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?


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