With the presidential election coming up, looking at past presidents will give us insight into what a successful presidency looks like. We can learn from the mistakes and accomplishments from past administrations. A good president works within the bounds of the Constitution to protect the individual rights of Americans. The power of the presidency has grown significantly since the Founding which is why we must select our presidents carefully. Here are the best and worst presidents we’ve had.
- Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Ronald Reagan is a conservative hero. With few exceptions. He stood for small government limited by the Constitution. He believed that “the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.” Milton Friedman wrote of Reagan’s economic policy; “Reaganomics had four simple principles: Lower marginal tax rates, less regulation, restrained government spending, noninflationary monetary policy. Though Reagan did not achieve all of his goals, he made good progress.” Other policy feats include taking on public sector unions and movement towards ending the cold war by pressuring the Soviets. He morally condemned not only communism but big government largesse. Reagan was undeniably a champion of liberty.
- Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
Jefferson spent a fair share of his presidency rolling back the Hamilton-style expansion of his predecessor. A believer in a free economy and individual liberty, he once said “When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we have separated.”
Not a fan of pomp and frivolous ceremonies, Jefferson did not deliver the state of the Union Address—the tradition was unbroken until Woodrow Wilson in 1913. He repealed taxes, reduced the years for naturalization, and saw Washington become a city. One can not mention Jefferson without mentioning the Louisiana Purchase, and the sending out of Lewis and Clarke. Under Jefferson America was solidly on it’s way to becoming a nation that would play on the world stage.
- George Washington (1789-1797)
The first and perhaps the noblest president, George Washington set the standard for the office. His morality and dedication to justice lead him to return authority after the Revolutionary War and denounce endorsements to become a king.
His character and vision for the nation is best summarized by the wishes in his farewell address, “That your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing.”
- Grover Clevland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897)
Above anything else, Cleveland believed in the Constitution and that elected officials were the servants of the people. He believed people owned the fruits of their labor and that the taxes must not exceed what is necessary to fund a government to protect its citizens. Cleveland believed that wasteful public spending is “a crime against the citizen.” Through his career, he rolled back the role of government, cut taxes, and believed in sound money. He even vetoed more bills than all previous presidents combined in an effort to rein in government.
- Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
Quick to listen and slow to speak, “Silent Cal” Coolidge was the closest we’ve come to an ideal president. Fiscally, his administration drastically cut taxes and government spending, reduced the national debt, opposed federal subsidies, and balanced the budget. He was ideologically grounded in American freedom and capitalism as evident by his moral arguments against wealth redistribution and the income tax. Socially, he was a pioneer for civil rights, supporting equal rights for Americans of color and granting citizenship to Native Americans.
- Lyndon B Johnson (1963-1969)
Johnson’s failed “War on Poverty” became the foundation for the modern welfare state and continues to incentivize government dependence and unemployment to this day. His Great Society began governmental interference in healthcare by creating Medicare and Medicaid and expanded Social Security benefits. While these policies may have gained him popularity at the time, they have contributed to over $200 trillion in liabilities as of 2020, creating immeasurable harm against current and future generations. Johnson carried on FDR’s legacy of authoritarian economic intervention. He entered into an unconstitutional war, lied about the war to the American public, and waged it in a way that sacrificed thousands of American soldiers to no avail. To his credit, however, he supported the Civil Rights Movement and helped end government-condoned discrimination.
- Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
Carter was dealt a poor hand: inflation, economic recession, and an energy crisis, but by the end of his term, things had not improved. He tried to grow government domestically and was a disaster in foreign policy. Some examples of his poor domestic policy include: increasing payroll taxes and the minimum wage, creating the Department of Education, a department outside the federal government’s constitutional purview, and reinstating draft registration. His largest foreign policy failure was the Iranian hostage crisis and takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran. Carter was unable to free Americans being held hostage by the new Iranian regime and failed to acknowledge the assault on the embassy as an act of war. He supported Indonesia and supplied them with weapons despite their gross human rights violations in East Timor. Often critical of Israel during his time in the White House, he’s gone further to the Left on his anti-Israel rhetoric since. This includes calling for recognition of Hammas, an antisemitic terrorist organization, and equating Israel with an apartheid state. A weak and ineffective leader, Carter proved to be a failure as a president other than the Camp David Accords and some energy deregulation.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of the most controversial presidents to have served in the highest office. While he got the United States through the Great Depression, his disastrous economic actions during the market downturn stretched the Depression out by years. His New Deal made him an unprecedented central planner. Prices were set by the government, taxes increased, and production became more federalized. Not only did he put hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans in concentration camps, but he was also penpals with Mussolini, who he praised to a White House Correspondent,
“‘I don’t mind telling you in confidence that I am keeping in fairly close touch with that admirable Italian gentleman.”
He crippled the banks, outlawed private gold ownership, and blamed capitalism for the depression. He also was responsible for the Social Security Ponzi scheme. He is not a president that should be praised and is in fact one of the worst.
- Barack Obama (2009-2017)
Barack Obama was the first fundamentally anti-American president. While president he showed no regard for the Constitution, entering America into treaties without senate ratification, governing by executive order, and expanding the power of federal agencies liberally. Riddled with corruption, the Obama administration was responsible for the death of Americans in Benghazi, Libya for refusing to respond to requests for help, political discrimination by the IRS, illegally sold guns to drug cartels, among a myriad of other things. His administration also assassinated American citizens without a trial. Obama launched a failed unconstitutional war in Libya, leading to a failed state and a hotbed for ISIS and al Qaeda. When he wasn’t dividing Americans among racial lines and bashing cops, he spent his time encouraging irresponsible spending deficits and going on apology tours overseas. His crowning achievement, the Affordable Care Act, infringed on American’s right to choose their preferred doctor and deepened the government’s unholy matrimony with the healthcare system.
- Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
Woodrow Wilson is the worst president in American history. A staunch segregationist, he held a White House screening of the film The Birth of a Nation, which depicts Ku Klux Klan members as heroes combatting black Americans and their Republican allies. Wilson increased the government’s role in the economy across the board (except for tariff reductions), pushed for the national income tax, the direct election of senators, and signed the Federal Reserve Act creating the Federal Reserve. In contrast to the Founders, he believed in a living Constitution that justified him expanding the power of his office. After pushing U.S. involvement in World War I, he arrested American citizens for speaking out against American involvement in the war. His presidency re-segregated the White House, diminished American freedom, and set the stage for WWII and the Great Depression.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.