Friday, December 30, 2005

Presidents (3)

These are the decent, but not quite great Presidents.

20. Grover Cleveland - I might have a slight bias against him because he is the namesake of a public high school in my neighborhood that I avoided having to go to because I actually studied during grammar school. Arguably one of the first "modern" presidents, he did make extensive use of the veto pen - issuing three times as many vetoes as all of the Presidents that came before him combined.

19. Zachary Taylor - An interesting case of what might have been. A southern Whig, he was actually more more tough on the South than the Yankee Presidents that immediately followed him. His fairmindedness might have averted the Civil War - though probably not likely - had he not died midway through his first term.

18. William Howard Taft - Definitely a better ex-President and the last great Chief Justice before Rehnquist, his presidency was hurt by the pettiness of his predecessor and mentor, Theodore Roosevelt. It wasn't so much that Taft was inadequate to the job, he just didn't have that charming demogogic zeal so cherished both by TR and the man who would follow in his footsteps, Woodrow Wilson. He lost control of his party, but certainly not the country. Had TR just let him be, he might have been a much more effective president.

17. Gerald Ford - Actually a fairly underrated President, he restored some dignity to the office. He refused to be cowed by an incredibly hostile Congress, stood his ground, and amazingly almost pulled off one of the great political comebacks of all-time. His short term was mainly blighted by his questionable decision to pardon Nixon, a move that probably cost him his second term.

16. John F. Kennedy - Terribly overrated due to his martyr-like status, but then often underrated because of said overrated-ness. He made a disastrous decision to invade the Bay of Pigs, but largely learned his lesson. He helped create the Cuban Missle Crisis fiasco by ignoring critical intelligence, but masterfully steered his way through it. Helped flame the fans of war in Vietnam, though who knows what would have happened there had he stayed alive. The last great Democrat, he cut taxes and appreciated the limits of government.

15. William McKinnley - Helped bring the country into the modern age and also started the process whereby America became a major player on the world stage. Another could have been story, like most of the people in this section of the list.

14. James Madison - It is a pity that America's greatest political philosopher was such a mediocre president. It is almost as though he backed us into a needless war without really meaning to. Most of the blame probably lies with his predecessor and good friend TJ. Yet another common theme of the presidents in this section.

13. Calvin Coolidge - Yeah, I know you're probably wondering, what the hell? Silent Cal was one of the last men to occupy the office - perhaps the very last one - who understood the limits of said office. Perhaps he appreciated those limits too much.

12. John Adams - Another case of a great political theorist being not an altogether great President, though he did manage to keep us out of a shooting war. with France. He let his party get out of control, and his timidity was what cost him the election and his own party its own existence. He made the greatest appointment in the history of the Supreme Court, so I guess sheer luck and good personal judgement puts Adams close to the top ten.

11. James Polk - He came, he did some things, and he left after one term. Really. He's basically a near-great President because he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish - including winning a war that helped the country acquire a ton of land - and he didn't stay on for a second lame duck term. Of course those same acquisitions would help ignite a Civil War, but his heart was in the right place.


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