Friday, May 6, 2011

A Top 5 List of Worst Presidents

Coming from a libertarian, I may sound a little biased on my assessment, but nevertheless these lists are always entertaining. Keep in mind that my goal was to find those presidents who contributed most in our progression from classical liberalism to our modern progressive state. Yes, I expect you to find this list to be very controversial, but what good is a blog if not for unadulterated opinions?

So now, without further ado, here are your 5 worst presidents of the United States of America:

5. Lyndon Baines Johnson
When it comes to being a typical progressive of the 1960s, very few fit the mold better than LBJ. He will probably be most remembered for his Great Society programs, which were intended to end poverty in the United States and bring wealth to all. In reality, all it did was expand the nanny state, bring huge debts to future generations, create dependence on welfare, and contribute to the breakup of the family (since parental support could now come from the government instead of parents).

Not only that, but Johnson was famous for his ramping up of the Vietnam War. It was a war that we had nothing to gain from, killed many innocent civilians, and forced many young men into a war they disagreed with. Even if you do support the Vietnam War, you should at least be a little uneasy about a draft.

4. Dwight D. Eisenhower
How exactly do I reason putting a Republican on this list? Before he even got into office, Eisenhower was a part of one of the grandest but most unknown usurpations in American history. The Republicans at the time were controlled by the Old Right - what used to be the makeup of the Democratic Party before FDR and the progressives took it over. The Old Right was comprised of classical liberals, and intended Robert Taft to be the nominee to take the presidency in 1952. Eisenhower and the New Right were much more aggressionist in terms of their foreign policy and saw a greater role for government in the economy. With the "Fair Play" proposal that basically removed pro-Taft delegates from voting blocs, Eisenhower took the nomination and eventually the Oval Office. Read more about "Fair Play" here.

Once he was into office, the real problems started to surface. Not only did he keep us in the Korean War, he also started to get this country involved in Vietnam. Furthermore, he began the foreign relations policy of containment. That is, the US would step in to stop Communism from spreading across the globe. Not only was it unnecessary because Communism is a political philosophy that is necessarily doomed to failure (as evidenced by the fall of the Soviet Union). This doctrine would lead to the death of many young men in unnecessary wars over the years.

Finally, Eisenhower's crowning achievement, the Interstate Highway System, would lead to the current transportation nightmares we have today. The system basically marked the death of private transportation companies and would mean the public transit, roads, and rail that we have today. This system is far less efficient and costs much more than our old private systems did. Most people love our roads, but they might just love them more if they had been built by private developers.

3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
How much really needs to be said about FDR? Does the obvious really need to be stated? His New Deal was by far the worst economic policy ever bestowed upon this nation. Roosevelt, in order to win the presidency, campaigned on doing the opposite of what his predecessor Herbert Hoover had done. Hoover invested in public works programs, provided some public relief, tried to limit work hours, had set wage restrictions, etc.

When FDR came in, he did exactly those things but on a much grander scale. His make work programs kept our labor from being unproductive. He sapped away capital that could have been used for private companies and instead used it for wasteful government projects. He instituted farm subsidies which meant less food and higher costs in a nation filled with starving people. And his programs never got us out of the Depression! Not until the end of World War II, when he was out of office and his stupid programs were disbanded did this country finally experience a recovery.

Speaking of World War II, Roosevelt dragged us into that war. Now, I am not going to apologize for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a shameful attack and many people were killed because of it. However, Roosevelt had established that he had taken a side in the war long before that December day. The Lend-Lease program lent war supplies to the Allies for zero interest, without extending that same benefit to the Axis Powers. Is it any surprise, then, that the Axis would view the United States as less than a neutral country?

A world without imperial Japan and Nazi Germany ruling the world is a better one, but it would have been impossible for such a scenario. Nazi Germany would have been crushed by the weight of its own economic policies and imperial Japan would have fallen when Germany fell. I do not want to minimize the contribution of our brave soldiers during that war, but I also want to recognize the role that Roosevelt played in getting us involved in that war.

2. Woodrow Wilson
If there was ever any doubt about the future direction of the United States at the turn of the century, Woodrow Wilson shut the book on the issue. As per his Wikipedia article, "In his first term, Wilson persuaded a Democratic Congress to pass major progressive reforms including the Federal Reserve ActFederal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and an income tax

The Federal Reserve Act is what instituted this nation's third and current central bank. In its existence, it has overseen the devaluation of its currency such that it has lost over 95% of the value it had at the beginning of last century. It was the primary culprit in the Great Depression, stagflation, and our current recession, and Woodrow Wilson was its biggest proponent.

The Federal Trade Commission Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act further established the future role of government as overseers and regulators. Instead of allowing private businesses to set the rules, the government would set the rules and interfere with the private decisions between individuals and companies. The Clayton Antitrust Act, specifically, would be used to bring forth spurious lawsuits against businesses that had lost political favor. Antitrust laws have nothing to do with ensuring competition; if it did then where is the example of a trust that actually made things worse for consumers? I am still waiting for anybody to name one (that is, without government sponsorship).

The income tax, more than anything else, is responsible for the size of today's federal budget. Before the income tax, the federal government relied on excise taxes and tariffs to fund their programs. With the income tax, the federal government now had enough money to bully states into supporting their programs and could completely usurp the bounds of federalism. It transformed this country from a collection of states allied together for protection to a central government controlling the population from the top. 

Finally, there is World War I. While history is solidly convinced that the US was completely neutral before Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare, this truth is not as cut and dry. Britain had a blockade of Germany that prevented the US from trading with the country. Wilson said nothing about the affair. When Germany, as a result, tried to take countermeasures to break up the blockade, Wilson then became vocal. A bias was clear. Even worse than this, Wilson instituted a draft to enter into the war. The war would cost many American lives, but bring the US very little benefit (through trade the US did benefit, but not via direct military involvement). The US could have profited greatly from the war, but by getting involved in the fighting, any benefit was lost, especially since a draft was used.

1. Abraham Lincoln
How in the world can Abraham Lincoln be on this list? He freed the slaves. He was the first Republican president. He preserved the union. This simple analysis ignores the world of change he introduced to the country. The history classes ignore the real man. Instead, the historical analysis is more like hagiography than a real account of his terms as president.

The first and perhaps most important point to make is that Lincoln was an aggressor in the war. He attacked a sovereign nation and invaded their lands. Some make the case that the states cannot secede from the union, but where does it state that in the Constitution? There is nothing that states that when a state joins the union that it is permanently bound to the union. Instead, Lincoln forced those states to stay in the union and asserted the supremacy of the central government. Because of Lincoln the concept of states' rights was on an inevitable descent toward obscurity.

Secondly, Lincoln began the program of state spending on transportation. Before Lincoln the state had largely stayed away from such issues. After Lincoln, the state would become associated with transportation such that today no one can even imagine private companies building roads and railways. But that is what happened before the Civil War. As unbelievable as it may seem to our modern sensibilities, private ownership of roads and rails did not mean the death of our economy.

Finally, and perhaps most significant of all, Lincoln was the first president to ever institute the draft. The draft would be responsible for the conscription of millions of young men over the years, and would result in the death of many of those men who were opposed to the war. There were there because their country essentially forced them to be there. Lincoln started this terrible tradition, and not only that, he instituted it in a horrible fashion. The rich could opt out of the draft by paying someone else to go for them. This left the poor to go to war to make a living. As if a draft was not bad enough, Lincoln used a completely inequitable system to implement it.

Even though he freed the slaves, Lincoln cannot escape the judgment of starting this nation on the path toward Leviathan. More than anyone else, he is responsible for the trend toward our modern progressive government.


  1. Great list!

    The only thing I might quibble with is your choice of Eisenhower at #4. I'd recommend replacing him with George W. Bush - the guy who built the police state (America's 6th regime).

  2. Thanks for the approval. I don't know about including Bush. I was mostly looking for people who changed the paradigm they lived in toward a more progressive state. Sure, Bush did that, but to the extent that these guys did? For sure he does not beat Wilson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, but I don't think he beats Eisenhower or Johnson. They both were great reformers. Was Bush really that? We were already getting involved in peacekeeping missions with Clinton, was invading Iraq so different than that? The big change was the Patriot Act, but I don't think it rivals the Great Society or the Interstate Highway System, Korean War, and "Fair Play" of Eisenhower. My point is that Bush was not a reformer like these guys were. He was just a product of the world these guys on my list created.

  3. I agree with your number 2 through 5 choices but I have to disagree with you on Abraham Lincoln. But you do make some good points about President Lincoln. I would have chosen President Carter instead of Lincoln.

    I found you via John's blog, Sentry Journal.

  4. Sound points for all on the list-
    You have put your toe to the line by drawing it up!
    You wouldn't happen to be a believer in the un-breathable Constituion- would you :-)


  5. It pains me to say this, but I must agree that Lincoln set a very bad precedent that set the stage for Wilson and the progressives.

    He forever established the federal government's primacy over the states.

  6. I would drop Ike from the list and I would put Nixon as No.2. In 1971 he announced that he was a convert to Keynesian economics and began a policy of deficit spending to reduce unemployment. In that same year he took us completely off the gold standard and as they say: The rest is history.

  7. I agree with most of this, but I think Buchanan deserves to be up their, also BO and Nixon are up there. But yes, I'm not a fan of Lincoln worship.

  8. Teresa, Carter was a huge flop, no doubt. But he was essentially no different than Nixon and Ford. So while bad, he was no innovator.

  9. Carol, there are few flaws I find with the Constitution. It is not perfect, but the non-breathing Constitution is way better than our living, breathing Constitution.

  10. Silverfiddle, I figure that many people face the same dilemma. After all, he freed the slaves! But of course, his presidency was nothing to do with slavery, as he allowed the border states to keep their slaves. I just wish that the discussion about him could be unemotional.

  11. Jim, Nixon was definitely bad. But we were essentially off the gold standard when the Fed was re-created. Nixon just finally closed the book on it. And yes, price controls were horrible. But was it really anything that modernizing given what FDR had done before him?

    I know a lot of people like Ike, but I take a good interest in urban transportation. I really hate how Ike killed our old, more free market oriented system.

  12. Trestin, if I was doing a list of the worst presidents in terms of total "badness", Nixon would be up there. But I was looking for innovators and modernizers. I don't find them to be too different from the milieu that they came from.

  13. So many from which to choose. I think Obama deserves 4th place under your criteria (and he ain't even finished with his reign of destruction!). If I was picking 5-tool badness, I'd add Jimmy Carter, but he never innovated and he certainly didn't modernize. Only one nit to pick with your LBJ comment: I saw a number of civilians killed during 16 months in the RVN, but not too damn many of 'em were innocent.

  14. Obama may qualify, but I just see him as a logical progression from past presidents. That and I don't like to do things like this when someone hasn't finished out their term.

    Now about Johnson, I included him on this list more for his Great Society programs than Vietnam, as that was going to happen with or without him. I just included that part to describe his overall "badness."