Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Good Presidents

In a response to a comment about my listing of bad presidents, it was asked who I thought the good presidents were. This is a tricky question. Generally I believe in the power of individuals to make things bad rather than good. I believe much more strongly in government bureaucrats than the president. That said there are some presidents that we can admire on one level or another.

George Washington--for not making America a constitutional monarchy and for leaving office after 8 years, thus setting a precedent.
John Adams--not a great president and did sign the Alien and Sedition Acts. But he also set the precedent for a losing party in power to peacefully give up that power.
Thomas Jefferson--Really for everything he did when he was not president. His own two terms were not that great, especially in foreign policy. Much the same can be said for James Madison and John Quincy Adams.
Abraham Lincoln--For fairly obvious reasons I think. Great pragmatist when the country really needed a great one. Could have come out stronger for the rights of ex-slaves toward the end of the war though.
Franklin D. Roosevelt--I love the New Deal and most of what it stood for. Did nothing at all for blacks but in the 1930s and 1940s this is not too surprising. Did a great job of wartime leadership as well.
Lyndon Johnson--With the exception of Vietnam (obviously enormous) one of our very finest presidents. Much better than JFK who people over the age of 40 or so have an absurd fascination with. Great Society had wonderful programs. Johnson really cared about helping people and he pushed through Civil Rights legislation. Our most tragic president.

That's really about it for me. TR and Wilson were bastards in so many ways that I can't say I like them even if I like some of their policies. Truman was OK but he did little to fight McCarthyism. He did push through some early Civil Rights legislation though. Eisenhower deserves some limited credit for not trying to repeal the New Deal legislation. I don't think I can go any farther than this for him or any other president. Most of the rest have either been bad or mediocre.