10) Franklin D Roosevelt If I looked only at domestic policy, he would have easily been a contender for my top spot. His awful management of the economy alone, which extended the Depression for years, would merit a top 3 spot. However, FDR’s leadership during World War II was so meritorious that it simply could not be overlooked. That being said, FDR is often ranked by historians as one of America’s great Presidents. A man whose greatness on the foreign policy front is quite nearly matched by the titanic damage he did to America on the domestic side certainly doesn’t deserve that sort of honor.
9) Warren Harding: Harding was only in office for a couple of years before he died of a heart attack. The bright side to that silver lining for Harding was that much of the incredible corruption that was going on during his presidency wasn’t revealed until after his death. The worst of these ignominious adventures was the “Teapot Dome scandal,” which involved bribery and a new first in American politics — a cabinet member, Albert Fall, being sent to jail.
8) Herbert Hoover: Hoover didn’t make my list because the Depression started on his watch. After all, it’s not as if he created that problem. But, his protectionist Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act created a trade war at the worst possible time and helped lock the Depression in place.
7) John Tyler: Tyler’s Presidency was rarely taken seriously in his time. People usually referred him to as the “Acting President” or “His Accidency”. Tyler shocked Congressional Whigs by vetoing virtually the entire Whig agenda, twice vetoing Clay’s legislation for a national banking act following the Panic of 1837 and leaving the government deadlocked. Tyler was officially expelled from the Whig Party in 1841, a few months after taking office, and became known as “the man without a party.” In 1843, after he vetoed a tariff bill, the House of Representatives considered the first impeachment resolution against a president in American history. A committee headed by former president John Quincy Adams concluded that Tyler had misused the veto, but the impeachment resolution did not pass.
6) John F. Kennedy: If it were not for a couple of crack marksmen in Texas JFK probably would have gone down as the worst American president ever
In retrospect, he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco. He came into office and okayed the Bay of Pigs invasion. Then he went to a Vienna summit conference and got his clock cleaned by Khrushchev. That led to, among other things, the Cuban missile crisis and a whiff of nuclear apocalypse.
Looming over it all is the American descent into Vietnam. The assassination of Vietnam’s President Diem on Kennedy’s watch may have been one of the two biggest mistakes of the war there. (The other was the decision to wage a war of attrition on the unexamined assumption that Hanoi would buckle under the pain.) I don’t buy the theory promulgated by Robert McNamara and others that Kennedy would have kept U.S. troops out. Sure, Kennedy wanted out of Vietnam — just like Lyndon Johnson wanted out a few years later: "We’ll scale down our presence after victory is secure." And much more than Johnson, Kennedy was influenced by General Maxwell Taylor.
Kennedy gave the green light to another coup in a country that would, thirty years later, be at the center of American foreign policy:
The other coup that JFK supported earlier in 1963 was the Baathist one in Iraq that chucked out a pro-Soviet general. Events in subsequent decades obviously are not Kennedy’s fault, but it still is interesting to look at the documents. There’s a State Department sitrep from Nov. 21, 1963 that states “Initial appraisal cabinet named November 20 is that it contains some moderate Baathis. Of twenty-one ministers, seven are holdovers from previous cabinet, thirteen are civilians, four are from moderate Shabib-Jawad faction of Baath (Defense — Tikriti; Communications — Abd al-Latif; Education — Jawari; Health — Mustafa) and a number of technician-type civil servants.” Did you notice the name of that defense minister? (Saddam Hussein’s uncle.)
There is, I suppose, some irony in the fact that both the Iraqi coup, which included the assassination of several Generals, and the coup in Saigon, occurred in the same year that Kennedy himself was assassination.
JFK's assassination, of course, has tended to romanticized aka the myth of Camelot by Kennedy loyalists
While Kennedy did remain popular throughout his Presidency, thanks largely to relatively good economic times, the truth of the matter is that the real JFK bears little resemblance to the fantasy, especially in the foreign policy era.
Kennedy’s decision to directly involve the United States in the success of South Vietnam as a state by authorizing the removal of Diem made further American involvement in Vietnam inevitable.
JFK was hardly a pacifist, and during his three years in office he proved himself to be quite willing to engage in military adventurism. He also intervened in the internal affairs of other nations up to the point of assassinating politicians when he believed it suited U.S. interests.
Kennedy’s foreign policy choices look bad in retrospect, and set the U.S. on a path the led to one of our longest and most controversial wars, but they were fit in perfectly with the dominant views on both sides of the political aisle at the time. We were at the height of the Cold War, Berlin had just been divided by a wall, and the world had been brought to the brink of a nuclear war.
5) Richard Nixon: Not only was “Tricky Dick” Nixon impeached over Watergate, he shook the American people’s faith in our government. Given the chronic overreach of the federal government, some might say that’s a good thing. But, you generally get what you expect and if the American people don’t expect competency, honesty, and decency from our government, we’re not likely to get it.
Nixon did improve relations with China. He also put America in a position where we could have won in Vietnam had the Democrats in Congress not cut off supplies and air support to our former allies and left them to be slaughtered. Still, Nixon did a lot of damage domestically. He created the out-of-control EPA and was primarily responsible for creating the federal government’s Affirmative Action program, which codified discrimination against white Americans into the law. Additionally, he imposed wage and price controls that hurt the economy. That’s not much of a domestic legacy.
4) Woodrow Wilson: The failure of the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles, both of which contributed significantly to WWII, occurred on his watch.
Additionally, speaking plainly, Wilson was also a fascist.
3) Lyndon Johnson: You can thank Lyndon Johnson for dramatically ramping up our forces in Vietnam while simultaneously putting rules of engagement in place that made it nearly impossible for our troops to win the war. Then there was the Immigration Act of 1965, the Gun Control Act of 1968, riots in American cities, and the roots of the modern welfare state in America.
2) Jimmy Carter: Not only did Carter stand by and watch our ally, the Shah of Iran, get overthrown by fundamentalist crazies, he botched the Iranian hostage crisis that sprang from the overthrow in almost every way possible. It’s also worth noting that the Soviets were inspired by Carter’s naiveté to invade Afghanistan on his watch. In other words, both the war on terror and Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons can be directly traced back to Jimmy Carter’s presidency. To top off all of that incompetence, Carter gave away the Panama Canal.
Then there was the domestic front. Carter was famous for his notorious malaise speech, gas lines, boycotting the Olympics, and an economy that was so dismal it actually diminished people’s faith in the American dream.
1) Barack Obama: It’s not possible to fully evaluate Barack Obama’s presidency because it’s not over, but he has already done a devastating amount of damage in a freakishly short period of time. Happily, there’s still some hope that the utter destruction of the American health care system that he’s trying to implement can be reversed. The socialistic takeovers of whole segments of American industries that began in the final days of the Bush Administration and expanded under Obama can also still hopefully be reversed in the coming years with new leadership. Additionally, we can still hope against hope that Iran will be stopped from getting nukes, that Obama won’t lose the wars in Afghanistan like he did in Iraq and that none of his other disastrous policies like Cap and Trade will be passed. (The word “hope” comes up with Obama as often today as it did during his campaign, just in a different context)
However, Obama’s massive expansion of spending and government for domestic purposes is not only unique in American history; it came at the worst possible moment. At a time when there were genuine concerns in America and across the world that our country no longer has the intention or even the capability of paying off our debt, Barack Obama massively increased spending under the auspices of fighting a short term recession. In this case, the cure is almost certainly worse than the disease. Could America default on her debts because of what Obama is doing? Absolutely. Could this spending be the reason future generations of Americans aren’t as prosperous as their parents? Certainly. Is it possible that we’re literally experiencing the turning point that will take America from super power to economic basket case? Yes. This country is now facing its greatest moment of risk since World War II and it’s an entirely self-inflicted wound.