It seems to me….
“You know nothing for sure…except the fact that you know nothing for sure.” ~ President John Kennedy.
I’ve been fortunate to have lived sufficiently long to see a fair number of U.S. presidents – some obviously better than others. Numerous characteristics differentiated one from another: effectiveness, charisma, intelligence, relatability, world prestige….
Only history will judge each of them, and most; e.g., Carter; are evaluated very differently after they leave office than while still president: only time will permit an accurate evaluation. My personal (and premature) rating of each president who has served in that office during my lifetime are:
- 1. Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd President, 1933–1945; D):
- The only U.S. president to serve 4 terms in office. He led the nation during a time of worldwide economic depression and during World War II. He died in office prior to the end of that war.
I always will remember listening to his address to Congress on 8 December 1941 requesting a declaration of war following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. To me, being young, he seemed almost mythical.
- 2. Lyndon B. Johnson (36th President, 1963–1969, D):
- Assumed office following President Kennedy’s assassination. He was more effective (though also quite abrasive) than President Kennedy gaining approval of legislation for many major laws affecting civil rights, gun control, wilderness preservation, and Social Security. Unfortunately, he also escalated U.S. involvement in the disastrous Vietnam War.
- 3. Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President, 1953-1961, R):
- A five-star general in the U.S. Army and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. He also launched the Interstate Highway System, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the establishment of strong science education via the National Defense Education Act, encouraged peaceful use of nuclear power via amendments to the Atomic Energy Act, and expressed concerns about massive military spending.
Having served as the U.S.’s commanding officer in times of global war, he firmly believed in a strong military but also warned of the dangers from permitting the military to acquire unwarranted influence. Something the current generation of conservative politicians have chosen to ignore.
- 4. John F. Kennedy (35th President, 1961-1963, D):
- The youngest man elected president and the youngest to die following assassination after slightly over 1000 days in office. Brilliant and charismatic, he undoubtedly was internationally the most popular president of those on this list. He directly confronted the Soviet Union’s attempt to place nuclear weapons in Cuba resulting in the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war. He also began a so-called “New Frontier” domestic program which included creation of the Peace Corps, the Civil Rights Movement, space exploration, and numerous other legislative measures eventually approved under his successor, Lyndon Johnson. He is the only president to ever win a Pulitzer Prize.
While I did not vote for him in the presidential election, he is the President in this list I most liked. Given his energy and creativity, it is difficult to imagine the unfulfilled potential cut short by his premature death.
- 5. Ronald Reagan (40th President, 1981-1989, R):
- When he left office, his approval rating matched the highest ratings of any modern era departing president. He implemented sweeping new political and economic initiatives and advocated supply-side economic policies, tax rate reductions to spur economic growth, control of the money supply to curb inflation, economic deregulation, and reduction in government spending.
He remains the most esteemed president to conservatives though he was less successful in enacting meaningful social legislation than the following two presidents. He is rated this highly primarily due to the influence he still continues to exert over Republican politicians.
- 6. Barack H. Obama (44th President, 2009-2017, D):
- The first African-American and possibly the most intelligent person on this list to hold the office. He assumed office in the midst of the worst financial crisis the U.S. has experienced since the 1929 depression but oversaw a successfully recovery resulting in the creation of millions of new jobs and new industries. In spite of overwhelming Republican opposition, much of it racially motivated, he was extremely successful in achieving enactment of notable social legislation on healthcare, consumer protection, pay and sexual equality, financial market reform, educational assistance, and numerous other measures.
- 7. William J. Clinton (42nd President, 1993-2001, D):
- Under his presidency, the U.S. economy was stronger than at any time in the nation’s history: the lowest unemployment rate, lowest inflation rate in 30 years, highest home ownership rate, low overall crime rate, low welfare rate…. He proposed the first balanced budget in decades and achieved a budget surplus.
- 8. Harry S. Truman (33rd President, 1945-1953, D):
- The only president I have met (was privileged to have breakfast with he and his wife, Beth, in 1958.) He oversaw the end of World War II, the post-war recovery, the beginning of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and creation of the United Nations. He also oversaw a war between North and South Korea that still remains not fully resolved.
- 9. George H. W. Bush (41st President, 1989-1993, R):
- He was president when the Soviet Union dissolved and the Cold War ended. He also overthrew the government of Panama securing the Panama Canal and created an international coalition to combat Iraq in the first Gulf War following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. His popularity declined due to national discontent over a faltering economy, rising violence in inner cities, and continued high deficit spending.
- 10. Gerald Ford (38th President, 1974-1977, R):
- He became president following the forced resignation of his predecessor, President Nixon. He inherited numerous problems including high inflation, a depressed economy, and energy shortages. He also was known for his high integrity and openness.
- 11. James E. Carter (39th President, 1977-1981, D):
- He had one of the lowest popularity ratings of any president at the end of his term in office due to high inflation, high interest rates, and high unemployment. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the U.S. installed government of Iran was overthrown and the U.S. embassy staff held captive during his administration.
- 12. Richard M. Nixon (37th President, 1969-1974, R):
- The only president forced to resign prior to certain impeachment due to politically motivated scandals. He established relations with China and Russia successfully reducing world tensions, ended U.S. involvement in the unpopular war in Viet Nam, and enacted several notable environmental measures. He was extremely paranoid and substantially expanded satellite surveillance and other intelligence programs.
- 13. George W. Bush (43rd President, 1995-2000, R):
- While probably not the worst president the U.S. ever had, he possibly was the least intelligent. He invaded Afghanistan following the attack on 9/11 and without concluding that war, on false pretenses, invaded and overthrew the government of Iraq destabilizing the Middle East resulting in our longest lasting wars without any probable conclusion within the near future. He enacted two ill-conceived tax reductions which along with the cost of waging two simultaneous wars resulted in large budget deficits. He left office in the midst of the worst economic recession since 1929.
Few people will agree with my assessment of these presidents but most people have not lived while they were in office. History, in general, is kind to most of the men (all presidents have so far been male) who have held this position. “Jimmy” Carter, who is near the end of this list, is now one of the most respected of all past presidents.
Similarly, any realistic assessment of Barack Obama’s presidency must await the judgement of history; if a Republican is elected as his successor, many of the beneficial social programs enacted could be reversed primarily on the basis of ideological differences and racial bigotry.
Now we currently are embroiled in another presidential election; the final party candidates have yet to be selected. While none of the aspirants for the position are comparable to President Obama, we can only hope whomever is eventually elected takes their place near the top of this list rather than the bottom.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 John F. Kennedy (JFK) was a charismatic U.S. war hero, senator, and the youngest man elected President. He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on 22 November 1963 becoming the youngest President to die.