If you wanted to identify, with confidence, the very worst president in American history, how would you go about it? One approach would be to consult the various academic polls on presidential rankings that have been conducted from time to time since Harvard’s Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. pioneered this particular survey scholarship in 1948. Bad idea.
Most of those surveys identify Warren G. Harding of Ohio as the worst ever. This is ridiculous. Harding presided over very robust economic times. Not only that, but he inherited a devastating economic recession when he was elected in 1920 and quickly turned bad times into good times, including a 14 percent GDP growth rate in 1922. Labor and racial unrest declined markedly during his watch. He led the country into no troublesome wars.
There was, of course, the Teapot Dome scandal that implicated major figures in his administration, but there was never any evidence that the president himself participated in any venality. As Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, put it, “Harding wasn’t a bad man. He was just a slob.”
The academic surveys also consistently place near the bottom James Buchanan, of Pennsylvania. Now here’s a man who truly lacked character and watched helplessly as his country descended into the worst crisis of its history. He stepped into the presidency with a blatant lie to the American people. In his inaugural address, he promised he would accept whatever judgment the Supreme Court rendered in the looming Dred Scott case. What he didn’t tell the American people was that he already knew what that judgment was going to be (gleaned through highly inappropriate conversations with justices). This is political cynicism of the rankest sort.
But Buchanan’s failed presidency points to what may be a pertinent distinction in assessing presidential failure. Buchanan was crushed by events that proved too powerful for his own weak leadership. And so the country moved inexorably into one of the worst crises in its history. But Buchanan didn’t create the crisis; he merely was too wispy and vacillating to get control of it and thus lead the nation to some kind of resolution. It took his successor, Abraham Lincoln, to do that.
That illustrates the difference between failure of omission and failure of commission—the difference between presidents who couldn’t handle gathering crises and presidents who actually created the crises.
In the realm of commission failure, three presidents come to mind—Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Bear in mind here that nearly all failed presidents have their defenders, who argue, sometimes with elaborate rationales, that the perceived failure wasn’t really failure or that it wasn’t really the fault of this particular president. We see this in stark reality in our own time, with the ongoing debates about the presidency of the second Bush, reflected in the reaction to senator Rand Paul’s recent suggestion that GOP hawks, with their incessant calls for U.S. intrusion into the lands of Islam, contributed to the rise of the violent radicalism of the Islamic State.
The prevailing view of Bush is that his invasion of Iraq, the greatest example in American history of what is known as “preventive war,” proved to be one of the most colossal foreign policy blunders in all of American history, if not actually the greatest. According to this view, Bush destabilized the Middle East, essentially lit it on fire and fostered the resultant rise of the Islamic State and the deepening sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the region. Where this all leads, nobody can tell, but clearly it is going to play out, with devastating consequences, for a long time to come.
But of course there are those who deny that Bush created all this chaos. No, they say, Bush actually had Iraq under control and it was his hapless successor, Barack Obama, who let it all fall apart again by not maintaining a U.S. military force in the country. This is the minority view, embraced tenaciously by many people with a need to gloss over their own complicity in the mess.
There is little doubt that history eventually will fix upon the majority view—that Bush unleashed the surge of chaos, bloodshed and misery that now has the region in its grip. As Princeton’s Sean Wilentz wrote in 2006, when Bush still sat in the Oval Office, “Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history.” And bear in mind that Bush also presided over the emergence of one of the most devastating financial crises in the country’s history.
Then there’s Nixon, whose Watergate transgressions thrust the nation into one of its most harrowing constitutional crises. There are some who argue that Nixon’s transgressions weren’t actually as egregious as many believe, particularly when viewed carefully in the context of the maneuverings and manipulations of many of his people, some of them conducted behind the president’s back. There may be some truth in this. But in the end it doesn’t matter. He was president and must take responsibility for the culture and atmosphere he created in the West Wing and the Old Executive Office Building. If his people were running around and breaking the law, he must bear responsibility, whatever his knowledge or complicity. And we know definitively that Nixon himself set the tone in his inner circle—a tone so dark, defensive and menacing that wrongdoing was almost the inevitable result. Also, there can be no dispute that the president himself stepped over the line on numerous occasions.
Which brings us to Woodrow Wilson, whose failures of commission probably had the most dire consequences of any U.S. president. His great flaw was his sanctimonious nature, more stark and distilled than that of any other president, even John Quincy Adams (who was no piker in the sanctimony department). He thought he always knew best, because he thought he knew more than anybody else. Combine that with a powerful humanitarian sensibility, and you get a president who wants to change the world for the betterment of mankind. Watch out for such leaders.
Even during his first term, with war raging in Europe, he sought to get the United States involved as a neutral mediator, fostering a peace agreement to break the tragic stalemate that had the nations of Europe in its grip. When that effort was rebuffed, he ran for reelection by hailing himself as the man who kept the United States out of the war.
But, immediately upon entering his second term, he sought to get his country into the war by manipulating neutrality policy. While proclaiming U.S. neutrality, he favored Britain by observing the British blockade of Germany (imposed, said a young Winston Churchill, to starve Germans, including German infants, into submission) and by allowing armed British merchant ships entry to U.S. ports, which in turn fostered a flow of U.S. munitions to the Allied powers. At the same time, Wilson declared that Germany would be held to a “strict accountability” for any American loss of life or property from Germany’s submarine attacks. This policy applied, said Wilson, even if affected Americans traveling or working on British or French ships. He declined to curtail what he considered Americans’ “right” to travel on vessels tied to France or Britain (but not Germany).
Wilson was warned, most notably by his secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, that these lopsided policies inevitably would pull America into the war. When he ignored those warnings, Bryan resigned from the Wilson cabinet on a stand of principle.
As Bryan predicted, America did get pulled into the conflict, and it certainly appears that that was Wilson’s intention all along. Then three things happened.
First, Wilson conducted the war in ways that devastated the home front. Prices shot up into double digits, and then came a potent economic recession that lasted three years. He accepted the suppression of civil liberties by his notorious attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer. His government nationalized many private industries, including the telegraph, telephone and railroad industries, along with the distribution of coal. Race riots erupted in numerous cities that claimed nearly 150 lives in two years.
Second, America’s entry into the war broke the stalemate, allowing the Allied powers to impose upon Germany devastating armistice terms. Third, when Wilson went to the Versailles peace conference bent on bringing to bear his humanitarian outlook and making the world safe for democracy, he promptly got outmaneuvered by the canny nationalist leaders of Britain and France, whose agenda had nothing to do with Wilson’s dreamy notions about a harmonious world born of his humanitarian vision.
The result was a humiliation of Germany that rendered another war nearly inevitable and created in that country a sump of civic resentment and venom that would poison its politics for a generation. We can’t say with certainty that Adolf Hitler wouldn’t have emerged in Germany if the stalemate of World War I had been settled through negotiations rather than diktat. But we can say that the world spawned by Wilson’s naïve war policies certainly created a political climate in Germany that paved the way for Hitler.
That’s a big load for Wilson to carry through history, though the academic polls consistently rank him quite favorably. That’s probably because most academics are progressives who like Wilson for his own progressive sentiments. But the two Roosevelts also were progressives and left the country better off when they left office. Such a case can’t be made for Wilson, who left the country in shambles. The 1920 Republican victories in the presidential and congressional elections constituted of the greatest political repudiations in U.S. history. Thus, Wilson’s failures of commission render him, arguably, the worst president in American history.
Originally published on 2015-05-31
About the author: Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington political reporter and publishing executive, is the author of books on American history and foreign policy.
Source: The National Interest
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest.
Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!
Donate to Support Us
We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
[wpedon id=”4696″ align=”left”]
State frontiers are established by human beingsand may be changed by human beings.Adolf Hitler. Mein KampfDiplomacy, with all the conventions of its forms,recognizes only real facts.Charles de GaullePart OneAll of Adolf Hitler’s actions, from the time he rose to power in 1933 until 1939, could be described as one triumph after another. He met each challenge he faced: he took over as head of the country, returned Germany’s lost territories without a struggle, and was given permission from England and France to rearm. But one further task lay before him, and failure now would make his previous achievements almost pointless. ...
Read more about the magazine at:IMPRESSUMPublish and AdvertisePublish your articles on global politics online & advertise your website for a moderate fee on our website.Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics, and international relations.Join the debate on our Twitter feed: @nettle_white
In the recent decades, several groups of people in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania and Macedonia have appeared under the name “Salafi”. These religious activists, who practice completely different religious rules from the traditional ones of the Islamic religion, are distinguished from other believers by the characteristic way of praying (religious prayers), by their long beards, short mustaches and their characteristic clothes. These people do not claim to be “Wahhabis” but “Salafists” which means “ancestors”. They even oppose their appointment by others as “Wahhabis”, explaining that such a designation is made only by opponents of the Islamic religion, who want to ...
One can only imagine the risk when some citizens of a small country conceal hundreds of thousands of weapons and explosives. The nation becomes a powder keg, awaiting one small mistake to spark a deadly explosion.This is the situation currently in Albania. During the civil war of 1997, military depots were looted, and more than 650,000 guns, 1.5 billion bullets, 3.5 million grenades and 1 million landmines were stolen from military warehouses by various criminal groups and the Kosovo Liberation Army.The government has attempted to resolve, or at least reduce, this serious problem. Since 1997, it has announced three amnesty ...
Donald Franciszek Tusk, (born 22 April 1957) is a Polish politician and historian. He has been President of the European Council since 1 December 2014. Previously he was Prime Minister of Poland (2007–2014) and a co-founder and chairman of the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) party.Tusk began his public career as an activist in his home town of Gdańsk, supporting Solidarity and organizing his fellow university students. With the exception of one four-year stretch, Tusk has served in the Third Republic Sejm (parliament) continuously since its first elections in 1991. He was Vice Marshal (deputy speaker) of the Senate from 1997 ...
The grandees of the Republican Party are on the ropes. Donald Trump has them by the balls, but, even without Trump, they would be in what Bush the Father would call deep “do-do.”
Any Republican candidate for President whom two-thirds of the electorate could abide would be anathema to the one-third that Republicans have recruited into their rank and file. Mitt Romney was the final straw.
The establishment’s situation is so pitiful that even Chris Christie is starting to look good to them. If his candidacy survives into the Spring, late night TV comedians will rejoice; others, not so much.
Ted Cruz remains ...
In time when (on the occasion of the 100th anniversary since WWI ended) we face almost daily attempts to reinterpret and revision the role of Serbia in the outbreak of the Great War, all in order to push aside well established facts of who and what for the war started, it is Her majesty history that reminds us of Chief of staff of the Austro-Hungarian army, who was obsessed with the idea that the Austro-Hungarian empire can be preserved only if it attacks and conquers Serbia .Relations between Serbia and Austro-Hungary were tense from the moment when the Congress of ...
Four men, accused of being partisans, are alleged to have been buried alive. The wife of a partisan is said to have been “pierced by bayonets and drowned in a garbage pit” [искололи тело штыками и утопили в помойной яме].The author (who is unnamed) states that his own elderly father was taken as a hostage by Allied forces from the town of Kharitonovka [Харитоновка]. He was returned home alive but in a bloodied condition. He is said to have died a few days later, after asking “Why did they torture me…”? [За что меня замучили]. The man is said to ...
A year ago, at a closed-doors meeting between the USA and EU officials and the leaders of the four major parties of FYROM in Strasbourg, a route map for the resolution of the protracted political crisis was agreed on (or rather imposed). The roots of this political crisis are to be found outside FYROM: it is actually more a confrontation by proxy between “the West”, which supports the opposition, and Russia, which is trying to maintain its influence in the region. In conjunction with the public discontent at government policies and the escalating corruption, the negotiations have contributed to sharpening ...
"You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women. I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything." – Donald TrumpDonald Trump is an American capitalist. He is a real estate mogul who owns buildings, casinos and golf courses. He has bought a football team, founded a modeling agency and established a university. Trump’s precise net worth is unknown, yet is estimated in the billions.Donald Trump is a celebrity. He appeared in ...
The best reporting on the depth of America’s dictatorship is probably that being done by Atlanta Georgia’s NBC-affiliated, Gannett-owned, TV Channel “11 Alive”, WXIA television, “The Investigators” series of local investigative news reports, which show, up close and at a cellularly detailed level, the way things actually work in today’s America. Although it’s only local, it displays what meets the legal standards of the US federal government in actually any state in the union; so, it exposes the character of the US government, such that what’s shown to be true here, meets America’s standard for ‘democracy’, or else the federal ...
I am a Lithuanian, but I leave abroad and I am not going back. At least now, at least until the Government does not pay attention to its people. According to some authoritative research institutes, during 2017 Lithuania population is again projected to decrease (by 45 677 people!) and reach 2 758 290 in the beginning of 2018. (http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/lithuania-population/). As of 1 January 2017, the population of Lithuania was estimated to be 2 803 967 people. This is a decrease of 1.63 % (46 433 people) compared to population of 2 850 400 the year before. In other words, our ...
The consumption of history seems to be more widespread than ever: from general-interest history magazines and historical dramas and documentaries to historical fiction, popular history seems, well, unprecedentedly popular.
The evolution of the TV historian reflects this trend: where once real working historians who had written serious books hosted television programmes, these days they are as likely to be photogenic media presenters with minimal, if any, actual history qualifications.
The attraction of history and being a historian are not hard to work out. In the public imagination, historians are usually considered to be intelligent, objective people, if a little eccentric, who tell ...
The following text was written in the immediate wake of the 1999 NATO bombings of Yugoslavia and the invasion of Kosovo by NATO troops.It is now well established that the war on Yugoslavia was waged on a fabricated humanitarian pretext and that extensive war crimes were committed by NATO and the US.In retrospect, the war on Yugoslavia was a “dress rehearsal” for subsequent US-NATO sponsored humanitarian wars including Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011), Syria (2011), Ukraine (2014).Who are the war criminals? In a bitter irony, the so-called International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague is controlled ...
To describe the US attack on Syria as a serious development is to be guilty of understatement.
Without any recourse to international law or the United Nations, the Trump administration has embarked on an act of international aggression against yet another sovereign state in the Middle East, confirming that neocons have reasserted their dominance over US foreign policy in Washington. It is an act of aggression that ends any prospect of détente between Washington and Moscow in the foreseeable future, considerably increasing tensions between Russia and the US not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe, where NATO ...
The "Nakba" day (or “catastrophe”) is commemorated on every 15 May by Palestinians and their families who were ethnically cleansed by Israel from their ancestral lands and homes in 1948. The ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians was accompanied by widespread massacres and looting. The biggest misconception about the “Nakba” was that it was due to the fighting that broke out in 1948 between the Zionist/Israeli forces and the Palestinians/Arab armies. This has been proven by many historian to be false. In reality the ethnic cleansing was not due to the 1948 war, but was actually a well planned Zionist operation ...
For many years, and despite all evidence to the contrary, the Western media has forwarded the inane idea that Vladimir Putin ranks in the same club with some of history's most loathsome creatures, up to and including Hitler.The reality is that the Russian leader has done more to promote the cause of global peace and security than any other Western leader in recent times. That explains why he is the object of such intense scorn.Putin's rise as a statesman of the first magnitude began, oddly enough, with the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 on the United States. Since that day, ...
Only a few recent Holocaust movies have provoked so many vituperative reviews or elicited so many strong opinions for reasons almost entirely divorced from the film itself.Even before Predrag Antonijevic’s new film ‘Dara of Jasenovac’, about the Ustasa-run World War II concentration camp complex at Jasenovac in Croatia has been released in its native country – Serbia – it found itself at the centre of a welter of criticism, accused of a laundry list of transgressions by American and British film critics.In August 1941, the Croatian WWII fascist Ustasa movement established the Jasenovac camp system, where over 83,000 Serbs, Roma, ...
Over the past 50 years the US and European powers have engaged in countless imperial wars throughout the world. The drive for world supremacy has been clothed in the rhetoric of “world leadership”, the consequences have been devastating for the peoples targeted. The biggest, longest and most numerous wars have been carried out by the United States. Presidents from both parties direct and preside over this quest for world power. The ideology which informs imperialism varies from “anti-communism”in the past to “anti-terrorism”today.Washington’s drive for world domination has used and combined many forms of warfare, including military invasions and occupations; proxy ...
French president Macron’s call for the creation of a “European Army” and the implicit end of NATO alliance reflects the changing global order, the credit for which must, in the first place, go to the US president Trump, who, through his series of actions, has unwittingly done enough damage to the alliance to force the EU to wean away from the so-called western alliance and project itself as an independent player in the international arena. On the one hand, the concept of a “European army” affirms the growing distance between the US and its allies in Europe, and on the ...
Why London Presented Hitler with Vienna and Prague?
WHITE NETTLE: global-politics.eu
Islamist Extremism in the Balkans: The Case of Kosovo
The Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) Intrusion in Albania, Threatens Regional Stability in the Middle East and the Balkans
Donald Franciszek Tusk: “Blood is Thicker than Water”?!
Democratizing the US Constitution: An Idea Worth Considering
Conrad Von Hetzendorf: The General Who Demanded War on Serbia 25 Times in a Year
100 Years Ago US Troops Attacked Russia’s Pacific Coast and Committed Atrocities
West Rules Macedonia (FYROM) as a US-EU Protectorate, To Put a Check on Russian Influence in the Balkans
Making Israel Greater Again
Will Lithuanian Emigrants Return Back to Lithuania?
How Holocaust Revisionists Remake History as Nationalist Sham
NATO’s Reign of Terror in Kosovo & the Destruction of Yugoslavia
Airstrikes Without Justice
The “Nakba’: The Palestinian Catastrophe, Started in 1947 and Continues to This Day
Why Vladimir Putin Deserves a Nobel Peace Prize
Controversial Serbian Holocaust Film Isn’t Anti-Croat Propaganda
Fifty Years of Imperial Wars: Global Neoliberalism and America’s Drive for World Domination
On the Geo-politics of “European Army”
FOLLOW US ON OUR SOCIAL PLATFORMS