We keep hearing people exclaim that our current President George W. Bush, Jr. is the worst president ever. We’ll let you decide, but here is some information to consider.
The early presidents get a pass, despite the fact they were Indian Fighters, denied women and the poor the right to vote, owned slaves and were basically the first illegal immigrants. Native Americans watched hordes of white people unethically occupy their land, despite treaties and agreements.
Later presidents need to be scrutinized.
President Andrew Jackson was one of the most renowned Indian Fighters living in an age where “the only good Indian was a dead Indian” thinking prevailed. Ethnic cleansing did not begin with Bosnia; it had a manifestation on the American continent as Native Americans were systematically decimated. Under Jackson. “The killing, enslavement, and land theft had begun with the arrival of the Europeans. But it may have reached its nadir when it became federal policy under President (Andrew) Jackson.” Don’t Know Much About History, Kenneth C. Davis.
More than any other President, James K. Polk exercised “Manifest Destiny,” a phrase coined by a magazine to express the conviction that the United States was entitled to rule as much of the continent as it could acquire. He successfully waged war against Mexico, sending troops after President Santa Ana into their capital in Mexico City. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is still being tried in court to protect Mexican land grants and property rights. Much of the resentment and fear you hear from Mexicans today are rooted in the Polk administration. Four thousand immigrants (nearly twice the amount of U.S. soldiers that have died in Iraq) perished in recent years trying to get into what was once their own country.
Say what you want about President Abraham Lincoln, but there is no denying the fact that more Americans died in the Civil War than in any other U.S. war. Nearly 800,000 soldiers were killed to keep the Union together. Ask the South if it was worth it. When Sherman marched to the sea and practiced his torched earth policy, it created resentment that continues today. Only 10 percent of Southerners owned slaves, so the real reason for the war was Northern dominance over the South. It was certainly a good thing that African-Americans were given their freedom, yet it still took civil rights another 100 years to arrive in the South. The U.S. is divided along the North-South axis for good reason, as opinions are clearly diverse. Perhaps it would have been okay to give the South their own space so many of us wouldn’t have to live under “Red State” rule. You can thank President Lincoln for this state of affairs.
President William McKinley continued U.S. expansionism and colonialism when he prosecuted the Spanish-American War. In that war, the United States received the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico from Spain. Cuba became free but was not a United States territory. This war was fought under false pretenses and was basically another land grab. The pacification of the Philippines was particularly brutal and lasted nearly a decade. It would have been great to have made Cuba a U.S. State at that time. McKinley couldn’t even get conquering right. Make the Philippines a territory and not Cuba? There is an argument to be made that the exiled Cubans in Florida that stormed the voting registrar and stopped the vote recount in 2000 were instrumental in giving us George W. Bush, Jr. You can thank McKinley for blowing that one.
President Woodrow Wilson brought us into the World War I, a real chamber of horrors. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers died in Europe and for what exactly? For all his efforts, Wilson could not even get a League of Nations started and the terms of the treaty of Versailles were so onerous that it laid the groundwork for World War II.
President Herbert Hoover stood by haplessly as the United States went into the most serious economic decline of its history. The Great Depression happened on his watch and lasted until World War II pulled us out of it. Okay so he didn’t have an Alan Greenspan, but a think tank was named after him, so you would have thought he could have brought some insight to the problem. If he is their hero, I am not so sure about the folks at the Hoover Institution.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is most people’s favorite 20th century president. He made people feel better as they lived through the Great Depression, but the economy did not truly recover until the World War II. He did the right thing in fighting Germany and Japan, but did he really have to intern 125,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese ethnicity? My biggest beef with FDR is his failure to bomb the rail lines going into the death camps run by Germany. It could have easily stopped the slaughter, late in the war, of 400,000 Hungarian Jews. Plus, he refused Jewish émigrés right at the dock of U.S. ports and sent them back to certain death. Had the U.S. been more liberal in its immigration policies during this period, the human toll from death camps would have been far less.
FDR would have been tried for war crimes had an international tribunal prosecuted him for the fire bombings of civilian population centers in both Japan and Germany. Hundreds of thousands of non-combatant women and children died in Tokyo, Hamburg and Dresden, where Napalm was first introduced. Perhaps his worst legacy was giving all of Eastern Europe to “Uncle Joe” Stalin of Soviet Russia to rule. This ensured a Cold War that lasted another 40 years and put a great cost on the U.S., including this author’s fear of nuclear annihilation. Thanks a lot, Franklin.
Then there is President Lyndon B. Johnson, or “Landslide Lyndon” as he was nicknamed for a race he won in Texas by questionable means and very slim margin. His greatest legacy was getting us deep into war in Vietnam. Compare this fiasco to Iraq and you will see that the sheer numbers of dead Vietnamese and U.S. soldiers dwarf our current conflict. I knew people that died in that war, and it still pains me to discuss it. Suffice to say, though President Kennedy first got us in, Johnson planted us there for nearly a decade.
President Richard M. Nixon was depicted as a rather onerous character when I was young, however he did create the Environmental Protection Agency, and signed into law some very significant legislation regarding clean air and water. That was good, but did he really have to carpet-bomb North Vietnam at Christmas (perhaps that was Henry Kissinger’s idea?). Sure it got them back to the table, but in the end the Vietnamese had nowhere to go and we were sure to go, so why the extra death and devastation? Tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women died during his presidency while he kept on fighting this war.
Okay I did like some of our presidents. Thomas Jefferson stands out (although he was a slaveholder) as he preached for an agrarian society and peace with the Native Americans (while he was confiscating their land and imposing U.S. rule). I just like him, okay?
In all seriousness, my favorite President was Teddy Roosevelt. His life out west as a cowboy encouraged me to do the same, and his presidency saw the first major conservation efforts in the country including the establishment of some of our finest National Parks. In the Age of the Moguls, Teddy (I have read so much about him I feel I can call him by his first name) broke up the big trusts that were strangling American innovation and crippling free enterprise. Perhaps his greatest contribution was, after he left office, helping to establish child labor laws, 40-hour workweeks, pensions, workers comp and unemployment insurance. All this from a Republican!
I am not impressed with George W. Bush, Jr., however, I am not sure he is the worst President ever.