts; Taft for continuing to serve after leaving the presidency (as did John Quincy Adams).

  22. Mark Stewart

    That’s why he tops my list – he got his way – the right way – both domestically and internationally.

  23. Herb B

    I like Brad’s list, except not Teddy Roosevelt. Not really. Wilson may have been too much of an idealist, but he saw what the world needed at the time, and had he been successful, WWII could possibly have been avoided.

    Honorable mention: Richard Nixon, for all his terrible faults, he was a realist on foreign policy–well sort of; Harry Truman, for trying to do something about health care, even though it’s been only recently that a president really put himself on the line to get something moving.

    I was surprised to find so many pro-military people on this blog; I mean I expected it with Brad, but some of the others surprised me.

  24. Herb B

    Actually, I think my dad might have been with you on all five of your choices, except he might have wanted Dwight Eisenhower in there as well, instead of Teddy R. I’m not sure.

  25. Steve Gordy

    Brad, I’d mostly agree with your picks, but not John Adams. He, his son, Jefferson, and Madison should be “Lifetime Achievement Award” winners for their contributions outside the White House. Who would replace him on my list? Probably Truman. I’m just now dealing with TR in my class at Piedmont Tech. It’s fascinating to see how the students react to a man who could have taken it easy throughout life, but did exactly the opposite.

  26. bud

    A lot of folks are indicating Dwight Eisenhower should rank high. I agree. He led us through a remarkably prosperous decade, got us out of Korea and provided us an important warning about the military-industrial complex. Plus he pushed through the interstate highway system. Ike doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

    Only one person, Ralph, had George W. on the best list. Really don’t follow Ralph’s logic. Don’t see that he “grew up” after 9-11. In fact he looked completely out of touch after he heard the second plane had struck the WTC. His decisions, demeaner and overall effectiveness were appalling. I doubt his standing on these types of lists will ever improve.

  27. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    1. Washington – Set the tone for the presidency and could have stayed in power as long as he wanted, but stepped down of his volition, a mark of true greatness.

    2. Monroe – Held an amazing number of key offices even before he became president and authored Monroe Doctorine as president.

    3. Truman – Brought WW II to an end, ensured that the US stood up to the Soviets, desegregated the military. Not a bad record.

    4. Polk – Brought Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico into the Union, and said he’d only one run for one term and then stood by his word. I find the second feat as impressive as the first.

    5. Reagan – Stared down the Soviets and Communism.

    I leave Lincoln out of the top five because while his actions ultimately freed the slaves, that wasn’t his original intent. I understand that it was a time of war, but he trampled on a variety of rights protected in the Constitution and the ends don’t always justify the means. Just my opinion. Personally, I believe slavery would have died out within a decade or so, without the deaths of 620,000 Americans in the Civil War.

    TR had great intentions, but he too could be heavy handed with government regulation to get what he wanted. As a fan of laissez-faire, I don’t think trust busting was necessary or beneficial. That doesn’t mean I think Teddy Roosevelt was a bad president, however.

  28. bud

    I’m surprise that no one has Clinton high on their list. Thanks to his leadership he presided over the most prosperous era in American history. Virtually no troops died on his watch in overseas misadventures. And he left his successor with a $150 billion budget surplus. No one else in American history had such a completely successful time in office.

  29. Brad

    Bud, Bill Clinton, as president, was like Ike in a way — he did the job, and did it pretty well. That doesn’t put either in the Top Five category.

    Of course, Clinton was different from Ike in that he disgraced the office. That make him more like Nixon: Nixon was a pretty good president who did a lot of good stuff in office — but disgraced the office.

    The difference between Clinton and Nixon, of course, is that Bill was a consummate, talented politician, who charmed people like mad, while the oddly nicknamed Tricky Dick was practically a social cripple.

    That’s the great tragedy of Bill Clinton: Brilliant, talented, charismatic, and dearly wanting to govern well, and often doing so admirably. But he had three fatal flaws: He was emotionally needy, wanting everybody to love him, he couldn’t leave the skirts alone, and he was a habitual liar. Actually, come to think of it, those three flaws may be just one, they overlap so much.

    But it was still tragic.

  30. Phillip

    Bud may beat me to the punch on pointing out yet another one of Brad’s false equivalencies, so forgive me if this is redundant:

    Without defending Clinton’s behavior, it should be obvious that what he did and what Nixon did cannot be equated as just two Presidents who both “disgraced the office.” Clinton perjured himself about his sexual peccadillos; Nixon struck at the very heart of the democratic process and mechanisms of government; read the articles of impeachment, for goodness’ sake:


    This may have just been a shorthand reply to Bud, Brad, but our young people have a superficial enough understanding of history without reinforcing it by misleading equivalencies like “Clinton disgraced the office, Nixon disgraced the office.” While no one can condone Clinton’s behavior in the Lewinsky affair, it’s also true that no one can call it remotely equivalent to much more serious crimes of Richard Nixon.

    Speaking of people forgetting history: more LBJ fans! I’m still stunned. Does nobody remember “hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” People said “Bush lied, people died”—Bush’s errors and lies were nothing compared to Johnson.

  31. bud

    Of course, Clinton was different from Ike in that he disgraced the office.

    No more than FDR, JFK and IKE. All had sexual daliances but Clinton’s only came to light as an offshoot of a misguided witch hunt by the GOP over a nonexistent scandal called White Water.

    Here’s a good example of how Brad and I view the world so differntly. I’m a results man and Brad is consumed by style points. So what if he couldn’t leave the skirts alone. So what if he wanted attention. As for the lying he only did that once and it was about something unrelated to his duties as president, unlike George W. Bush, Reagan and Nixon who lied about things very specific to their jobs.

    Give me a healthy, peaceful national any day over someone who wears a tie in the oval office. Substance if far more important than style. When you assess things pragmatically there is no one better than Clinton.

  32. Brad

    Man, I got SO tired of this argument more than a decade ago, but here we go…

    Let’s just do this in bulleted form; maybe I can be briefer if I don’t have to write the transitions:

    — Nixon disgraced the office. Clinton disgraced the office. I said what I meant and I meant what I said. I did NOT want to get into this wilderness one gets into discussing Clinton with otherwise reasonable Democrats, who for some reason go right off the reservation when his name comes up, defending the indefensible. But now we’re there, so let’s go a little deeper into the woods…
    — Phillip says Clinton “perjured himself about his sexual peccadillos.” For clarity’s sake, you need to make that statement shorter. “He perjured himself,” period. It DOES NOT MATTER what it was about. He lied, under oath. And then he lied to us — not evasively or shamefacedly, but looking us right in the eye, shaking his finger at us and saying, in a very stern voice, that he did NOT do what he did. That is completely inexcusable. It doesn’t matter whether it was about sex or wasn’t about sex. Y’all are the ones who keep bringing up the sex. I bring up the perjury.
    — Clinton did NOT “do the same thing” as FDR, JFK and Ike. They did not perjure themselves, and then for selfish reasons sternly and insistently lie, for months and months, to the American people about it. They did not act toward their office, and the people who had elected them, with the kind of contempt that Bill Clinton exhibited. They did nothing of the kind. (Doubt me? Go watch the video again, and then tell me that’s not disgracing the office.)
    — But since y’all always want to talk about sex, or how it’s “only” sex, let’s talk about that. We could talk about whether a man who commits adultery in his workplace, which also happens to be the residence where his wife and daughter live, has disgraced himself and his office right there. I would say that he has, but y’all disagree, for whatever reason. So we’ll move on, and look at his actions (the sex part, the part y’all always bring up, as opposed to the perjury) outside of that framework… in the following bullet. (Dang! I just did a transition!)
    — What did he do? Well, since Bud wants to make comparisons, let’s compare to what Clarence Thomas allegedly did. Allegedly, mind you, since that prurient testimony was never in any way proved. He allegedly hit on an attractive woman who, while a subordinate, was a highly empowered and intelligent lawyer, a graduate of an elite law school. He allegedly made ridiculous and inexplicable remarks about a coke can and a pubic hair. He allegedly made allusions to a porn actor. He allegedly (in the worst allegation of all, if you can believe it) described in detail his own sexual prowess (no word on whether he was perjuring himself there). He did not, even allegedly, ever touch the woman, certainly not at the office. And yet SOME (not all, certainly) people who will defend Bill Clinton to the death wanted to nail his hide to the wall for this inexcusably boorish behavior.
    — What did Bill Clinton do? Well, he only did a number of things that would get the chief executive of most private companies fired, with extreme prejudice. First, he had sex in the OFFICE. Firing offense right there. Then, the sex (or half-baked excuse for sex, from what we hear) was with the LEAST empowered (I bring up power because feminists of the sort who were incensed over Thomas think it explains everything, so I’m trying to speak their language) person in the building: A kid, an intern — you know, one of those young people who are entrusted to the grownups who run an institution, while they are still completing their education, just about the ONE individual that a person in position of power is MOST obliged not to corrupt or exploit, especially not sexually (exploiting them by getting them to do a bunch of work for low pay IS permitted, but then I’ve seldom seen an intern overworked). A young woman (if you want to empower her enough to call her that) who was not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, to judge by her reported remarks.
    — Had enough about the sex? Good, me too. Let’s address Bud’s assertion, “As for the lying he only did that once…” No, no, no, no, no, no, no! It was in Bill Clinton’s nature to lie, and he regularly let out that tendency and let it romp. I well remember a conversation I had with Hodding Carter III, before the Monica stuff, as near as I can remember. Anyway, I confided to him the moment when Bill Clinton had lost my trust: After the 1993 deficit reduction act, his finest moment to date as far as I was concerned (doing what the Brits are doing now, cutting spending AND raising taxes, an approach utterly unpolluted by ideology), I heard of a speech he made to a bunch of fat cats apologizing to them, allowing as how maybe he HAD raised their taxes too much. OK, that’s not lying; it’s just evidence of the kind of weakness of character that arises from his desire to be loved. But Hodding Carter’s anecdote about how Clinton had lost HIM WAS about lying. He said he had been to see the president at the White House with a group (I forget which group) concerned about the Balkans. They were asking the president not to do a certain thing. He promised them he wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing, and they left satisfied. A day or two later it was announced that he WAS going to do that very thing, and it was fairly obvious that the decision had been made before the meeting. I’d like to think of so more good examples, but I’m getting really tired of typing this, much less pausing to go back and read up and remind myself, and the fact is that that is enough, in my mind, to refute “only did that once.”
    — For that matter, he lied more than once about Lewinsky alone. And he let the lie stand, for months and months.
    — Note that the things that turned Carter and me off to Clinton had nothing to do with sex.

    OK, that’s enough for now, except to say that yes, Bill Clinton most assuredly did disgrace the office. But please, please don’t give me any more of that Clinton “only” stuff. It makes me tired…

  33. bud

    See what I mean. Brad is all about style over results. Bill Clinton was an awesome president. Just check out these three things: (1) the unemployment rate in January 1993 vs January 2001. (2) The national budget deficit in FY 1993 vs FY 2002. And (3) the number of servicement killed overseas. Those 3 points trump any of the irrelevant points Brad is trying to make.

  34. Brad

    Phillip, THANK YOU for conceding my point.

    And sorry to unload at such length. It’s just that I had this argument a LOT back in the late 90s, especially since we were the first (actually, tied for first with at least one other) paper to call for Clinton’s resignation (the morning after his admission that he’d been lying to us all that time).

    There’s an interesting story to tell there, which I may tell in another post.

    As a journalist, I had taken a lot of heat over the years from self-styled “conservatives.” Ever since Spiro Agnew, they had been convinced that the news media were evil incarnate, a liberal plot to destroy America. And I had to hear about it all the time. And I used to think that, even though I disagreed with liberals/Democrats on a lot of things, at least they could be civil.

    The Bill Clinton mess was a real eye-opener. That’s when I learned that liberals ALSO (apparently) thought, just as the conservatives did, that we were on their side — and they saw our criticism of Clinton as some sort of betrayal. Of course, in our case it brought home for them the fact that we had not endorsed a Democrat for PRESIDENT in recent memory (even though it was about 50-50 in all elections overall) — and they attached great importance to that, as though we were ONLY criticizing him because we endorsed Republicans. As if a reasonable, fair-minded liberal Democrat wouldn’t reach the same conclusions you just reached.

    The nastiness, the anger, the vitriol, that I got from Democrats through phone calls, letters and e-mails at the time easily matched, if not exceeded, anything the right had ever dished out to us.

    I wondered whether this was an anomaly. Then Bush Derangement Syndrome came along.

    So, to recap — there was a time when, despite my nonpartisanship, I found Democrats, especially the hapless South Carolina Democrats, sort of endearing. They seemed so sincere and well-meaning for the most part, and they were so helpless in the face of the relentless partisan onslaught that had swept over them ever since Carroll Campbell had gotten the Republicans really organized and motivated. I hated political parties, but in keeping with Will Rogers’ most famous observation about parties, Democrats hardly qualified for party status — while the Republicans, hyperorganized, hypermotivated, totally on ideological message, relentless, seemed to embody perfectly the worst characteristics of partisanship.

    So that made me sort of fond of Democrats, as being innocuous at least.

    But the Clinton affair, and those years of constant hatred poured at Bush, wiped away the illusion of well-meaning innocence in my perception of Democrats…

  35. bud

    Brad, you conveniently forget that the whole Lewinsky incident was a private affair until the Republicans stumbled on it while investigating something totally different. Had the Democrats engaged in the same sniping at Ike his presidency could have been sullied by his sexuual proclivities. Same with FDR and JFK. It’s just that the opposing party in those instances acted sanely. And shame on you for advocating that Clinton resign. That was a disgusting thing to do. Clinton was a damn good president and deserves our praise not all this trumped up vitriol.

  36. Norm Ivey

    Wish we had stuck with brad’s original premise:

    Me, I’m not interested in a worst, or a worst list, because that just doesn’t seem in the spirit of Presidents’ Day, which is about celebrating rather than tearing down. So, who are your Top Five, All Time, Desert-Island presidents?

  37. Herb Brasher

    Lincoln has to get top honors for sticking to his guns (no pun intended) whether he would get re-elected or not. He was a man of principle; we have not had many of that kind of caliber.

    Slavery died out? I don’t think so; I don’t think it has died out even yet in the minds of way too many people. The damage done in attitudes toward our fellow African-Americans will take generations yet to fully overcome. One does not just glibly get over hundreds of years of treatment of the foulest sort.

  38. Doug Ross

    Clinton should have resigned for his unacceptable behavior. Same for Bush. Bush’s crimes were far worse and will have longer negative impact.

    I won’t play the my favorite 5 presidents game because it’s silly to think that anyone actually knows what life was like 100+ years ago. All we know is the sanitized version that is contained in history books written long after the fact.

    I’ll only rank the Presidents who have been in office since I had enough sense to understand what was happening at the time:

    1) Carter
    2) Clinton (1st term)
    3) Nixon (1st term)
    4) Bush Sr.

    Tied for a distant last place) Reagan, Bush, Clinton (2nd term), Obama, Ford, Nixon (2nd term)

    Reagan changed everything. Turned the White House into a photo op/figurehead position based on soundbites and posturing. I believe his son, Ron Jr., when he says that his father’s Alzheimers disease was in an advanced stage in his second term. The people who covered that up should be ashamed.

  39. Rose

    Trust-busting was most definitely necessary. It’s difficult today to really grasp just how much power these few individuals had over the country, including the physical land itself. There would be virtually no public lands or national parks/forests without TR. There’s a new book out “The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America” that very clearly shows what the railroad, timber, and mining trusts were doing to the American West.

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