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Who Were the Best and Worst Presidents of the United States?

Updated on April 4, 2013

The other day I was listening to talk radio and the host stated that he thought Barack Obama was the worst president we’ve ever had. The next caller disagreed with him, and said he thought George W. Bush was the worst ever. Obviously, emotion played a part in both men’s points of view. It’s probable both men had only seen about 9 to 12 presidents in their lives. Unless they were history experts, there is no way they would be qualified to know who was the worst of all time because they hadn’t seen them all. Nonetheless it got me thinking, who was the worst president, and who was the best? I quickly came to the conclusion that it was impossible to come up with choices everyone would agree with.

For one thing, comparing presidents from different eras is like comparing apples to oranges. Some Presidents like Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt were great because they rose to the challenge of trying times. Others, like George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan were great because they made their impression on the times they lived and made America into the country it is today.

Likewise, weak Presidents were a product of their times also. For example, Jimmy Carter was President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. In that short four years the economy was stagnant, gas prices skyrocketed, and the United States was embarrassed by Iran and the hostage crisis. To make matters worse, Carter got a reputation for being wimpy early in his administration, and never got rid of that impression. James K Polk, Millard Fillmore, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan were presidents of the United States between 1845 and 1860. At this time, the North and South were growing further apart. They may have attempted to avoid the ultimate calamity, but none of their efforts were successful. It was left to Abraham Lincoln to deal with the Civil War and keeping this union together. Were they incompetent to be president or were the times overwhelming to them? I believe it may have been a little of both.

How can you compare Jimmy Carter, to the five presidents who preceded Abraham Lincoln before the Civil War? You can’t. The times were remarkably different, and we were much different country in 1977 then we were in 1860.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt | Source
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln | Source
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan | Source
Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter | Source

Another reason why it is so hard to get a consensus on who was the best and who was the worst is that people have differing and often emotional opinions. Franklin D Roosevelt is considered by many to be a great president who led us through hard times. Others object, saying that his socialist programs and policies did not fix the economy and that it took World War II to get us out of the Great Depression. Abraham Lincoln is credited with keeping this country together, but his election in 1860 was an impetus for the secession of the Southern states.

Many conservatives think that Ronald Reagan was the best president in modern times. But there are people who would strongly disagreed with this view. Living in Massachusetts at the time he was president, I got to see this firsthand.. I was in college at the time of his first election and many professors and students were visibly upset at the prospect of him being our leader for the next four years. About 20 years later I was at a Toastmasters meeting I was asked to do a short speech on Reagan . I made the mistake of saying that “everyone loved Reagan” when I should’ve said “many people” loved him . I was verbally accosted by a middle-aged woman who got in my face and scolded me saying she and everyone else she knew “loathed him”.

In my opinion it seems that the best presidents are natural leaders, rather than good politicians who were put in office by a strong political machine, or were elected simply because the last President or his party were perceived to be incompetent or weak by the majority of voters.

With the 24-hour cable news channels and the Internet it seems that the president is constantly being analyzed, second-guessed and criticized. It is much more common now than in previous years, when they were just newspapers and network news,. No matter what your political opinion, you can agree that over the past three Presidencies (Clinton, Bush and Obama) the opposition has been merciless and at times downright mean in its criticisms. In this environment, it would be hard but not impossible for the right person to rise up over the hatred, and criticism and become a great President. I pray that person comes soon. We need him or her.


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