On this night of the White House Correspondents Dinner here is my list of the top 5 best and worst US Presidents.
I would say Franklin Pierce, G.W. Bush and then Buchanan are the three worst in that order. The first was a horrible racist; Pierce implemented and supported the Fugitive Slave Act, the most odious and evil law in American history and he had sympathies with the racist Southern states and their preservation of slavery. G.W. Bush is an obvious pick for one of the worst because he destroyed the economy, allowed almost 10,000 Americans to die under his watch in wars and terror attacks, instituted torture and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans. Buchanan was totally ineffectual in dealing with the South and secession and was corrupt to boot. The top five is rounded out by Woodrow Wilson for his lies about entering WWI and his support for prohibition along with his part in starting the Red Scare persecutions and the imprisonment of political protesters, socialists and anarchists. The fifth is a tie: Richard Nixon for nearly destroying the office of the Presidency and somehow managing to make the Vietnam War even worse than it already was by sending more troops and invading and bombing Laos and Cambodia. The other is Ronald Reagan for his attempt at dismantling the middle class and the public sector labor unions, his dangerous and foolish brinkmanship with a Democratizing and reform minded USSR, and for his illegal and treasonous part in the Iran-Contra affair.
The five BEST presidents on the other hand are Franklin D. Roosevelt for the creation of Social Security, his handling of the Great Depression, his friendliness to labor and to working people, his handling of World War II (with a few exceptions including internment and fire-bombing campaigns in Japan and Germany) and his pragmatism in dealing with the USSR and the defeated Axis Powers after the war. Lincoln is a very close second with his brave and unyielding prosecution of the Civil War against the Confederacy, his (albeit realpolitik driven) signing of the the Emancipation Proclamation, the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and his general genius with language and communication. I don’t count him as number one because of his attacks on civil rights during the war and his less than stolid support for full equality for African-Americans early on in his presidency. Number three is difficult…I am going to cheat a little and make number three a tie between Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson’s domestic Presidencies; Roosevelt for his trust busting and attack against the robber barons and the laws that allowed them to run rampant over workers rights and for his creation of the National Park System. LBJ gets his place for his War on Poverty which finally brought the idea of social justice into the mainstream of American politics and policy, and for his creation of the Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act, and for the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. If their foreign policy adventures are counted both Teddy and LBJ suffer a bit but that is why I said I am cheating a bit! Number four would have to be George Washington for his level headed handling of the early days of the Republic and its political institutions. Number five is a controversial one but I will stand by it: James E. Carter. Carter was a truly moral and ethical man who attempted to make the idea of social justice and social responsibility essential to the American political psyche, for his remarkable Malaise Speech, his facilitation of peace talks between Egypt and Israel (which I believed may have prevented a third world war in the middle east) and finally for the fact that his presidency was the most peaceful since the early 19th century.