Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Worst President Ever?

If you've spent any time lately on Facebook, you've undoubtedly noticed one of your "friends" and his/her vote on whether George W. Bush was the worst President ever. Worst. Ever. Gets you to thinking, doesn't it? I mean, what's the criteria for being the worst President ever? Those are two words with quite a stigma, "worst" and "ever."

For Presidents, there's a long list of factors to consider, evaluate, and ultimately judge - domestic and foreign policy, economic stability and growth, human and civil rights, education, health care, national security, and international leadership, just to name top of the list. It's easy to forget a President doesn't do it alone, and I'm not just talking about cabinet Secretaries. Our "Checks & Balances" government includes the Legislative (Congress and Senate) and Judicial (Supreme Court) branches. It's far from a one-man show, but that clouds our sound bite attention spans and one-liner appetites.

You want the office, you (and your family) has to bear the scrutiny. Yeah, it's a bit unfortunate, but all candidates know the game.

Now, for the matter of G.W. No question, he had a tough row to hoe. September 11, 2001 knocked the luster off his inauguration faster than you can say "Osama is a sniveling little bitch hiding in a cave." Despite how bad ass our military is, public opinion never embraces a modern war for long - the graphic pictures from the frontlines are just too much for many of us to stomach. Bookend the wars with the global economic meltdown. In between is a shit sandwich of failed diplomatic relations and a variety of other woes. Tough eight years, no doubt.

But, worst ever? For that, you have to compare, and to do that, we need to flip back the pages of history just a wee bit.

Andrew Johnson was a white supremist who opposed Reconstructionist efforts to extend the most basic of civil rights to freed black slaves. Richard Nixon visited China, yes, but he also rode roughshod over the Constitution and abused the power of the Presidency, eventually getting implicated in the Watergate burglary. James Buchanon divided our country into the North and the South, where brothers fought brothers. Calvin Coolidge oversaw wide-spread corruption and the dawn of the Great Depression. James Polk attacked Mexico unprovoked and took one third of its land.

And I'm just getting started.

I don't want to defend W. I also don't want to indict him. Smarter people than me will debate the merit of his Presidency and its rank among the others. Key words above are "smarter people" - in those I trust, and I look forward to reading their opinions. No, what, or rather who, I want to indict are the less than smarter people who serve up opinions like Courtney Love serves up eight balls to house guests.

Now, I think I should be the last one to assert that everyone isn't entitled to their own opinion - after all, I write a blog titled, "Just this guy's opinion." But, before spouting off, it's good to at least assume some degree of credibility. I'm not suggesting you have to be a Presidential scholar to weigh in on the debate, and you certainly don't need to know Tippecanoe (William Henry Harrison) and Tyler (John Tyler) too. But, there has to be some litmus test to serve as a qualified contributor to the discussion. I've never been one to shy away from proposing guidelines, so here it goes - the somewhat definitive criteria that must be passed before passing judgment, in at least the neighborhood of an educated opinion, on the "worst President ever" includes:

  • You have to know how many U.S. Presidents there have been. I'll cut you some slack if you don't know all their names. But, you absolutely must know the number. How many Presidents have there been, including President Obama? If your answer is a number other than 44, then resist your temptation to spout off - you're simply unqualified.
  • Second consideration: If you're over 18, not a convicted felon, and a citizen of the United States, you must be registered to vote. If you're too stupid to exercise your right to choose government representation, you're too stupid to afford an opinion; at least too stupid to offer one that anyone wants to hear.
  • Next, you must be able to name all the Presidents, in order, since you were born. This is a minimum requirement. If you want to judge merits relative - worst ever, after all - you at least need to know some names of the others in which you're comparing. Forget for the moment platforms and policies - all I'm asking for is names. Now, if you can't name names, you can't offer up "worst ever" or "best ever." You'll have to settle for just "good" or "bad."
  • Of the Presidents who held office before you were born, you have to know the names of at least 10%. C'mon, it's 10%. Are you smarter than a 5th grader?
  • You have to know the difference between Washington state and Washington, D.C. I'm not just talking geography either. I need to move this one to the top of the list.
  • You have to swear to never have voted a straight party ticket just for the sake of voting a straight party ticket. If you don't examine the individual merits of each candidate, regardless of party affliation, you do not make decisions on all the available data. Said differently, you don't make good decisions. Said even more differently, no one wants to hear the opinion of someone who doesn't make good decisions.

So, there you have it. Was George W. Bush the worst President ever? I don't know. To tell you the truth, I don't care. I just want to make sure that the current President and all of the next Presidents don't become the worst ever. As for those of you compelled to express your opinion on history, I look forward to hearing them - but only if you first pass the minimum qualifications.

Then again, what do I know? That's just this guy's opinion.

Like what you read? Hate? Vote on Twitter @RayHartjen.


  1. A very fair and balanced opinion. And yes-it's the present and future that count, not the past.

  2. Thanks for visiting.

    The past counts, and it's certainly worth understanding. After all, all the trite cliches about repeating past errors must presume some degree of validity, right? But, to comment historically, you must understand history. For us Americans, that's always a tough one. The great thing about society today is that you can be completely ignorant and offer up an opinion about current events. Like we call give a hoot what Susan Sarandon thinks. Well, if she's voting that way ...