I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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Worst president?

This is an existential act.  That is, I’m doing this not because I think it will make a diference (persuade the confused), but because I think I ought to do it.

I’m flabergasted that someone in comments suggested that Obama was the worst American president. This suggests to me what the writer might know about history, and makes me wonder if they remember the French they took.

In any event, here’s the three presidents that (prior to 2000) who I think could have held the undisputed title of “worst president,” and why:

  • James Buchanan:  Dithered with the slave states, never acknowledging that there was no sufficient compromise that would appease them, and did as much as any human being to provoke the bloodshed that was the Civil War.  He was at home in Pennsylvania within earshot of Gettysburg when that battle occurred, and I hope it interrupted his rest.  Interesting footnote:  Possibly had as full a resume as any president up to his time, suggesting (as did Herbert Hoover) that may not be the be all and end all.
  • Andrew Johnson:  Perhaps dealt an unplayable hand having to follow Lincoln, but made as bad a hash of it as possible.
  • Warren Harding:  On the bad side of the ledger, there’s Teapot Dome.  On the good side?  Nothing.  His self assessment says it all:  “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.”  Return to normalcy, indeed.

Nixon doesn’t make this list because anyone honest has to list accomplishments that balance the bad. Even a criminal conspiracy that would have lead to impeachment if he’d not resigned.   What did these three accomplish to the good?

At one time, when I was focused on the demise of fundamental civil liberties, it seemed clear to me that George W. Bush was in contention with Buchanan for the worst president in our history.  That still seems the case, but I’m willing to acknowledge now that my horrified reaction at what was occurring at the time may have tilted the scales some in my mind.  Time may be required to know the answer here, and  some perspective may be required.

In any event, here’s my list of what Bush did that places him in this company, not ordered by how bad each entry seems to me

  • That tax cut, setting America up (when combined with his wars) for deficits as far as the eye can see.
  • No Child Left Behind, an education bill with goals that were not possible to meet, but with the “merit” of coming due after a second Bush term.
  • The Iraq war.  Here, one has to include all it accomplishes toward deficit reduction, and improving the view of America abroad.
  • “Refocusing” efforts from Afganistan toward Iraq, and letting bin Laden out of Tora Bora.  A Democrat who pulled the later trick would have been viewed about like, oh, Jimmy Carter after that disaster in the desert in Iran.  As in, a one-term presidency.
  • The assault on the idea of judicial due process- that a court decision was an important check on unbridled executive power.

Note here that I’m not adding to that list being asleep at the switch through the housing bubble, because it seems every part of the government (Democrats included) was to be faulted there.  But, in any event, this is where I se the scoring at this point.  What, exactly, makes Obama the “worst ever”?  Killing bin Laden?  Obamacare, about which we won’t know for some time whether it’s a mistake?  Not undoing the civil liberties breaches of the Bush era?


85 comments to Worst president?

  • Anderson

    The unions know an employer can’t pay them the high wages they have somehow negotiated in the past and they don’t care.

    Cry me a river. It’s not like management at GM was an unsophisticated negotiator.

    What happened is that GM made a deal with the union, receiving good and valuable consideration therefor, and then didn’t fund the pensions. GM knew damn well what was going to happen: bankruptcy or a bailout. Moral hazard at work.

  • Lee


    Greenwald on Obama’s Active Role the Jailing of an Innocent Journalist in Yemen.

    Article deals with many of the subjects touched on in this thread, including predator drones, which I think might be Obama’s legacy: the drone president.

  • DeltaLawMama

    Look it wasn’t NAFTA, and it’s not any particular Presidents policies. It is the effect of accounting, economic, and technological advancement. We have an economic flat earth where we compete globally for jobs. Steve Jobs told President Obama that the exported jobs are not coming back. Those jobs that went to Mexico all those years ago? Those jobs are now in China, Taiwan and all the little tigers. Guess what? Those jobs are about to move to India and relatively stable African nations still not yet first world nations. We ought to look to Germany for our best future: whatever you make is the BEST quality (unlike Daimler/Chrysler); and you are first to innovate a workable paradigm (cost effective solar energy.) We’ve just been sitting on our arses wondering where our economic power went while letting idiot Fortune 500 captains of industry milk us for the Cash Cows we WERE. Darwin was right, about everything. Adapt or die.

  • Phil Woods

    “Darwin was right, about everything. Adapt or die.”

    That was pretty much the Nazi model.

  • Phil Woods

    Darwin also married his cousin. But we are from Mississippi. Ye without sin…

  • Anderson, you are right, to a point. Both the unions and the carmakers apparently knew in the 80s and 90s that they were making deals that couldn’t be kept. But they just kicked the can down the road.

    But the unions got away with it. They were allowed to just steal the assets of the secured bondholders in order to maintain their ultra-lavish pensions, instead of them being paid the regular pensions that would have occurred if they had gone into the pension guarantee program.

    Oddly enough, GM was and is a victim of its own success. Ford, by having a smaller market share and a larger world market, has been more able to weather the storm. And I think the Ford share is increasing, so they don’t have the same math problem that GM had.

  • Anderson

    That was pretty much the Nazi model.


  • DeltaLawMama

    Phil, what is your background again?

  • Your Lies Have Lies

    Maybe those bondholders should have read the fine print in the investment prospectus: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

  • DeltaLawMama

    S/Cutting the budget at NASA . . . excellent way to innovate successfully on world stage./s

  • DeltaLawMama

    In This Thread, I invoke Godwin’s Law, and shenanigans, due to the ill-conceived and ill-considered comment at 10:46 AM.

  • YLHL,

    Problem is there was plenty of money available for the secured bondholders. The bankruptcy court, with pressure from the Obama administration, just stole their money and gave it to the unions.

    In addition, there is a real problem with forum shopping in bankruptcy. There is absolutely no reason that a Manhattan court should have been deciding a Michigan bankruptcy case.

  • P.B. Pike

    I second the invocation of Godwin’s Law and add that the author of the comment is grossly, sadly ill-informed.

  • Phil Woods


    Background – born in Mississippi. Lived in several states. Studied abroad. Been to jail.

    And as far as shenanigans, yes, it was a bit of stretch, but I think a logical end to your statement in political terms. The Civil War was a case of adapt or die, and many did not want to change and chose to fight and die.


    Tell that to the people of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France…

    p.s. love the fractal state of this thread.

  • Floyd Pink

    I love the fractal state of Mississippi.

  • P.B. Pike


    You’re not suggesting that Darwin’s theory of natural selection had something to do with the rise of the Third Reich, WWII and the Holocaust — are you?

  • justthefacts

    Considering the fact that we are dealing with polititical opinions here I’d like to point out that the comment “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” is all too fitting for today’s politicians.

  • There is an interesting book called Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett. I confess to not having finished it but think I may pick it up again. I think Dennett describes Darwin’s theory as the “universal solvent” capable of dissolving everything that underpins our society.

    I think I’ll pick it up again and start over on a page one. Not light reading, but interesting.

  • Anderson

    Dennett is an avowed atheist, so he has his own spin on Darwin he’d like to sell. Also, he’s a philosopher, not a biologist.

    That said, it’s not a bad book … but based on my unprofessional survey of library and bookstore shelves, there really isn’t a good, accessible survey of evolution that really gets into the nuts & bolts. Mayr’s What Evolution Is comes closest maybe of those I’ve seen, but (1) assumes a biology major’s familiarity with lots of terminology and (2) spends too much time kicking creationism.

    I understand the need for that latter type, but there are already enough polemical books arguing evolution. There’s not much out there for the person who, as with quantum physics or general relativity, doesn’t question the science, just wants to understand it.

  • NMC

    Mayr’s Growth of Biological Thought is very fine, although a huge book (it is essentially an intellectual history of the discipline). I’m shocked to see I read it 30 years ago.

  • Ben

    I am having the sad experience this week of visiting in an east coast hospice with one of the dearest, greatest, and most valiant men I have ever known. He’s suffering from cancer and dementia. My “discussions” with him have been just about as informative and reasoned as this thread.

    Godwin’s Law has been invoked. I suggest we terminate this thread with that.

    As for my friend … I shall struggle on this week, knowing that this likely will be the last time he will recognize and remember me, however fitfully and briefly, and the last time I shall see him alive. I am not handling it well. Not at all.

  • Sorry to hear about your friend, Ben.

  • Ben, my condolences. May the good memories as you describe as your grief.

  • Ben, my condolences. May the good memories as you describe aid your grief.

  • Floyd Pink

    I frequently pull out my trusty old Gray’s Anatomy, particulary when I am in the mood for some light reading. It is just about ready for the recycle bin though as I have read it so often that the pages are as thin as tissue. I think I will walk over to Square Books, where I am a regular, and see if I can order another.

  • RazorRedux

    PinkFloyd: I actually prefer Guyton for my “light reading”. Think of it as, “what is seen vs what is observed”. Almost, kinda, sorta like my preference for leadership traits. In a real attempt to follow this thread’s topic I’ve tried to follow your pattern(s) and it invariably comes down to you just appear to prefer to drop bait to see if anyone responds. I’d suggest that you actually widen your perspective and make an attempt to embrace the possibility that you could be wrong and are actually searching for some semblance of what is truth.

    I’d also suggest attempting to reframe the question(s) in your mind as one of, “Do I want to maintain the status quo or go out on a limb and actually find some, any, improvement in the status quo.” You should try it sometimes. Think of it as, “Hope and Change vs Maintaining the Status Quo”.

    What an amazing difference that one observes with age. I wasn’t “for” President Obama when he was elected, but now I am definitely in the “not against” him category. He is far from “the worst” on a lotta levels. I won’t waste your time (or mine) trying to convince you otherwise, since you apparently have your mind made up and only a fool argues in those instances. However, also included in my gestalt, there exists the possibility that you are just flaming the blog…or creating straw men for amusment purposes only. (Just an observation.) I’m undecided at this point. However, if that is the case, go fuck yourself. Some of us aint’ biting the bs bait. Fair enough?

    P.S. Kudos to Ben for being a true friend.

  • Floyd Pink

    Thanks, Razor, for the advice. If I catch myself creating strawmen for amusement purposes I will certainly attempt to fuck myself. In the meantime, please keep me apprised on any further developments in my pattern(s).

    I come on here for he same reason that I watch MSNBC; I like to see what the liberal minority is up to. I think that in this closed world most of you don’t realize, or maybe forget, that you are a fairly small minority, albeit a vocal one. Occasionally I comment, prognosticate, or gloat etc. Often I use sarcasm. Because of my conservative viewpoint, it doesn’t really matter what style I comment with because I will always be attacked and frequently in a personal manner. That’s ok with me.

    “Obama 2012: Not Against Him”

  • DeltaLawMama

    Ben you, and your friend and his family, have our deepest condolences and prayers. Dementia is a truly awful thing,

  • Ben

    I fly home today from my week visiting “the world’s greatest fighter pilot,” now in hospice. Several of you expressed kind thoughts to me as I grapple with the loss of this dear friend and airman. Thank you. With all the sincerity I can express on this page. Thank you. We were warriors once … and young. And you can thank us that we’re not all posting today in Vietnamese.

  • Floyd Pink

    Congratulations to President Obama on the two year anniversary of the passage of the signature piece of legislation produced by his administration – The Healthcare Affordability Act or Obamacare, as it is and will be known historically. He skillfully used his superior intellect and brilliant oratorical skills to marshall the Democratic Majority that was held in both the Senate and the House to get this thing done. Congratulations, Mr. President!

    I also want to mention that Representative Paul Ryan is presenting yet another House Budget Plan right now, as I write. President Obama will doubtless use his leadership, superior intellect and brilliant oratorical skills to demagouge this plan. I want to congratulate the President in advance for the masterful way he will drive a stake into the heart of his legacy.

  • Your Lies Have Lies

    Wow! Two years and we are still here. And I thought it was the end of the world as we know it.

  • Floyd Pink

    Obama/Biden 2012 – Because Romney will Kill your Wife and put Y’all (You know who you are) Back in Chains.

  • NotZachScruggs

    Ben — This, from Sheila Bosworth’s novel, Almost Innocent,
    has been a big help to me in situations like yours with your friend:

    “Expecting it and ready for it are two different things. You are never ready to give up someone you love. The best you can do is expect the suddenness of the goodbye. The sad old suddenness of the goodbye is one thing you can count on.”

    When my parents died, and when a good many of my friends have died, it’s been these words that sustained me. Also, for another non-sentimental piece that is oddly comforting, try
    Lewis Thomas’s essay, “Death in the Open,” from his Pulitzer Prize winning collection of essays, The Lives of a Cell. In a short span it takes you through how animals of every kind die, then brings it home to us humans, and
    concludes: “We all go down together, in the best of company.” This one, too, has sustained me when confronted with what you’re going through.

  • Floyd Pink

    “Obama/Biden 2012 – Proven Leadership”

  • Floyd Pink

    Every once and awhile, I like to pull up this old thread and take a stroll down memory lane. I was the one who claimed Obama is the “worst president in our history,” inspiring this post. Of course, I was not writing a thesis and don’t really know enough about all the presidents and their collective successes and failures to make such a definitive pronouncement, but I do know he has been horrific.

    I reassert: He has been a terrible president and he will lose in a landslide. It’s about to get really bad.

    57-43. Romney.

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