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Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst

by | Mar 4, 2024

Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst

by | Mar 4, 2024

depositphotos 5021836 s

The past few weeks have seen a predictable reaction to the release of (yet another) survey of “experts” regarding the proper ranking of United States presidents. Apart from the inherent problems any such attempted ranking poses, problems my colleague Hunter DeRensis aptly outlined in a previous article, is the utter awfulness these surveys regularly churn out: FDR (#2), Truman (#6), Obama (#7) and Joe Biden (#14)…

Seriously?

Boasting that their respondents included “current and recent members of the Presidents & Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association” as well as “scholars who had recently published peer-reviewed academic research in key related scholarly journals or academic presses,” the survey is yet the latest indictment (as though another were needed) of the paltry state of academia.

And so, as a member of that rightly maligned lot, please allow me to present the “Best of the Best and Worst of the Worst” from the perspective of non-statist historian.

Now, from a libertarian standpoint it is admittedly difficult to find merit in the doings of any occupant of the American executive, but here they are, the best of the best.

william henry harrison

The leading candidate of any libertarian’s list of greatest presidents in U.S. history, William Henry Harrison, died a mere month into his presidency. Whatever he planned to do or might have gone on to do (he was a Whig after all), he did precisely nothing.

Bravo, William!

warren g harding
Next on the list of honors is the wrongly maligned Warren G. Harding. Busy noting his affairs and scandals—as though no other American president had any of those—the “experts” fail to appreciate both his brilliant handling of the Depression of 1920 (doing nothing) and the fact that he, too, died before finishing even a single term in office!

(Given widespread laments about the current geriatric ruling class refusing to either retire or die, one would think the academy would have more appreciation for both Harding and Harrisons’ consideration on that front—but I digress.)

grover cleveland
Last but not least, the great Grover Cleveland! The only president elected to two non-consecutive terms (at least, potentially, until 2024), Cleveland was a staunch fiscal conservative, supported the gold-standard, and vetoed an incredible 414 bills on the grounds they were either unnecessary or unconstitutional (quite unlike the only Oval Office occupant to veto more bills than Cleveland, FDR, who apart from serving two more terms than Cleveland generally vetoed bills for contradicting his own dictatorial designs).

Great work, Grover!

The gold, silver, and bronze medals of the libertarian presidential Olympics done, let us now move on to a list that was both easier to construct—most U.S. presidents being abysmal defenders of the Constitution and unrepentant statists—and more difficult, most of them being so roundly terrible it was difficult to choose just three, but here they are, the worst of the worst.

woodrow wilson

What is there to say about Woodrow Wilson that isn’t perfectly scathing? While he has fallen in surveys of the “Great Presidents” in recent years, it is only due to the fact he was a raging racist, the most ardent segregationist since before the Civil War, and not that he was also a Constitution-despising schemer who eagerly plotted the destruction of American freedom (the Creel Committee, draft, Sedition Act, Palmer Raids, income tax, Federal Reserve, et cetera) in the name of foolish international crusading: determining the arc of twentieth century history, helping give the world Bolshevism, Nazism, and a host of other ills.

Terrible job, Woody—you are in no way missed.    

fdr
Forget that basically all the programs he went on to implement had already been tried in their essentials by his predecessor Herbert Hoover, whom statist histories wrongly describe as having essentially “done nothing” in the face of the onset of the Depression; set aside, too, that the New Deal policies did not pull the United States out of the Depression, but in fact contributed to its deepening and prolongation, to say nothing of its radical transformation of the relationship between the government and private economic life; Franklin Delano Roosevelt pointedly sought and got the United States into a war with Imperial Japan, one that cost over one hundred thousand American lives in the name of fighting an Empire already mired in an unwinnable war in China.

It’s close, his cousin Teddy being terrible as well, but FDR is arguably the most wrongly lionized figure in American history.

gwb

Last, and really maybe least, is a figure no one will ever make the mistake of lionizing (apart, perhaps, from the delusional Never Trumper Republicans who pine for a return of the neocons—as though they ever went anywhere). For setting aside the Bushisms and his attempted reinvention as a harmless, grandfatherly Bob Ross wannabe, this was the man sitting in the chair when the American empire was essentially being put into self-destruct mode. He expanded government, created a vast domestic and international spying apparatus, set up black site torture facilities, ran up huge deficits, failed to prevent 9/11, lied us into multiple wars, and lost them all to boot—his administration was also behind early efforts at bailing out foolish American banks and corporations as the Barack Obama administration was stepping in.

Yes, anyone who can make Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush look like geniuses of statecraft and political economy by comparison is deserving of nothing but the heaps of opprobrium George W. Bush rightly labors under.

And there it is, not without misgivings, the bottom three: the toilet bowl of U.S. Presidents.

Everyone has their favorites and bete noires, and no list could ever be comprehensive or defended against criticism (see Hunter’s piece in TAC), but from the libertarian standpoint it seems difficult to argue the above—though, of course, far from impossible.

After all, Coolidge had his merits; and as a graduate of both the universities of Illinois and Missouri, I am aware that the cults of Lincoln and Truman both remain strong, despite both having only narrowly missed out on the list of worst of the worst—so, too, Eisenhower, who more than anyone else turned the Cold War into a nuclear arms race, while at the same time doing nothing to prevent the growth and entrenchment of the military-industrial-complex and shadow government of secret services he belatedly warned about (this while also effectively crushing midwestern “isolationist” Republicans in favor of the Eastern Establishment Rockefeller wing of the GOP).

In fact, at the end of the day the real worst of the worst is arguably the American Political Science Association, whose unrepentant statist bootlicking makes every libertarian’s stomach turn.

Joseph Solis-Mullen

Joseph Solis-Mullen

Author of The Fake China Threat and Its Very Real Danger, Joseph Solis-Mullen is a political scientist and economist at the Libertarian Institute. A graduate of Spring Arbor University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Missouri, his work can be found at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, Libertarian Institute, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Journal of the American Revolution, and Antiwar.com. You can contact him via joseph@libertarianinstitute.org or find him on Twitter @solis_mullen.

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