Rating the Presidents
Richard Nixon is a widely hated figure in American politics; but I think that the bulk of the hatred that came his way was a result of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Late 1960s and early 1970s were a very liberal time in America; and anyone who was not a liberal was seen as either out of step with the movement or (in case of Nixon) as an obstacle to it. Clinton had a similar problem. He was in the office at a time that a lot of America went hard-right; and not being a right-winger he was hated by the right-wingers, for the same reason as Nixon was hated by the American Left. Clinton presently enjoys a broad popularity as the president who gave America its greatest ever period of peace and prosperity and the only fiscal sanity in generations. Whereas with Nixon, the stigma remains.
What I have to say about this matter is this. Nixon was not all bad. He opened the door to China, he replaced a conscript military with a professional military, and he supported a number of Great Society reforms. Nixon, like Clinton, was this: A pragmatic moderate. And while their personalities could not have been more different from one another’s, both Nixon and Clinton preserved America on a moderate and constitutional course at the time that the public sentiment was going far in one or another direction.
Reagan was anything but a moderate. Reagan was an extremist, and many of the same people who see Nixon as nothing but a crook idolize Reagan and even see him as the greatest president in the history of the United States. An analysis of his policies presents a more mixed verdict. His aggressive inattention to the environment, his gutting of the educational system, and the vast deficits that he started, have all had disastrous effects on America. He is credited for having won the Cold War; but the credit does not belong to him alone. Yes, his escalation of the arms race scared many people in the Kremlin, and the voice of America broadcasts reached many people in the Soviet Union. But the real credit for ending the Cold War belongs with the Russians themselves. A noble-minded leader came into power to make the country more humane and more democratic, and in 1991 the military refused to follow the hardliners’ orders to shoot at the people gathered in the Red Square. These are noble, righteous decisions, and ones for which Russia and Russian people deserve respect, not being treated like a toilet of the world.
Not much is said about Gerald Ford and George Bush Sr. These were colorless and mediocre presidents. One was seen as lacking in intellect and the other was seen as lacking in inspiration. Neither of them was disastrous, but neither of them was anything close to great.
Carter has enjoyed an upsurge in popularity and especially has appeal to people who weren’t around at the time of his presidency. Here is someone who made a much better ex-president than he made president. He failed as a national leader, but he has succeeded as an unaffiliated statesman. Like Michael Dukakis made a better professor than he made governor or presidential candidate, so Carter did better as a retiree than as an employee.
It is of course Bush Jr. that has been the worst president in recent history. Not only was he unelected and got into office through fraud and corruption, but he also put America on an economically and politically disastrous course. He also passed laws that were exceptionally unconstitutional, ran expensive and needless wars, and busted the budget at the time that there was absolutely no need for budget-busting and the country needed to save for the boomers’ retirement. And yet the same people who accepted this illegitimate and disastrous presidency are accusing Obama of being illegitimate or of being totalitarian. The response to these people is: Look in the mirror.
With Obama, his greatest accomplishment has been to get elected and re-elected as someone who not only is black but was also raised by a single mother. He inherited a nation in a huge crisis, and his policies prevented the crisis from becoming worse. Much will depend upon what he decides to do in the next four years before it can be determined where he ranks on the president scale. This is an ongoing presidency and one that cannot be rated until it is finished.