Enjoy this fascinating review of “The Worst Presidents in American History,” a panel recorded for C-SPAN 3: American History TV at the recent Organization of American Historians annual conference in Providence, Rhode Island. It features panelists David Greenberg (whose “The Last Great Republican Rupture” about the Republican primary of 1976 I highly recommend from last weekend’s Wall Street Journal), the always-awesome Annette Gordon-Reed, and Slate’s Jacob Weisberg, all of whom are presidential biographers and have loads of thoughtful ways of thinking about successful versus unsuccessful presidencies. And our pal Claire Potter, AKA Tenured Radical, is the panel Chair!
I spent a very pleasant hour-plus-change last weekend (while it rained and snowed constantly) watching this very thoughtful, funny, and smart panel. Thoughtful, funny, and smart IN SPITE OF the fact that neither my first nor my second choice for Worst Ever came up. Remarkable!
For some reason, C-SPAN 3 will not let me embed, or I’m just being dense today, so if you want to see the video, please click here.
And let’s all work and VOTE to ensure that there’s not a new entry for this considerable category as of January 2017.
16 thoughts on “On the day after ground-baloney faced, Cheez-Whiz haired racist sexist birther ragetroll became the presumptive Republican nominee for president, behold!”
Huh, I always thought Jackson was the worst ever.
He was pretty bad! Although he was highly effective and popular–so does that make him a bad president, or does it mean that the American people who elected him to execute their will were collectively very bad people? (This is a question that came up on the panel, as I recall.)
Well, I think the Trail of Tears trumps pretty much anything else. Yes, the people who elected him and countenanced that were bad people. (Also he did some bad economic stuff, but so did lots of presidents.)
Of course, not ending slavery is also a bad thing (so booo all pre-Lincoln presidents), but it’s passively bad rather than actively bad. Trail of Tears took political points to commit whereas not ending slavery was the easy option.
I think you need to consider the effectiveness metric; Douglas Greenberg lays it all out in his metric for how to measure presidential badness. There’s bad because ineffective, and also bad because effective AND follows destructive policies.
His policies were a nightmare, but Jackson was highly effective in carrying out the will of his voters! For these reasons, most of the historians on this panel would not include Reagan in their list of worsts (except Claire!)
I would rather have a bad ineffective president than a bad effective one. (A reason I thought maybe Cruz could be better than Kasich… if I had to choose one over the other.)
I mean, what is the outcome we want to measure? If you’re in policy, then it is the general social welfare of the people. And when you’re horrifically killing off people, then that’s about as bad as it can get because a person’s life is worth a LOT.
I suppose if you’re an administrator all you care about is effectiveness and efficiency of systems. But by that function, there’s a lot to admire in Fascist regimes. (Fascists do tend to get the trains running on time.)
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I need some advice. When should I rescind my membership in the Republican Party? Immediately? June 17 (the 160th Anniversity of the first National Republican Party Convention)? July 6 (The 162nd Anniversary of the first Republican Party Convention)? July 21 (When Trump officially becomes the Nominee?) #NeverTrump
Pal, I feel for you. This is how a lot of Democrats felt in 1968, I’m sure.
Except that Democrats did not nominate a Fascist in 1968. Republicans will forever bear that (hopefully unique) ignominy in US politics. Unless, that is, you want to count Jackson! (FYI, my vote for worst would have to go to Buchanan.)
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(As soon as possible?)
I’m a bit hopeful– could hatred of Trump unite politicians and (non-racist, not crazy) voters even in the absence of a democratic landslide?
I mean, as much as I’d love more socialism, my first order of “things I want to government to do” is much more mundane stuff that I think politicians from both parties could agree on if they cared about the country instead of about stupid political games. Can politicians come together to get a long-term infrastructure bill that neither party is happy with but will put the country on a better path? Can they feed and take care of children even if some politicians paint their parents as moochers? Can we improve education and training? Simplify the tax code? Patch up problems in existing legislature? Appoint a supreme court justice? Get through the backlog of judge appointments? And on and on and on…
A little more compromise and a little less purity would be fantabulous.
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Most Democrats in ’68 did what some Republicans will probably do now, sulked for a suitably long while and then voted as habituated by deeper strands of culture and autobiography than the incredible fractures of that year could destroy. Although, in fact, H.H. Humphrey was nowhere near a Trumpian figure. He would have been a demonstrably better president than Nixon ended up being, and even the younger among those of us who maligned him for his 1964 alliance with Johnson (when Vietnam was only a shadow), knew almost nothing about his earlier career as a Minnesota DFL demigod.
I’d have to go with my own state’s James Buchanan as the worst ever. Even before he fiddled while the republic sundered.
Yes–I did not mean to impugn Humphrey as being Trump-like! I referenced ’68 because of the final blow to the Old Deal coalition, in which African Americans and segregationists/Dixiecrats stuck together. The Republican party is going through a similar potential realignment, with the pro-business/low tax wing seeing their working class seculars and their kulturkampfen Christian Soldiers march to the tune of their preferred drummers.
Definitely did not mean to imply you thought Humphrey was Trump-like. My infelicity of quick typing and on-the-fly composition! 1968 was one of the great vortex-years of American history.
Please, not John Adams. The man was brilliant. He made one big mistake (Alien & Sedition), but that shouldn’t overshadow his amazing contributions. Jackson was a jerk on so many fronts and the way he encouraged his disgruntled followers to torpedo the presidency of J. Q. Adams was a disgrace. And a foreshadowing of the despicable Mitch McConnel and his never ending crusade to demean our current president. Chimpy wins it hands down — the death and destruction he and his veep caused is still being tallied. May they both rot in hell.
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JA also a bad Prez because he failed to win a second term! You have to be a two-termer to get unqualifiedly out of the ranks of the worst. (But, we can agree on Worst Ever!)
Jackson was an unlawful and bloody Indian killer throughout his career, so the (white men) who elected him knew exactly what they were getting with the Chieftan. Adams’s actual record as President stands at odds with his leadership in the 1770s. IOW, his voters didn’t know they were getting a revanchist d-bag for a president.
You forgot “small-fingered” in your oh-so-descriptive post title, there. 🙂
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