American President Top 40!
January 19, 2011 6:24 PM   Subscribe


 
Worth noting ...

"The passions of the present may well have affected the low position of George W Bush, and Barack Obama's high interim score, which would have placed him eighth overall if he had been included in the poll."
posted by grabbingsand at 6:31 PM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Generally, I prefer Utah Phillips' take:
Mark Twain said, “Those of you who are inclined to worry have the widest selection in history”… Why complain, try to do something about it… You know, it’s going on nine months now since I decided that I was going to declare that I am a candidate for the presidency of the United States… Oh yes, I’m going to run…

Shopped around for a party… Well, I looked at the Republicans… Decided that talking to a conservative is like talking to your refrigerator… You know, the light goes on, the light goes off; it’s not going to do anything that isn’t built into it… And I’m not going to talk to a conservative anymore than I talk to my damn refrigerator… Working for the Democratic Party now that’s kind of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic…

So I created my own party… It’s called the Sloth and Indolence Party… And I’m running as an anarchist candidate in the best sense of that word… I’ve studied the presidency carefully… I have seen that our best presidents were the do-nothing presidents… Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding… When you have a president who does things, we are all in serious trouble… If he does anything at all, if he gets up at night to go the bathroom, somehow, mystically, trouble will ensue… I guarantee, that if I am elected, I will take over the White House, hang out, shoot pool, scratch my ass, and not do a damn thing… Which is to say, if you want something done, don’t come to me to do it for you; you got to get together and figure out how to do it yourselves… Is that a deal?
posted by anarch at 6:44 PM on January 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


you got to get together and figure out how to do it yourselves

Gee, if only we had a social structure in place to do that. Maybe we could use to it to figure out what we want to do, then pick somebody to make sure it gets done.
posted by aaronetc at 6:47 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


18
James Earl Carter, Jr., 1977-1981

19
William Jefferson Clinton, 1993-2001


Surprising.
posted by jeremy b at 6:47 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Limey Bastards! How dare they look down their nose at Chester A. Arthur! You ranked him BELOW Shrub? The man was responsible for the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which professionalized the civil service and elimanted many of the wide-spread abuses of political cronyism (much to the dismay of his fellow Stalwart Republicans). His transformation from party hack to independent leader and putting his country before his party after the assassinattion of James Garfield serves as a stirring reminder that it is possible for an individual to transcend even the ugliest partisian background to become a great leader. It's a lesson many of our politicians today should take to heart.
posted by KingEdRa at 6:50 PM on January 19, 2011 [17 favorites]


*sheesh* noses (though the idea that everone in the UK shares on nose amusees me for some reason).
posted by KingEdRa at 6:51 PM on January 19, 2011


*ack!* ONE, not on! Dammit, Android keyboard!
posted by KingEdRa at 6:52 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm nearing the end of a year-long project of reading presidential biographies in order and the thing that pisses me off the most so far is Warren G. Harding's bum rap. He had nothing to do with the scandals associated with his name, and had he not died in office without a chance to defend himself, would probably be nowhere near the bottom of every list ranking U.S. Presidents. Poor WGH!

The other thing that has struck me most in reading all these bios is how remarkable every single one of them was as a human being. I mean, I guess it only makes sense, they are the Presidents of the United States, after all, but so many of even the worst presidents were good men who just weren't suited to the office.
posted by something something at 6:55 PM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bum rap? The president is responsible for the actions of those he appoints. He's not elected to be superman, he's elected to oversee the execution of the laws of the United States. If you put people in office who are crooked, their failures are your failures. When substantial sections of your cabinet are convicted of fraud and bribery, that is your fault for putting you there.

Warren G. Harding: An Honest Moron. Fantastic.
posted by absalom at 7:03 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm always interested to see who comes out last in polls like this: Pierce for being an ornery crank who made the Civil War happen, or Buchanan for hoping that if he hid his head in the sand long enough, slavery would just disappear and he wouldn't have to do anything about it. I guess the Brits figured Pierce at least believed in something.
posted by jackflaps at 7:16 PM on January 19, 2011


Gee, if only we had a social structure in place to do that. Maybe we could use to it to figure out what we want to do, then pick somebody to make sure it gets done.

Gee, if only it worked like that.
posted by entropone at 7:17 PM on January 19, 2011


you two been reading to much Francis Russell.
posted by clavdivs at 7:18 PM on January 19, 2011


Bum rap? The president is responsible for the actions of those he appoints. He's not elected to be superman, he's elected to oversee the execution of the laws of the United States. If you put people in office who are crooked, their failures are your failures. When substantial sections of your cabinet are convicted of fraud and bribery, that is your fault for putting you there.

Warren G. Harding: An Honest Moron. Fantastic.


That's a lot of vitriol there! I understand all of those things. My point is that Harding died before the scandals even came out. Had he lived, I doubt he would have been so universally reviled by history. The man would have had a chance to at the very least come out as extremely disappointed in and disillusioned by the men he had entrusted with high level Cabinet positions. There have been many scandals involving Cabinet members in our history, and none of their bosses have been subjected to such universal distaste as Harding.
posted by something something at 7:20 PM on January 19, 2011


Adam Cadre ran an excellent two-parter on Lincoln's legacy. The summation:
Abraham Lincoln spent the end of his presidency denying responsibility for the course the war had taken: "I claim not to have controlled events, but plainly confess that events have controlled me," he maintained, declaring that the ability to shape history was something "God alone can claim." Now that Lincoln is widely considered the greatest American president, this sort of talk sounds like modesty. But if we take him at his word — and he is Honest Abe, after all — if he really did wring his hands and let events run their course until his options for preserving the nation narrowed to one... can he really be considered all that great?
I'm not entirely with Cadre on that score, though I do agree with his opinion of Andrew Johnson, one of the vilest men to sit in the big chair.
posted by Iridic at 7:20 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Poll of Top US Experts on UK Prime Ministers:

#1 - Churchill. Totally bitching. Also, half American. Hey, listen to my Churchill impression. "We will fight them--on the beach-ezzz." All babies look like Churchill, too.
#2 - Gladstone. He was awesome!
#3 - Disraeli. Also awesome! Even though Queen Victoria didn't like him as much.
#4 - Pitt the Younger. You've got to admire the get-up-and-go in one so young.
#5 - Tony Blair. Okay, kind of a wimp, but whatevs.
#6 - Margaret Thatcher. Scary hair, but made the trains run on time.
#7 - That guy. No, not the one who used to own supermarkets, the other one.
#8 - That other guy. No, not him. You know, the one who was a gambler and had sex with the hot actresses.
#9 - Oh, Lloyd George. Yay, I remembered the name of one.
#10 - What do you mean, Sir Walter Raleigh wasn't Prime Minister? This sucks. I'm going out for pizza.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:23 PM on January 19, 2011 [24 favorites]


18
James Earl Carter, Jr., 1977-1981

19
William Jefferson Clinton, 1993-2001

Surprising.


And Nixon isn't far behind, at 23.
posted by John Cohen at 7:27 PM on January 19, 2011


It appears they confused the Roosevelts.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 7:29 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nixon's scores are all over the map: on the one hand, you have Agnew and the Southern Strategy and Watergate; on the other hand, you have opening relations with China, wage-and-price freezes, and advocacy of a fairly granulated tax system.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:31 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, Harding may have tried to cover up the scandals (ala Nixon) had he lived.

As far as being a decent and moral human being is concerned, it's hard to beat Jimmy Carter among the recent presidents, anyway. And as the article mentions, LBJ did some great stuff but Viet Nam overshadows it quite a bit.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:43 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is Harding the president that recently (w/in the last 6-10 months) Glenn Beck was trying to rehabilitate? I remember seeing him briefly talk about SOME early 20th C president whom he loved and who was totally better than that lame socialist FDR.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:46 PM on January 19, 2011


First poll of Chicago Experts: Mayors of New York City
(Awesomeness of Name Subdivision)

113): David Matthews
112): William Brady
111): John Lawrence

...

10): Caleb Smith Woodhull
9): DeWitt Clinton
8): Francis Rombouts
7): Fiorello La Guardia
6): Cornelis Steenwijck
5): Ardolph Loges Kline
4): Whitehead Hicks
3): Marinus Willett
2): Ambrose Kingsland
1): Cadwallader D. Colden
posted by Iridic at 7:47 PM on January 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


Poll of Top US Experts on UK Prime Ministers:

Lord Palmerston!
posted by jackflaps at 7:49 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a bit of a Coolidge fan. Being ranked 28th would bother him not at all, I think.
posted by Gin and Comics at 7:49 PM on January 19, 2011


Glenn Beck was probably beating the pro-Hoover drum; it's hard to imagine anyone trying to rehabilitate Harding*. Hoover was a great man and a great humanitarian, but not so much shucks as a President.


*Sorry, I cannot actually verify this because of a profound allergy to Glenn Beck.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:50 PM on January 19, 2011


Another interesting point: Clinton is ranked lower than Shrub on "Moral Authority."
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:50 PM on January 19, 2011


After doing some searching around: Beck is a big fan of Coolidge and Harding. I knew he hated Woodrow Wilson and FDR, but apparently he also hates Hoover & Teddy Roosevelt. 1 2
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:58 PM on January 19, 2011


Pics on currency or it didn't happen.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:58 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, Glenn Beck is constantly forging new frontiers of wrong. Thanks, Saxon Kane!
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:04 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ann Coulter was a big fan of the do-nothings Coolidge and Harding, which makes it all the funnier when she adulated before the throne of GWB. Completely inconsistent, except when you realize that what she's really adulating before is Big Business, so strong-executive presidents (like Reagan and GWB) can be just as desirable as weak-executive presidents (like Coolidge and Harding) as long as they stay out of the way of Big Business.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:10 PM on January 19, 2011


Let me guess: Washington, not so high?
posted by gottabefunky at 8:18 PM on January 19, 2011


#8 - That other guy. No, not him. You know, the one who was a gambler and had sex with the hot actresses.

Sidhedevil: constantly forging new frontiers of I Wish I'd Written That List Up There, Can You Do Australia? I Will Give You A Lamington.
posted by jaynewould at 8:20 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let me guess: Washington, not so high?

"Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!" - George Washington
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:20 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45)

Well, duh.
posted by chemoboy at 8:20 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Confronted at a White House reception by a large, obviously self-satisfied Beacon Hill matron, Coolidge allowed his visitor to pump his arm mechanically while she gushed

"Oh Mr. President, I'm from Boston."

"Yep," he shot back. "And you'll never get over it."

Silent Cal
posted by clavdivs at 8:31 PM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Poll of UK experts, eh? Didn't we fight a war so that we wouldn't have to listen to those guys?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:34 PM on January 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


And, yet again William Henry Harrison gets no love.
posted by ob at 8:34 PM on January 19, 2011


Another interesting point: Clinton is ranked lower than Shrub on "Moral Authority."

Clinton fucked one intern and Bush fucked the whole country. Maybe it's weighted on the amount of penetration?
posted by crossoverman at 8:52 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


And, yet again William Henry Harrison gets no love.

Well, you see, the thing about William Henry Harrison is that he wasn't the str-
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:05 PM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Keep Cool with Coolidge. Get Hard with Harding.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:08 PM on January 19, 2011


gottabefunky: Let me guess: Washington, not so high?

Third. You'd think all the British ones would be pretty high on the list.
posted by GeckoDundee at 9:14 PM on January 19, 2011


Yay UK. Nice to know what you think about our Presidents. My favorite King of England was Henry the Eighth, what with all the beheadings and marrying and stuff. My second favorite is Edward, the abdicating the throne for the whore Wallis Simpson. Now that was interesting.
posted by wv kay in ga at 9:14 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Stan Laurel and Calvin Cooledge switched hats in 1921.

all thing being equal.
posted by clavdivs at 9:21 PM on January 19, 2011


And, yet again William Henry Harrison gets no love.

I was really hoping that W.H. Harrison would get no score, but rather be highlighted yellow right in the middle as the understood Mendoza Line.

Also, I adore most of what FDR did, but the Court-Packing Plan alone would drop him out of first place for me. Then again, I'm an American who has never seen the Confederate Flag to be anything but a symbol of treason and hideous oppression, so I'm in the camp where Lincoln is the obvious venerated favorite.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:06 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


It does my history nerd heart good to see James K. Polk at #16. He's usually ranked lower, and is one of the most under-appreciated presidents in my opinion.

If you've ever looked at a U.S. map and liked how our country stretches from coast to coast you might want to thank Polk. He's responsible for ushering in the annexation of Texas (leading to it becoming a state during his second year in office), ending the Oregon Territory dispute with the British by establishing the 49th Parallel boundary of the Northwestern U.S. (which brought in all of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming), and, through the Mexican-American War, claimed for the U.S. all of California, Nevada, and Utah, as well as most of Arizona and parts of Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.
posted by helloknitty at 10:41 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


...thank Polk. He's responsible for ushering in the annexation of Texas...

LOL
posted by jjray at 10:44 PM on January 19, 2011


Woodrow Wilson #6? Sure, he's on the $100,000 bill, but he didn't like black people.
posted by Sailormom at 11:46 PM on January 19, 2011


If you've ever looked at a U.S. map and liked how our country stretches from coast to coast you might want to thank Polk. He's responsible for ushering in the annexation of Texas...

helloknitty: Lets just say there are different views on whether this was a good thing....

from Mexican-American war:
Joshua Giddings led a group of dissenters in Washington D.C. He called the war with Mexico "an aggressive, unholy, and unjust war," and voted against supplying soldiers and weapons. He said:

In the murder of Mexicans upon their own soil, or in robbing them of their country, I can take no part either now or here-after. The guilt of these crimes must rest on others. I will not participate in them.[24]

posted by vacapinta at 12:29 AM on January 20, 2011


The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.

Ulysses S. Grant, Memoirs

Even those who participated had mixed feelings about it.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:59 AM on January 20, 2011


It's too bad the only pretty definitely gay US president was also pretty definitely the worst one.
posted by pracowity at 2:15 AM on January 20, 2011


I will never understand the love for Reagan.
posted by Splunge at 3:31 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Abraham Lincoln spent the end of his presidency denying responsibility for the course the war had taken: "I claim not to have controlled events, but plainly confess that events have controlled me," he maintained, declaring that the ability to shape history was something "God alone can claim." Now that Lincoln is widely considered the greatest American president, this sort of talk sounds like modesty. But if we take him at his word — and he is Honest Abe, after all — if he really did wring his hands and let events run their course until his options for preserving the nation narrowed to one... can he really be considered all that great?

Basic timeline for those of you playing along at home.:

1860
December 20: South Carolina secedes

1861
Mississippi secedes January 9
Florida secedes January 10
Alabama secedes January 11
Georgia secedes January 19
Louisiana secedes January 26
Texas secedes February 1
March 4: Abraham Lincoln takes office
April 12: The Confederacy declares war on the United States of America by attacking Fort Sumter

By the time Abraham Lincoln took office, seven states had already seceded. They attacked the United States just over a month later. Just getting up to speed as President should take at least a month - that's one damn difficult job (and without modern communications). Saying that he wasn't the one controling events is a simple admission of reality there.
posted by Francis at 3:32 AM on January 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Didn't we fight a war so that we wouldn't have to listen to those guys?

Two wars, actually. More evidence that the Iraq invasion was misdirected.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:06 AM on January 20, 2011


#4 - Pitt the Younger.

LORD PALMERSTON!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:44 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


My favorite King of England was Henry the Eighth

I like Richard the Third; because he was a poisonous bunch-backed toad, and I think that's cool.

We do realize, do we not, that these Greatest President polls are abominably silly, and slightly less meaningful than an ESPN poll asking sportwriters to rank the greatest shortstops of all time?

But fun, though, don't get me wrong...
posted by steambadger at 5:51 AM on January 20, 2011


My second favorite is Edward, the abdicating the throne for the whore Wallis Simpson.

The American whore, mind.

I will never understand the love for Reagan.

Cheerful smile and came after the loser Carter. Me, I will never understand the love for Clinton, so there you go. Probably the cheerful smile.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:59 AM on January 20, 2011


I think the rationale for this list went something like this. "I'm a scholar of American history. Who the fuck is Chester A. Arthur? I've got to throw him in somewhere. If I make him the best or worst someone will ask me why. Let's slip him in next to Bush, Jr."
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:10 AM on January 20, 2011


American President Top 40! Lincoln is number two with a bullet! (What? too soon)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:21 AM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can we at least agree that Wade Boggs doesn't know shit about prime ministers?
posted by grubi at 6:23 AM on January 20, 2011


But if you want a recipe for chicken, Boggs is your man.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:29 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


How in screaming hell did that genocidal bastard Andrew Jackson manage the 9th seat?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:36 AM on January 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Most of the lower-ranked presidents either wrecked the economy or got us into questionable wars. George W. Bush turned an all-time record surplus into an all-time record deficit, got us bogged down in two unwinnable wars, and allowed two major terrorist attacks on the US after blowing off warnings. #40.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:28 AM on January 20, 2011


How in screaming hell did that genocidal bastard Andrew Jackson manage the 9th seat?

UGH, every visit to the ATM is another chance to be reminded of horrifying historical events.
posted by The Whelk at 8:19 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the time Abraham Lincoln took office, seven states had already seceded. They attacked the United States just over a month later.... Saying that he wasn't the one controling events is a simple admission of reality there.

I don't think anyone claims Lincoln was responsible for the secession! It's the victory of the Union that he's remembered for, and probably most specifically the Emancipation Proclamation (though I'm no expert in American History, just speaking as an American).
posted by mdn at 8:28 AM on January 20, 2011


Yeah, Jackson is maybe the only one I would rank lower than Bush. I will never understand why he is so highly regarded.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:06 AM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Jackson is maybe the only one I would rank lower than Bush. I will never understand why he is so highly regarded.

Andrew Jackson is the dark side of America's success. He was an enormous, highly influential personality, for better and for worse. I don't know that I'd rank him so highly, but he sure as hell isn't in Warren G. Harding territory.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:19 AM on January 20, 2011


Junius Booth loved ole Andy
posted by clavdivs at 10:16 AM on January 20, 2011


I can understand the UK love for FDR but there is no way he should rank higher than Washington and Lincoln.

I'll attempt to partially rehabilitate Harding but it will also involve really downgrading Wilson (I'll start with him).

Wilson would love the Patriot act, some of his policies could be considered borderline Fascist, and probably would be if he had an R next to his name and not a D. He also was an incredible racist who locked down Federally sanctioned discrimination and may have even been in the Klan. There are rumors that he had an induction ceremony in the White House. At the least he had a showing of Birth of a Nation in the White House.

He also lied about the planned American entry into WWI to get reelected. Finally he was mentally unfit to be President following a stroke and, rather than resign, let his wife run the country. Now Mrs. Wilson may have been awesome but she wasn't elected.

Harding did rollback some of Wilson's officially racist policies and personally wasn't a bad guy just lazy and ignored corruption. He did have Clinton's penchant for womanizing though and may have actually been the "real" first Black president- one of his ancestors may have been Black (maybe his maternal Great Grandmother, I don't remember).

Coolidge deserves a much higher ranking. Much better president than is commonly known. But the 20's and 30'swould have been much more interesting if Al Smith was elected instead of Hoover. Not that he ever had a chance.

Finally, I think the bulk of Mefites are in their 20's. Trust me on this, this recession is nothing compared to the fiasco of the Carter years. Also, if he had actually done something about the takeover of the American Embassy in Iran (like maybe let the Marines on post shoot back for starters), our current mess in the Middle East would look very different. Yes in my own way I'm ultimately blaming Carter for 9/11. I'd put him in the bottom 5 with only the pre-Civil war presidents as possibly worst. (I hate Carter like most Mefites hate GWB.)
posted by JohntheContrarian at 10:34 AM on January 20, 2011


It's too bad the only pretty definitely gay US president was also pretty definitely the worst one.

Lincoln? He wasn't so bad.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:39 AM on January 20, 2011


JohntheContrarian: "Yes in my own way I'm ultimately blaming Carter for 9/11. I'd put him in the bottom 5 with only the pre-Civil war presidents as possibly worst. (I hate Carter like most Mefites hate GWB."

Well, as long as you're not being hyperbolic or anything.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:58 AM on January 20, 2011


By the time Abraham Lincoln took office, seven states had already seceded.

That's like saying that a kid couldn't have been an accident, because his parents were married two months before he was born. The Confederate states seceded because Lincoln was elected President, not because he was inaugurated.
posted by Etrigan at 1:16 PM on January 20, 2011


How in screaming hell did that genocidal bastard Andrew Jackson manage the 9th seat?

Maybe the Broadway musical was a factor?
posted by crossoverman at 2:02 PM on January 20, 2011


I think the rationale for this list went something like this. "I'm a scholar of American history. Who the fuck is Chester A. Arthur?"

As a historian (or "historian," depending, on how I feel on any given day), I have to say, this is truer than you even think.
posted by heurtebise at 5:30 PM on January 20, 2011


Trust me on this, this recession is nothing compared to the fiasco of the Carter years.

I am far older than that, and I am not going to trust you on that, because it is a pile of manure.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:21 AM on January 21, 2011


It does my history nerd heart good to see James K. Polk at #16. He's usually ranked lower, and is one of the most under-appreciated presidents in my opinion.

I can't read/hear Polk's name without appending "Napoleon of the Stump."
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:32 PM on January 22, 2011


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