In priority order, who were the worst presidents in American history? There are many opinions based on one’s political and ideological perspective. As a constitutional conservative, here is my list of the top six from least bad to the worst, with supporting rationale for each. I highly recommend reading the information at the supporting links in this article, as there is much more to learn than this summary piece can convey.
Number Six: Jimmy Carter, POTUS #39 (1977-80). The peanut farmer from Plains, GA, who broke presidential decorum by wearing plaid farmer shirts on the campaign trail. I don’t recall the legacy media of the 1970s (all Democrats then, just as they are now) worrying about that “problem” like they do about President Trump’s tweets and his otherwise blunt manner in trolling his political enemies!
Back to Carter. He makes number 6 on the list for a variety of reasons: a no-name promoted by the media of the day into the Oval Office (shades of Obama!); signed an Executive Order granting unconditional amnesty to Vietnam War draft-dodgers and war protestors; knuckling under to the Soviets (SALT II); signed an order giving Panama Canal back to Panama; pulled the rug out from under the Shah and gifted the world Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republic of Iran for the next 40 years of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism; and botched the Iran hostage crisis.
His domestic policies were equally horrible, continuing “stagflation” (the deadly combination of stagnant growth due to high taxes and double-digit inflation due to fiscal mismanagement) and urging “conservation” and gasoline rationing to solve the energy crisis, as opposed to incentivizing domestic oil production. Just imagine the notion of gasoline rationing today when, thanks to DJT’s policies, the US is the #1 producer of oil and gas in the entire world!
By the way, the annual inflation rate was over 13% in 1980! The Millennials (seemingly all socialists) these days have NO idea of the ill effects of Carter’s mismanagement of the economy – the same policies supported by every Democrat president since then, as well as all the current members of the Democrats’ Star Wars bar scene, but even worse! Oh yeah, and Carter gifted us the Department of Education, too. Just one in the string of Democrat initiatives to unconstitutionally wrest control of a major segment of the economy and culture from the states. What good has the department done since then? Zip, zero, nada.
Number Five: Lyndon Baines Johnson, POTUS #36 (1963-68). Born in Stonewall, TX, and a former teacher, LBJ was a member of Congress and the Senate for 23 years until picked as JFK’s VP candidate in 1960. He, of course, became president when JFK was assassinated in 1963. He makes the list for a LOT of reasons which, like Carter’s bad performance, most Democrats these days conveniently forget. When is that last time you’ve heard any prominent Democrat praise LBJ?
He perhaps more than any president gave us the modern welfare state with his “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” nonsense. He signed Medicare and Medicaid into law, gifting us future obligations that will eventually bankrupt the country. Like all “social programs,” they were sold as “small supplements” to private medicine but – as with all gov’t programs – expanded to unaffordability over the decades. He was instrumental in fooling people at the time about the racism pervasive in the Democrat Party because he was the president who signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was supported by most Republican senators and voted against by many Democrat senators! And isn’t it interesting that Martin Luther King, Jr, was a Republican?
Other domestic boondoggle programs that LBJ signed into law: the Job Corps, the Community Action Program (“attacking local poverty”), Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA), and other programs aimed at urban renewal (public housing), public education reforms, etc. All in all, his “War on Poverty” programs had virtually no impact on the poverty rate while ultimately costing taxpayers trillions. Here is a Heritage Foundation report that eviscerates that LBJ initiative.
LBJ also greatly escalated and horribly mismanaged the Vietnam War, virtually running the show from the White House and giving field commanders horrible rules of engagement. His mismanagement of the War deserves its own thread which I will defer for now. All in all, he was a horrible president (I will leave his personal peccadillos including mistreatment of women for another day, too). I considered ranking LBJ higher on the list of bad presidents for a lot of reasons, but he just couldn’t beat out the top four in his damage to the country.
Number Four: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (POTUS #32; 1933-45). Born in Hyde Park, NY, FDR was governor of New York before he ran for president in 1932 during the Great Depression. His first act as president was to sign the Emergency Banking Act. The act gave him the power to open and close banks and tightly control the Federal Reserve. This did nothing to stimulate the economy. His other measures were associated with his “New Deal”, including socialist public works programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the Public Works Administration, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. He also initiated other federal bureaucracies that plague us to this very day, including the FDIC, SEC and FCC. He laid the groundwork for gargantuan government and was, in fact, an admirer of the fascist Mussolini’s use of the federal government to control the national economy. Although the New Deal was applauded by Democrats then and now, many scholars now have concluded that New Deal programs actually PROLONGED the Great Depression. Here is one such analysis.
And FDR sold the country on “Social Security” which was originated as an “income supplement” but which of course has grown out of proportion since then with obligations that cannot be met over the long term without massive tax increases. (He invented the term “benefits.”)
I rank FDR number four primarily because he greatly increased the size of the federal government and was the first to meddle significantly with the market in a profound and lasting way with his various intrusive federal bureaucracies. His administrative state became gargantuan, and his infatuation with government solutions to problems set the nation on a course for continued government meddling in all things over the next 70+ years. All the other Democrat presidents since FDR followed his lead.
Number Three: Barack Hussein Obama (POTUS #44; 2009-16). Why not the worst president, you ask? We’ll get to that answer. Obama was the most divisive president in my lifetime and greatly worsened race relations. Here is a shortlist of (some) of his disasters:
- Fast and Furious
- Solyndra (and other green energy boondoggles)
- IRS targeting of political enemies
- Weaponizing other federal agencies like DoJ, EPA, NSC, and the FBI against his political enemies
- DoJ and the New Black Panthers (Philadelphia voter suppression)
- Arab Spring (Egypt, Libya, Syria debacles)
- Clinton email server mishandling
- VA waiting lists
- Spygate (ongoing)
- Fomenting divisiveness and supporting radicals like the BLM movement and Antifa
- JCPOA (the Iran deal)
A more complete summary of Obama’s foreign policy disasters is contained in this article.
Perhaps his worst offense was literally doubling the long-term US national debt accumulated since the beginning of the Republic during his 8 years in office. This alone puts him on the list of worst presidents! It will take decades to undo the damage he did to the country.
Number Two: Arkansas’s Bill Clinton (POTUS #42; 1993-2000). He is perhaps the most corrupt president we’ve ever had and, along with his wife, is a life-long grifter, womanizer, and charlatan. What makes him particularly bad is that his moniker “Slick Willie” was in reality completely accurate in summarizing the corrupting influence he has had on US politics and American culture. There was ZERO accountability for Clinton scandals dating back to his days as Arkansas governor. In fact, he was enabled by a fawning media and perfected the “politics of personal destruction” as a means to ensure his political survival after his womanizing in the White House and elsewhere became a threat to his political future. He created the mirage that private and public behavior could somehow be separated. That notion is of course completely contrary to human nature and has corrupted and coarsened politics and the American culture. Scandals that would have doomed other presidents were like water off a duck’s back to him.
Here are a couple: Whitewater, Travelgate, Nannygate, Chinagate, and the host of women who accused him of various transgressions (Paula Jones, Juanita Broderick, Gennifer Flowers, and of course Monica Lewinsky). But what were some of his policies that were misguided and detrimental? First of all, his deal with North Korea was a naïve failure, as detailed here. And President Trump is still trying to clean up that mess.
His Commerce Department changed the rules for exporting critical technology, making it easier for US adversaries like Russia and especially China to access US intellectual property, as well as obtain it from third-party countries.
He took campaign contributions from China and was never held accountable even though foreign contributions are illegal. This article is an EXCELLENT summary of Chinagate – which should have gotten him impeached.
Finally, his politicization of the DoJ, FNMA and Freddie Mac led directly to the 2008 financial crisis. His administration forced banks to make risky loans that led to the real estate and banking crisis as explained in this article and the book it references.
That he was never held accountable for ANYTHING during and after his presidency left a corrupting influence on US politics which is inevitable when the top law enforcement individual in the country escapes both legal and political accountability for his crimes. He literally set the table for Obama.
Number One: Woodrow Wilson (POTUS #28; 1913-1920). Wilson was a progressive idealist who had a profound impact on US foreign and domestic policy. Progressivism was a reform movement in the US that started as a popular effort to eliminate waste, corruption, and inefficiencies in American society, and was an early expression of today’s progressive “social justice” movement. The early Progressives’ goals were oriented toward better worker compensation, improved child labor laws, minimum wage legislation, a cap on maximum hours worked, and women’s suffrage.
Seems fairly reasonable, right? Except that they were also influenced by Marxist theory because they were also in favor of a graduated income tax and the notion that a “positive government” could fix all of the problems in society. They, like all proto-socialists and later Communists, failed to take human nature into account in that “good government” was just as easily corrupted and heavy-handed as any other facet of human endeavor.
Progressives unwittingly were pushing for the pervasive government that we have today – with the results being over-taxed people, over-regulated business and individuals, and an opaque and unresponsive bureaucracy that writes its own rules (and maintains double standards!) Ironically, the first progressives were very concerned about illegal voting corrupting the political system. Today’s progressives (the social justice warriors that infest the Democrat Party and the Left) have conveniently forgotten their progressive roots on that subject! Anyway, Wilson was a leader of the progressive movement of the times. Before politics, he was an academic and theorist (reminds me of Obama who was and is clueless about the private sector). He would have been classified as a social justice warrior today.
Wilson’s first major act as president was to lower tariffs in favor of a federal income tax. The income tax was needed to fund “good government.” This act alone set the table for all of the growth of the federal government over the last 100 years. It made it possible to fund FDR’s New Deal and all of the other cockamamie failed federal government programs over the years, including Truman’s “Fair Deal,” LBJ’s “Great Society” and “War on Poverty,” and Obamacare!
He also advocated for the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. As such, he was one of the first globalists. One might even say that the UN’s Agenda 21 for “sustainable development” (the latest Marxist claptrap dressed up by progressives and globalists) is a direct descendant of Wilson’s globalist notions.
And don’t forget he was a proponent of the Federal Reserve. He signed the Federal Reserve Act in December 1913, culminating from three years of discussion and debate over the development of a central bank. And the dollar and monetary policy have been manipulated ever since.
I highly recommend reading the book, The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve, by G. Edward Griffin. I daresay that it will shock you to the bone. The entire manuscript may be read here.
Wilson’s progressive idealism manifested in the belief that the federal government could solve all of the nation’s problems. His progressive political philosophy and actions directly led to the growth of the administrative state and federal control of fiscal and monetary policies that we’ve come to know and hate over the decades. He made the actions of the FDR, Clinton and Obama presidencies possible – and virtually inevitable – as the federal government has grown inexorably over the past 100+ years as funded by the federal income tax. He made the Democrats’ mainstay political tactic of “tax and spend” possible, which led to near-total Democrat control of Congress for over forty years from 1954- 1994. And his dream of a “League of Nations” became reality as the United Nations was founded in 1945.
Wilson made all of the Democrat presidencies in this list possible. Each of these has stood on the shoulders of their predecessors, but none of them would have done the damage they did to America without the progressive foundation laid by Wilson. FDR, Carter, LBJ, Clinton, and Obama merely took the baton from their Democrat predecessors. It all started with Wilson, and he is my number one worst American president.
To be truthful, all six were bad presidents, each in his own way; the only difference was in degree.