From the dour Nixon to smooth Clinton, the Presidents during and since WW2 have been an interesting group. In terms of policy, we have seen how different ideologies have shaped the way that the Presidents have run the nation, and how the nation was affected by those policies. Scholars certainly have their views on the matter, as do the public, and whilst hindsight may change these views, we will all see them in different ways. Starting with the longest-serving President, Franklin D. Roosevelt and ending with the first African-American POTUS, Barack Obama, we will see how truly great these men were.
These are in order of Presidents, not a ranked order.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Terms: 3 full, died early in his fourth- 1933-1945
Background: Born to a wealthy Hyde Park family, FDR was a distant relation of Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican who was the 26th President of the United States. A Harvard graduate, Roosevelt married his wife Eleanor, a fifth cousin, in 1905. Eleanor is known as being probably the most influential First Lady the US has ever seen (yes, Hillary included), and was hugely political. Before his Presidency, he was a member of the New York State Senate and Governor of New York.
- FDR was a superb war leader, there is no disputing that. He may not have been a war leader like our great British Bulldog Winston Churchill- to whom he was distantly related and a great friend, but he wasn’t far off. His warm tones on his famous ‘Fireside Chats’ soothed a worried nation, especially when their sons were sent off after Pearl Harbour. A resolute man, he used his warm manner to create tight diplomatic relations in a time that they were needed most. A man in ill health, Roosevelt did incredibly well to travel the distance that he did.
- Yes, the FDR was a huge example of socialism and government overstepping, but you cannot fault FDR for making an effort. Honestly, it wasn’t the New Deal that probably kick started the economy, but the war, but props for trying. Unemployment did lower eventually, though it was still higher than it was in the late 1920’s. He was popular because he did what Hoover didn’t- he actually did something.
- Ok, so FDR wasn’t fab in the race department (as we will see later), but he made some notable appointments which helped create a precedent, a precedent that the Cabinet wouldn’t always be white men. I’m against positive discrimination completely, but FDR showed that the best person for the job can be a woman or an ethnic minority. His notable appointments included Frances Perkins, the Secretary of Labor, and Mary McLeod Bethune, a national adviser on race relations. Nobody expected FDR to appoint these people, but he did it because he wanted what was best.
- Roosevelt overstepped his boundaries by a lot. Whilst the New Deal did somewhat help the economy in some ways, the massive power of the state was deeply worrying. That level of reliance on the state, though somewhat understandable given the circumstances, gives them a level of power that they should not have. In the judicial branch, FDR tried to increase the number of Supreme Court justices from 9 to 15, a move that would have allowed him much more power, simply as he would appoint judges who allied with him politically. FDR was forced to back down, but this was a clear power grab and was a spit in the face of a proper state. Taking on a third, then fourth term, was a violation of the non-verbal agreement that, as Washington did, nobody would do more than two. Thanks to him, we have a little thing called the 22nd Amendment.
- Regardless of his appointments of people like Bethune, Roosevelt held some rather backwards views on terms of racial relations. Firstly, Roosevelt refused to acknowledge the Jesse Owens receiving four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Only white athletes were invited to the White House, and Owens didn’t even receive a congratulatory telegram from his President. Further on, he refused any principles he had and didn’t back an anti-lynching bill, something supported by his wife, as he was concerned he would lose the backing of the powerful bloc of Southern Democrats. Most notably, after Pearl Harbour, thousands of Japanese-Americans were forced to give up their homes and businesses, forced into internment camps. Considering the huge amount of Japanese-Americans, especially in the then territory of Hawaii, it was clearly a move borne from racism. In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld it constitutionally, supporting Roosevelt.
- Economically, the New Deal had huge issues. FDR’s taxes reached a marginal level of over 90%, and he tried to effectively pull a 100% tax to help fund his projects. A Conservative Coalition helped defeat the more controversial efforts, but it was still a strong attempt to power up the state. Its emphasis on the role of the state, especially through a Keynesian economic lens, meant that the private sector was ignored, or even disadvantaged. The fiscal right reading this will cringe, knowing how important the private sector is in helping the economy by providing jobs, competition and taxes.
We cannot ignore FDR’s giant role, and scholars consistently mark him as one of the three greatest men in the White House. The New Deal had an abundance of problems, and it was the war that kicked the economy back into shape, but it did at least help in a small way. You cannot fault FDR for trying, and one must also praise his absolute brilliance on the world state. Much as we needed Churchill during the war, America needed him during it. Sadly, despite his high rankings, I don’t excuse racism, even if it was ‘of his time,’ especially when it involved putting an ethnic group into internment camps. That, coupled with his breathtaking arrogance regarding the role of the state and his own power, ranks him a halfway mark.
If I was scoring his wife, she’d be a 10, just saying.
Harry S. Truman
Terms: Nearly 2, 1945-1953
Background: ‘The Buck Stops Here-I’m From Missouri.’ Unlike Roosevelt, Truman came from a modest background, born to a farming family. Truman did not attend college, the most recent President to not have a degree and instead worked. He managed to get into the National Guard by memorising the eye chart, as his eyesight would not have gotten him in. After serving during WW2, Truman became a judge, then a US Senator. Truman was FDR’s third VP, and joined him on the ’44 ticket. Eleven weeks after their inauguration, and only a few months after the election, Truman found himself President of the United States.
- The Truman Doctrine came into force in March 1947, something which would set the tone for the US policy regarding communism for years to come. Through his economic payments to Greece and Turkey, under threat of being taken over by communists, managed to come through the other end and become stable countries. Whilst the Truman Doctrine was not perfect- its containment policy would lead to terrible wars such as that of Vietnam, it showed that the USA would not bow down to such a horrible ideology. America was at loggerheads for over forty years with the Soviet Union, and there were close calls, but in the end, communism was not accepted.
- The Marshall Plan is controversial amongst fiscal economists because of its huge expenditure; it received approval from the most conservative Republicans. It was the US’s best interests for Europe to work itself up. The theory was that those in the deepest poverty were most liable to communism, so building the continent back up would help- and that seemed to work. Most notably, Truman wanted to knock down tariffs and trade barriers, something that encourages free markets. Free markets tend to be related to Reagan in the US, but we must thank Truman for seeing how important it was for markets to flourish.
- In 1949, Truman signed the North Atlantic Treaty, which established NATO. For the UK, NATO is a hugely important organisation- the EU is awful and the UN is toothless, so its help in setting it up helped us greatly. NATO is a collective defence organisation and considering the state of the world we are in, and the state we were in during the Cold War, international alliances are definitely needed. For the past 68 years, NATO has been a huge part of the world stage, and it has benefitted the US greatly.
- Allegations of corruption followed Truman like the plague. Whilst there is a general consensus that Truman had no involvement, or at least didn’t know, it was still a huge problem in his administration. It was discovered that at least 160 IRS officials had taken bribes and that senior officials in the Truman administration had also received expensive gifts. Truman got out unscathed, but it was still a blight on his Presidency.
- Whilst he was economically great on encouraging free markets on Europe, he was still a fairly liberal President. Progressive tax rates were introduced (read: high taxes on the rich, whilst it meant people paid their share, lots of tax is dangerous) and Truman encouraged a higher minimum wage than what was offered. Fortunately, he was blocked from doing this by Congress, though many did so because of Truman’s inclusion of civil rights legislations. Truman’s work would lay groundwork for LBJ’s ‘Great Society,’ the biggest example of state expansion since the New Deal.
- Whilst Truman was a good character, it is commonly believed he surrounded himself with the wrong people. As stated earlier, his intentions regarding communism were good, but they led to events that would take things too far- like Vietnam. Truman had been VP for barely three months when he became President, and he’d rarely even been around Roosevelt. This meant he was hugely inexperienced, and his advisors often pointed him in the wrong direction. Whilst historians used hindsight to show he was a good President, he had low approval ratings at the time, and using contemporary views to show how he affected the people are hugely important.
Not loved at the time, and marred by scandal, Truman was nonetheless a fine example of the President. Truman himself had a good, genial temperament important for this job and did well considering the mess he was thrown in. On the world stage, he helped set up the US’s role in NATO, and also helped Europe when it was needed. Economically, he may have been a little fiscally liberal, but his encouragement of free markets is to be admired. Better than his predecessor, and benefitted from not becoming stale.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Terms: 2, from 1953-1961
Background: Born to a Texan Family, Eisenhower upset his deeply religious mother when he chose the military life. His life was always military-he graduated from West Point, the premier military academy in the United States. Eisenhower graduated in 1915, and that class was nicknamed ‘the class the stars fell on’ because a huge number of them went onto become Generals. Serving in both World War One and Two, he was promoted to Supreme Allied Commander of the European Theater in the latter.
- The Korean War was winding down as Eisenhower got into office, and the former General managed to get an armistice sorted. China had refused to do anything, but Eisenhower managed to get them into shape but threatening them with their nuclear arsenal, leading the state to back down. As a General, Eisenhower knew the huge importance of the military, and made sure military spending was increased. This, during the Cold War, meant that the US could dominate the fight against dreaded communism.
- The Interstate Highway System came under effect under Eisenhower. Pressured by advisors to create a route of escape in the instance of a nuclear attack, Eisenhower also knew that he had to decentralise the country from the major cities. Spending was huge on the project, and it was mainly a state one, but it was ultimately a successful one as it allowed the movement of labour and capital in a way that it had not been allowed to do any time before. People moved away, costs were reduced and tourism became easier, making the economy a boom- even in times of Eisenhower recession.
- In terms of Civil Rights, whilst Eisenhower was often silent, but he did a lot more than Roosevelt and Truman did. The cynic says that he did not have the worry of losing Southern Democrat support, and perhaps that is right, but Eisenhower did a fair amount. Yes, he was violating states’ rights in the Little Rock incident, but he was also showing the Arkansas governor that HE was the President, not them. He also enacted the biggest Civil Rights legislation since reconstruction- even if they were unsuccessful, and moved to properly desegregate the army, a move made under his predecessor.
- The McCarthy era was in full swing during the Eisenhower years. Whilst communism was to be opposed, McCarthyism essentially amounted to a witch hunt, where many innocent people were condemned. Those who opposed the government, a basic right when one disagrees with its policies, were condemned. He pushed gays out during the Lavender scare, as many were associated with communism. Eisenhower was hugely opposed to what McCarthy was doing, but did not speak out due to McCarthy’s sheer power. Whilst he worked to undermine him behind the scenes, such as televising the McCarthy rants to show how dangers he was, he did not do enough.
- On a foreign front, he overthrew the government of Iran. This government was democratically elected, but a Western-backed coup in 1953 got him out. This lead to the Shah being elected. Whilst a good friend of the US and a reformer, the actions of that Shah and his son created resentment in Iran. Unelected and decedent in a poor country, their overthrow led to the installation of the Ayatollah Khomeini, father of a cruel and fundamentalist rule that lasts to this day. If there is one thing we know, unless it is an extreme case- Hitler- a sovereign state has no right to overthrow the leader of another. If not for the overthrow, we may not have the current Iranian regime. He also kick started the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, and we all know how that went. So thanks, Ike.
- A moderate, Eisenhower refused to cut taxes. He gave preference to a balanced budget, and refused to bow to pressure to lower the top marginal tax rate of 91%, believing that it would reduce the deficit and help to pay off the debt. Whilst this allowed him to pay for the new highways, 91% is still an incredibly high tax rate, and even worse, it was a policy from arch big-spender FDR. Whilst the economy picked up, there were three recessions during Eisenhower- that is a lot for an eight year term. The Americans were happy with their economy, but outside factors tended to help the booming 50’s.
Ignoring his foreign policy mishaps and his misguided economic policy, Eisenhower was a strong President. Domestically, he was successful and he presided over an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. He made an admirable effort regarding civil rights, especially for the era, and the free market was hugely helped by his highways.
John F. Kennedy
Terms: Less than 1, 1961-1963
Background: Born to a very wealthy and influential East Coast family, Kennedy lived a life of privilege more akin to FDR- he even graduated from Harvard too. His heroics in the Second World War led to lifelong pain, but that didn’t stop him living a full life. A Congressman, then a Senator, Kennedy also won a Pulitzer Prize for his Profiles in Courage. The youngest ever elected President (TR doesn’t count, as he ascended to the Presidency first through McKinley’s death), Kennedy won the tightest election in US history. There were around 100,000 votes between the charismatic young Kennedy and the dour, if able, VP Richard Nixon.
- JFK was the first President that truly took civil rights seriously. Whilst he was reluctant at first, mainly due to pressure from the Southern Democrats, he grew to be more assured when acknowledging the rights of his most disadvantaged citizens. Encouraged by his brother, Bobby- a more open advocate, JFK sent troops to break up fights between white conservatives and those more in favour of racial equality. He required employers to treat workers fairly in regards to race and other factors, though action on private companies is controversial. There was also the abolition of the poll tax, a huge barrier to not only minorities, but poor whites too. The first to acknowledge the role of women, JFK set up the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, headed up by the legendary Eleanor Roosevelt. Though she died before the report was published, her work helped create the landmark Equal Pay Act. Unfortunately, he died before anything major was accomplished, but his work was carried on by LBJ.
- The President initially refused to lower taxes, needing that legislation as a bargaining chip for any future legislation. Eventually, later into his term, JFK accepted that lower taxes were needed in order to stimulate the economy. He wanted prices to be kept low, and if overhead taxes were reduced, that would occur. His death meant it could never see it happen, but Congress passed reforms in 1964, including reducing the top rate of tax from 91% in FDR’s era to 70%. The top corporation tax rate was also slashed by a significant margin.
- In current time, it is commonly accepted that the money sent to NASA should really go onto domestic funds, but back then, the Space Race was revolutionary. Whilst Eisenhower set up NASA, the Space Race really occurred under Kennedy. Essentially, it was an attempt to outrun the Soviets, but Kennedy had wanted a joint venture with the Russian friends. Again, Kennedy never lived to see his space dreams come to fruition, but his encouragement allowed a revolution in science and for us to see that life goes beyond Earth.
- Bay of Pigs didn’t go exactly well. Fidel Castro survived a huge number of assassination attempts, many of which happened under Kennedy. Eisenhower had started the training for the potential invaders, but Kennedy was truly the one to take it to the level it reached. Having not considered the risks properly, Kennedy watched as thousands of exiles were murdered or captured, and he had to make concessions in order to get the remaining ones back to the USA. His failure ensured that Cuban-Americans voted Republican for years.
- Vietnam, like the Bay of Pigs, started under Eisenhower, but it really became a reality under Kennedy. In 1962, JFK escalated the conflict and from then, it became what we remember as one of America’s biggest foreign policy failures. He had resolved nothing by the time of his death, one of the few things that LBJ had to take up without guidance from his predecessor. Has JFK not escalated the conflict, it may not have become the disaster that it did- hatred for communism drove every US President, and it seemed to afflict Kennedy more than others.
- Foreign policy seemed to be a consistent failure for the young President, and the Cold War was no exception. Whilst he averted catastrophe after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 1961 Vienna Conference set the precedent for Soviet-US relations under Kennedy. Despite being warned about the abrasive Krushchev, Kennedy found himself bullied by the Soviet Leader, who in turn did not find a lot of respect for the younger man. Nothing much was done during the Vienna Conference, and the Soviets instead continued their work in East Germany. Following the conference, the Soviets began work on the Berlin Wall- the physical reminder of Churchill’s so-called ‘Iron Curtain.’ It would take 28 years before the hated monument was torn down by its people.
Whilst foreign policy was a weakness, Kennedy was still an excellent President. His success out of countries such as Cuba, the Soviet Union and Vietnam was due to his excellent diplomacy skills, as well as that of his glamorous wife- the famous Jackie Kennedy. On a domestic front, Kennedy showed himself well. His economic reforms showed how important fiscal conservatism was, and he at least made an effort with race relations, however reluctant at first. NASA allowed a new generation of dreamers and pushed science to new heights. Sadly mourned after his 1963 assassination, Kennedy was definitely one of the greats.
Lyndon B. Johnson
Terms: Just over 1, 1963-1969
Background: A proud and loud Texas boy, LBJ was a teacher before he got into politics, bankrolled by his economically savvy wife, Claudia ‘Lady Bird’ Johnson. A Congressman before he was a Senator, he became Senate Minority Leader. A domineering man known for his arrogance, rudeness and open sexual affairs, many were terrified of the man who clearly knew who was top. JFK asked him to be his running mate as a consolation prize; LBJ became a sworn enemy of the Kennedy. He was a particular enemy of Bobby Kennedy- the two loathed one another and Bobby was convinced that LBJ had a role in his brother’s death. LBJ was riding behind JFK when the latter was assassinated.
- LBJ was of his time in regards to race in a lot of ways; casually using the n-word and still not being convinced blacks were equal as whites. Still, growing up in poverty made LBJ made sympathetic to the poor, many of whom were black. His civil rights programme was the most ambitious since Ulysses Grant’s, and he passed a huge number of bills that would change the landscape of US history. A year after Kennedy’s death, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. It took a lot of effort, but Johnson’s skill as a politician allowed him to get it passed and ultimately signed. A year later, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 effectively enfranchised a huge amount of blacks in the south, many of whom faced huge obstacles in their chance to partake in one of the most sacred of all democratic rights.
- Under Eisenhower, the space race had started. Under Kennedy, it had accelerated. Under Johnson, it reached new heights. With new funding and new projects, NASA was finally able to start matching the enemy Soviets as the Apollo project was launched. Even after numerous failures, Johnson strongly defended the space race, an obvious advocate of taking man to the moon. Whilst he was no longer President on that fateful day, he watched the launch of Apollo 11 and lived to see man walk on the moon.
- Economically, LBJ focused on the poor. I criticise his methods- see the low points later on, but Johnson’s care for the poor was genuine. Born into poverty and with a genuine religious belief, Johnson fought for the less well-off, a virtue against his many faults as a person. Most importantly, Johnson advocated for a tax cut soon after he came into office and also decided to decrease the budget below $100 million. LBJ was blessed by a Congress who wanted to come together after JFK’s death, and he managed to get it passed. His domestic policy is unprecedented and impressive, with his policies such as Social Security and Medicare still hugely popular in the US, so much so that politicians don’t dare to touch it.
- LBJ greatly expanded the state, and as discussed about Roosevelt, overreliance on the state is an extremely dangerous thing. LBJ can be commended for his work on the economy and his efforts to fight poverty, but that doesn’t mean its legacy is good. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the US are deeply popular amongst all sections of society and are hard to touch, but this creates a problem. These programmes are failing, and need fixing, but any attempts by the GOP in particular are shot down because it of its popularity. As the amount of old people in the US increases each year, the costs of these programmes will spiral out of control and be a huge burden on the US economy. Had he not expanded them, we may not be in this mess.
- In 1968, Richard Nixon was known as the ‘law and order candidate,’ running on wanting to help the silent majority. Had it not been for LBJ’s huge unpopularity, the two could have faced one another in the 1968 election, and LBJ would have been roasted by Nixon on law. America endured years of riots under LBJ, with it hitting a head in 1968 after the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The US would not see it again until the Rodney King or Ferguson riots years later. These riots, mainly concentrated in African-American areas, cost lives, got thousands imprisoned and destroyed millions worth of properties. As crime skyrocketed, America felt unsafe both on a domestic front and a foreign one.
- ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ- How many kids did you kill today?’ Chanted day and night in front of the White House, LBJ was reportedly deeply hurt by it. Had it not been for the Vietnam War, LBJ would probably have been remembered as an excellent President. As the conflict escalated, the President found himself scrambling- unsuccessfully- for a solution. Whilst Americans had been neutral at best at the start of the Vietnam War, they began to question its necessity, especially as they watched their boys be slaughtered needlessly. This is when the hippie generation started, the disillusioned youth angry at a war that was started by the old and finished by the young. Johnson watched as thousands upon thousands marched in protest, and even tried to use the CIA to undermine them. The Vietnam War completely obliterated the colourful President, and in March 1968, he made the hugely surprising announcement that he would not seek re-election. This handed a Republican the keys to the White House.
Whilst his domestic policy went too far in terms of state control, Johnson did a very good job inside the United States. His efforts to prevent poverty were genuine, and his actions to help civil rights set a precedent for how the President would react to racism in the future. Economically, he managed to cut the budget and lower taxes, an impressive task considering the expansion of government programmes and how much that would cost. Unfortunately for him, the Vietnam War was a gigantic failure, too big a failure to ignore. Even the biggest neo-cons will admit that, and as a person who is strongly against interference in foreign countries, I cannot forgive it, even against his domestic policy. He rates better than Roosevelt for two reasons: better economics and the fact he didn’t intern an entire racial group.
Terms: Just under 2, 1969-1974
Background: Named after Richard the Lionheart, Nixon was born in California. Like Johnson, he was born into a poor family, and watched his younger brother die at the tender age of seven. Family issues meant he was forced to give up his chance of Harvard, but he was later admitted to the prestigious Duke Law School. He practiced law and served during WW2 before entering politics in 1945. In 1947, he became a Congressman and in 1950, a Senator for the state of California. In 1952, Eisenhower’s advisors recommended the 39 year old Senator, who had become impressive in his less than 10 year political career. Just before the 1952 US election, there were some issues with Nixon’s campaign funds- leading to the infamous ‘Checkers’ speech. As we know, he was elected along with Eisenhower, where he enjoyed an unprecedented level of power for a VP. He was nearly shafted in 1956, but his popularity forced him to stay. He lost the 1960 election by 100,000 votes and many thought it was the end of Nixon. They were wrong.
- After LBJ had weaponized the state, Nixon recognised the need to decentralise the power structure. Whilst he was not successful due to a deeply opposed legislature, Nixon giving power back to the states shows that he was a man who understood that the state did not need to be the biggest influence in people’s lives. He managed to cut one of the Cabinet departments- the Post Office Department, something that would become independent from the government. Nixon also encouraged market-based health systems, against the wishes of Ted Kennedy, who wanted a single-payer system. After LBJ, this was a refreshing change from the power of the state.
- An interesting anecdote that helps shine a light on Nixon’s racial issues comes from his college days. Nixon played football for his college, and his coach was a Native American name called Wallace Newman. The president deeply admired the man, seeing him as a father figure second only to his father. Nixon stated that Newman was a brilliant coach who could have easily worked in the NFL if not for his race, and that was what stayed with Nixon for years. Whilst Nixon, like Johnson, still displayed the casual racism of the era, he still made an effort. The issue of busing was one that was important in the Nixon era, as he made strong attempts to desegregate schools properly, much to the anger of parents. He also worked hard to stop racial discrimination in hiring, though I personally strongly disagree with affirmative action.
- Whilst foreign policy was Johnson’s Achilles’ Heel, Nixon did a spectacular job. He deescalated the Vietnam War to the point that it was essentially over by the time he resigned, though the Fall of Saigon would not occur until 1975. Under Nixon, American troops were withdrawn and a ceasefire, though later broken, was put into place. His most notable foreign policy triumph was his 1972 trip to China. He used television to show off China to the world, and made history with many visits to important parts of China. Nixon met with the infamous Mao Zedong, who found himself impressed with the strong and forthright American leader. This finally led to a better time for Sino-American relations.
- Inflation was very high during Nixon’s time, a problem that dogged all Presidents of the 70s. Though often opposed to economic actions such as wage and price controls for most of his political life, Nixon eventually caved after economic advisors encouraged him to enact them due to the inflation. This was not popular amongst businesses or the general public, who believed that it was a huge example of bureaucracy. The price controls were initially believed to be temporary, but it soon transpired that Nixon wanted to keep them in. Inflation rose from 4.7% at the start of Nixon’s administration to 12.1% at the end of it.
- The Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia will go down as one of the most infamous and awful regimes in history. Probably one of the only weak parts of Nixon’s foreign policy was his handling of the country. Between 1969 and 1973, thousands of American bombs rained down on Cambodia, killing a huge number of innocent people. Angered by this perceived imperialism, more peasants showed support for Pol Pot. More troubling, the bombing indirectly led to the war that engulfed the country.
- Watergate, Watergate, Watergate. I won’t go through the long and troubling events that led towards it, but no President (maybe with the exception of the incumbent) will ever receive the hatred that Nixon did over Watergate. Whilst it is widely believed that Nixon didn’t order it, it is generally thought that he at least knew about it, even if it were afterward. Regardless of everything else, Nixon lied to the American people. He watched as their faith in their government was damaged and how they lost faith in the man they’d elected in a landslide. Watergate was the biggest scandal in American history, and honestly, no more needs to be said about that.
If it wasn’t for Watergate, Nixon would be higher. His foreign policy, save for Cambodia, was a gigantic success- he managed to help end Vietnam, warm relations with the USSR a little more and finally let China open up the world. His economics were flawed, but his popularity on the domestic front showed when he won 49 states in 1972. Also, one must notice his sincerity in regards to race relations, as he was a lot more sincere than sweet old Kennedy was. Watergate, however, is his biggest blow. A man who meddles in the democratic process, is so paranoid that he taped his office and paid off the burglars is one that is not too great. Watergate damaged America and its love of its government, and if it wasn’t for that, Nixon would definitely be a great.
Term: Less than 1, 1974-1977
Background: Born Lesley Lynch King Jr, his name was changed aged three to resemble his stepfather, also Gerald Ford. A football star and model in his youth, an early experience of racism against a black friend shaped Ford’s politics. A proud alumnus of the respected University of Michigan and Yale Law, Ford served in the Navy during WW1. In 1949 he won a seat in Congress, despite fears he would lost after he married a divorcée, Betty Ford, a year before. Ford served for 24 years, becoming House Minority Leader in 1965, a position he held for eight years. In 1973, his life changed. Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s first VP, resigned after accusations of corruption came his way. Ford dreamed of being Speaker, but it was not to be. Warm, friendly and popular, Ford’s personality would bring back faith in the executive office, and he was unanimously recommended to Nixon. Vice President for eight months, Ford watched as Watergate exploded. In August 1974, Nixon resigned.
- Husband of the famously outspoken Betty, Ford’s belief in equality went beyond race. At the time, second-wave feminism was at its peak, pitting liberals like Betty Friedan against conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly. Ford was a proponent of the Equal Right Amendment, a huge piece of potential legislation that was never passed. Unlike previous Presidents, Ford supported abortion on a state by state basis, becoming more pro-choice in later life (he had opposed Roe v. Wade in his capacity as Senator).
- Vietnam essentially finished with the Fall of Saigon in 1975, which came under Ford’s time. Ford focused military manpower on the evacuation of US troops and others, with helicopters being used to take them to safety from Communists. Knowing how much the terrible and unjustified war cost the Vietnamese, Ford sent an aid package their way and authorised the relocation of thousands of displaced peoples. Vietnam was eventually reunited as the one country we know today.
- Ford signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975. Whilst as a treaty it was not binding, the accords were hugely important, especially in wake of the Vietnam War. Its articles included the respect of sovereign borders, non-intervention in internal affairs (Bush Jr should have read more into that) and self-determination of peoples. The Accords were a huge step forward in reducing the impact of the Cold War, especially as the Soviet Union signed it.
- The Nixon Pardon immediately dented Ford’s popularity. Nixon had betrayed the American people, committed crimes and had managed to quit before he was impeached. It was so harmful that it hung over him like a foul stench for the rest of his Presidency, even likely losing him the 1976 election. Though Ford probably did it because he was a nice person and still liked Nixon, it was a bad move and is hugely divisive. Nixon should have answered for his crimes, but Ford never gave him the chance.
- Ford suffered from massive economic problems. Firstly, stagflation had occurred at a massive rate. Ford tried to resolve this with the ‘Whip Inflation Now’ scheme, commonly known as WIN. He encouraged thrifty spending of both the public and the politicians, especially with petrol- something that had taken a nosedive in production after Nixon’s economic campaign. The public didn’t take kindly to this, and Congress didn’t take kindly to his calls for increased tax on high earners. One of the worst recessions since the Great Depression also hit under Ford and he failed to help. His tax cuts failed to help as he’d just asked for tax increases. He ran a massive deficit every year of his Presidency and watched as the great New York City faced bankruptcy.
- Less than three months after his election, the midterms occurred. Due to Ford’s unpopularity regarding the Nixon pardon, the Democrats made huge gains- including in Ford’s former seat. In the House, they went to 291 seats and in the Senate, they went to 61. As a result of an ideological difference between the legislature and the executive, a record number of vetoes were passed. This wasn’t necessarily Ford’s fault, but it made it extremely difficult for him to pass anything in his short presidency.
I feel for Gerald Ford. He was by all accounts a good man thrown into a job he didn’t want or wasn’t prepared for, the latter similar to his successor, Jimmy Carter. His effort to pardon Nixon as hugely misguided and he would never have retained the public’s trust after that. Despite an unassuming foreign policy and a decent record on rights, Ford had a rather terrible Presidency. The economic problems weren’t his fault, but he wasn’t equipped to handle them. I gave him higher than a three because of the fact he inherited the mess, but I cannot give him higher because of how bad his Presidency was. If we were rating him on personality, he would probably get the highest.
Term: 1, 1977-1981
Background: The first US President to be born in a hospital, Carter spent his life in the rural Plains, Georgia. He dreamed of a naval career, but this was cut short by the premature death of his father. His father’s death meant that he had to live in federal housing for a while due to his father’s debts. He made an enemy of the White Citizens’ Council when he refused to join them, a result of his staunch anti-racist views. He became a state senator in 1963, and became Governor of Georgia in 1971. In late 1974, he announced his run for President. Initially extremely unknown (his name recognition was incredibly low); Carter somehow managed to run a solid campaign based on rural and devout Christian votes. He managed to win 1 million more votes than the incumbent Republican Gerald Ford.
- Israel has never had an easy time with its neighbours, from its inception in 1948 to now. In 1978, five years after the Yom Kippur War, Carter hosted secret talks between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israel PM Menachem Begin in Camp David, the US Presidential retreat in Maryland. As a result of the Camp David Accords, Israel has its closest relations with Egypt than anyone else in its region, and both its signatories co-won the 1978 Peace Prize. Unfortunately, Anwar Sadat was gunned down in 1981, but Carter helped achieve peace in a massively unstable region.
- Carter had a special love for the environment, and is still known to this day as being hugely environmentally conscious. He passed laws to clean up hazardous sites, protect nature reserves and promote solar energy (still a controversial science, but a nice thought nonetheless). Though it was Nixon who really kick started the environmental game, Carter’s efforts also really helped. Regardless of people’s thoughts on climate change, Carter has attempted to leave the world a better place for his children and grandchildren.
- The Strategic Arms Limitations Talk (SALT II) was a push in the right direction regarding the Cold War. Talking to Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev, the two started to reach an agreement on decreasing the number of nuclear weapons on both sides. Remember that this was an age that people were still scared of nuclear Armageddon, so the co-operation between the two sides was important. Unfortunately, Congress disagreed on it, and it was hard to pass. Once the USSR invaded Afghanistan, there was no turning back, and both that and Congress killed any hope.
- Carter created both the Department of Education and Department of Health. The former is slightly more excusable, as the department it was already in (Health, Education and Welfare) was already stretched, but creating a second department was pushing it. By creating two more departments, Carter was stretching the size of the federal government to larger than it should have been. Centralizing both of these into Washington also took away states’ rights, as in a country as large as the USA, it should have been left to the individual states.
- On November 4th 1979, a group of radical Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran. Whilst some managed to escape, 52 Americans were held hostage in the embassy for over a year. They suffered in harsh conditions, knowing that their captors could kill them at any second. Many attempts were made to rescue hostages, all of which were unsuccessful and some of which caused the deaths of attempted rescuers. Negotiations eventually occurred, but Iran twisted the knife in by releasing them the second Reagan was sworn in so that it was not under Carter’s administration. Ouch.
- Oh the economy. If you think Ford had it bad, Carter had it way worse. Of course, this wasn’t his fault entirely- Ford wasn’t exactly a brilliant economist. Similarly to Ford, Carter ran a deficit for every year of his Presidency. He also watched the US national debt skyrocket from $280 billion when he started to $900 billion when he finished. The worst crisis he faced was the 1979 Energy Crisis, which was started by Nixon’s economic policies late in his administration. Carter deregulated the industry, but panic set in and consumers started to queue for hours in fear they would not get gas. The President encouraged the public to wear warmer clothing indoors and try alternative energies, like when he put up solar energy in the White House. After the Iranian Hostage Crisis started, Carter put up an embargo against Iranian oil, which did nothing to solve the crisis.
Whilst Carter was definitely a better president morally than FDR, he was sadly a worse one. Yes, I’ll use the argument that like Ford, it wasn’t really his fault- and he inherited a worse mess, but he really, really did not know how to sort it. Carter would have been a great Secretary of State- he’s an astonishingly brilliant humanitarian who has managed to eradicate a disease and also win a Nobel Peace Prize- but as a President, he was not so good. He achieved an incredible amount with peace for both the Soviet Union and Israel, but everything else was stacked against him. Carter is a 4, but a lower 4 than Ford.
Terms: 2, 1981-1989
Background: Probably the most unlikely President if we go job history, Reagan was born in Illinois. After graduating college, he worked as a radio announcer before moving to Hollywood. Calling himself the ‘Errol Flynn of B Movies,’ Reagan was a semi- well known actor. He married his first wife, Jane in 1940, becoming the first ever President to be divorced (Trump would later become the second). His time as the President of the Screen Actors Guild shifted him from a liberal to the conservative we know today. He became Governor of California in 1967, and very nearly won the 1976 Republican primaries. Eventually, he won in 1980.
- The US answer to the Margaret Thatcher ideology, Reagan’s free market ideology and laissez-faire economy was a far cry from the post-War consensus. If only the GOP would go back to it. Anyway, Reagan cut taxes every year, which removed millions of poorer citizens from paying taxes- taking the burden off the poor. Interestingly, tax receipts increased which indicates more people honestly paying tax, which is never a bad thing. As the US was still in the Cold War, Reagan ring fenced military spending, but made sure the federal budget was decreased- stopping a reliance on the federal government. He also deregulated industry and ensured that unions would not hold the country to ransom as they had during the PATCO strike.
- Reagan was known as the ‘Great Communicator,’ and he used this to his advantage. A hugely charming man, Reagan focused on diplomacy. His friendship with Soviet Premier Gorbachev allowed a huge thaw in the Cold War, as the two worked hard in order to end it. Reagan hoped to disarm nuclear weapons- perhaps a pipe dream, but he still did not want to live in a world where that could occur. The pair met at numerous summits and managed to agree on a number of issues. Reagan no longer saw the USSR as the evil threat it once was, and soon after he left the Presidency, the Berlin Wall came crumbling down. Eventually, the Cold War collapsed, as did the USSR. Without a doubt, Reagan hugely contributed.
- Militarily, America was strong under Reagan. Whilst the beloved Republican was an opponent of nuclear weapons, he focused on more conventional warfare and began to also develop new technologies at the time. The ‘Star Wars’ programme was later used in the Gulf War, and also kept the Soviet Union at bay. It was as much a defence programme as it was an attacking one, which helped keep the peace. Reagan proved that a bigger military can mean more peace.
- The War on Drugs is somewhat admirable. The drug trade can be horrible, and the effect of the harder stuff- such as heroin, is awful. Spearheaded by his beloved wife, the tough Nancy Reagan, kids were encouraged to ‘Just Say No.’ That, however, was not the downside. Adolescent drug use did go down, but it hugely packed prisons. There was also a massive disparity in terms of race, with more African-Americans going away for longer- even if they were charged with the exact same crime as whites. With people still affected by it today, prison costs are spiralling.
- HIV/AIDS started appearing in the 1980s, becoming a huge problem- especially in the LGBT section of society. Reagan, a social conservative, was publically indifferent to the crisis. He believed that society should sort it out itself, and that it was not for the government to do anything. Reagan was opposed to objectives such as handing out condoms, something that went against his morality. Whilst the President put up over $500 million in AIDS medical research, he was still hugely criticised. When he left office, that number was over a billion.
- Reagan’s biggest scandal was that of the Iran-Contra Affair. The administration organised the funds of right-wing Contra rebels in the troubled state of Nicaragua, who would be armed against the left-wing government. They secretly sold arms to Iran, who was under embargo, in hopes that this would help in Nicaragua. It is unknown as to whether Reagan fully sanctioned or even knew about the case, so we will leave it up to interpretation. If he did, it was a blight on his record.
Probably the best President the USA ever came up with, Ronald Reagan knew how to run the show. A man who helped end the Cold War, bring a fairer market-based system to his country and create a strong military, he is also remembered by scholars as one of America’s states. Nobody is perfect, and points have been deducted for his social policy and the fact he left a bit of a deficit for Bush to clean up. Ultimately, Reagan set the groundwork of the greatest non-President, Barry Goldwater and truly reinvigorated the Republican Party, which is a shame, as it hasn’t listened. Also, Reagan won 49 states (tied with Nixon in ’72) and 525 votes (the highest ever, out of a possible 538). The electorate loved him. Whatta man.
George H. W Bush
Terms: 1, 1989-1993
Background: Born to US Senator Prescott Bush and his wife, Bush served in the US Navy. At the time of his commission, he was the youngest naval aviator. After WW2 finished, a married Bush attended Yale and graduated with an economics degree. Navigating the Texas oil fields, Bush became an oil millionaire before the age of 40. In 1966, he became a Congressman for Texas. After this, he held a variety of roles such as the Ambassador for the United Nations and CIA Director. In 1980, Bush decided to run for President. He managed to win the first caucus in Iowa, which forced Reagan to rerun his campaign. Accepting Bush as a strong rival, Reagan selected him as VP. After spending eight years on the down low, Bush ran for President.
- The Gulf War was one of the most successful examples of foreign policy. After Iraq invaded the sovereign state of Kuwait (probably for oil reasons), a coalition of 34 countries, based in Saudi Arabia, were spurred into action. Starting with an aerial campaign- targeting infrastructure strongholds, it eventually turned into conventional ground warfare. The world watched as it fought against Saddam Hussein, and watched in even more horror as the oil fields of Kuwait burned. They managed to liberate Kuwait, but Bush made the decision not to head into Baghdad. Criticised at the time, it is in hindsight a very good move- something that his son should have learned from. Bush’s approval ratings shot to 89%, the highest of a President yet, though his son would reach 90% after 9/11.
- Bush presided over the end of the Soviet Union. In 1989, the Berlin Wall finally fell. Whilst the negotiations were initially rocky, Bush managed to push the USSR to begin negotiations with the newly independent Lithuania and also fought for German reunification, against the wishes of leaders such as Thatcher. A year after the wall fell, Germany got back together. Also, Bush and Gorbachev managed to finally sign the START, and soon after that, the USSR dissolved. The Cold War was over.
- Though it would not come into force until 1994, and was signed by Clinton, NAFTA really came to fruition under the Bush era. Whilst Democrats hated the free trade aspect, Bush ignored them in order to spearhead the huge free market trade agreement. With Canada and Mexico both hugely important markets, Bush’s free trade would allow an opening of trade across the three countries. It is a testament to Bush’s forcefulness that NAFTA managed to get it passed, and for it to remain to this day. Considering Bush had an otherwise shaky relationship with the economy, it was one thing he did very well.
- ‘Read my lips, no new taxes.’ That came back to bite him in the bum. For all of Reagan’s achievements, his high military spending did have consequences and he left quite the deficit. Considering the size of it, it could not be ignored- and Bush knew that. He lowered spending, something to be expected from a Republican President, but then he did the unthinkable- he raised taxes. This was instantly momentous, and his base felt hugely betrayed. On a roll after the success of the Gulf War, Bush was looking like he’d walk 1992. Unfortunately, he both alienated his base and others, as the economy was in a bit of a bad state. As a result of this, he lost all of the political capital he’d gained.
- Reagan was a former movie star who had bags of charisma. Unfortunately for Bush, he failed to show energy. A son from a wealthy family and a millionaire, Bush failed to connect to the people in a way that Donald Trump or Franklin Roosevelt managed to do. Though it was the fault of the magazine that reported, the infamous supermarket scanner incident showed him as a doddering old fool. During the 1992 campaign, it seemed as though he had given up. He had no energy in his campaign and failed to catch up with the young and exciting Bill Clinton. With Ross Perot also in the race, Bush did not manage to excite the middle classes, who felt disenfranchised. In one infamous moment, Bush was caught looking at his watch during one of the Presidential debates, making him look rude and inconsiderate, as though he had better things to do than be there. On the flip side, Clinton walked right up to the questioners, looking them in the eye and empathising with them.
- Though Bush had a lot of success with foreign policy, he had some problems. In December 1989, American forces invaded Panama. In Panama, there had been elections but after some counts issues, leader Manuel Noriega declared the elections invalid. Noriega had initially been a US ally, but his drug trafficking had become a huge problems- especially after the Reagan administration had started the ‘War on Drugs.’ Bush used the excuse of democracy- a popular one for the neo-cons out there, believing that it was important to keep it in there. The invasion lasted a month, and Noriega was deposed. As has been said before, going in and ousting leaders is a dangerous game. Homes were lost, people were displaced and some even became refugees.
Probably one of the most severely underrated Presidents of all time, Bush was a lot better than many think- even he thought he was a failure. His foreign policy, save for Panama and China, was generally excellent, as helped by his time as UN Ambassador. Under him, we saw a smooth end to the Cold War, the end of the USSR and the liberation of Kuwait, for what he is still remembered. His economic success wasn’t there, but as with Ford and Carter, he did inherit a mess. Though not discussed, he did have some strong success on a domestic front- the ‘Thousand Points of Light’ speech was a beautiful one with an excellent legacy, he expanded the Clean Air Act and inspired by one of his son’s dyslexia, brought in the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, a landmark legislation for disabled citizens. Hindsight was a huge benefit to Bush.
Terms: 2, 1993-2001
Background: Born William Jefferson Blythe III, his father died before he was born. His stepfather was abusive, even though Clinton had taken his surname. He got to meet JFK in 1963, the same year that he was assassinated. Clinton attended three prestigious universities- Georgetown, Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar) and Yale, where he met Hillary. Starting in 1973, he won several non-consecutive terms as Governor of Arkansas, where his wife became the first female partner of the powerful Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. In 1992, he came from being third in Iowa to managing to win the nomination, and later the Presidency. A young man, he contrasted to Reagan and Bush, both who had been older when they became President.
- Bill Clinton was ridiculously lucky with the economy. He presided over the prosperous period of the 90’s, when the tech bubble was at its peak. A fiscal conservative who advocated for a ‘Third Way,’ Clinton signed and ratified NAFTA, something introduced by his predecessor. Clinton easily could have said no in the new administration, but instead accepted the free market and how important it was in the North American region. Whilst he increased taxes for the wealthy and dropped a promised cut for the middle class, he decreased taxes for low income families and allowed access to tax cuts for nearly all small businesses. Clinton watched over the first budget surplus in years and a decrease in public debt, though the federal one stayed the same. The number of welfare recipients decreased, unemployment was at a very low point, child poverty decreased and there was the lowest teen birth rate in 60 years.
- Educational opportunities increased significantly under Clinton, partially helped by the increase in technology and the development of the World Wide Web, which revolutionised the future of the 90’s kids. School choice was increased under Clinton, as did the achievement in reading and writing. By increasing the Pell Grant and expanding tax credits to put towards college savings, Clinton allowed more students to attend college. Thanks to the tech boom, nearly all schools had access to the internet in one way or another, though it would be years before it was properly implemented.
- Clinton mediated negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians during the 1990s. The Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, and led to some concessions regarding the self-determination of the Palestinian people. The historic treaty was signed in the White House, and Clinton watched the two shake hands. Two years later, and the Oslo II Accords were signed in Egypt. Whilst they didn’t exactly create peace in the Middle East, as with the Camp David Accords, it was an important step in the right direction. Rabin was assassinated in 1995.
- Whilst the Israel-Palestine conflict was a strong point for US foreign policy, it would not be so for the rest of the world. In 1986, a civil war exploded in Somalia, dragging the African nation into terror and deprivation, something that it still sadly experiences to this day. In late 1992, Bush sent troops in. Unfortunately, the Battle of Mogadishu of 1993 killed a number of soldiers- never liked by the American people- and Clinton faced pressure to withdraw, which he did in 1994. Unfortunately, that created a power vacuum which would remain for years. 1994 was a double whammy for him, as the Rwandan Genocide occurred. Thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered in a very, very short amount of time, yet nothing was done. Clinton was not exempt from criticism- he had watched it occurred and the most he could muster was a few aid drops. He would later call it his worst failure. Later, in 1998, he courted criticism by bombing a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, which halted medicine production in the stricken country.
- In summer 1995, a woman named Monica Lewinsky got a job as a White House Intern. Nearly three years later, she would come under world scrutiny after the revelation that she and Bill Clinton had numerous sexual encounters. This would nearly become Clinton’s undoing- not because of his adultery, but the fact he lied about it. In December 1998, the House of Representatives initiated articles of impeachment against him, and an intense battle ensued. The House voted to impeach him on charges of obstructing justice and perjury, but similarly to Andrew Jackson over 100 years before, the Senate would save him. What he did with Lewinsky was very wrong, but not illegal; however, he did lie about it. Politicians do lie to the American people, but not under oath like he did. Had he just come out and said ‘yup, I did it, sorry Hillary, sorry America,’ life would have been easy, but instead he put the country through an impeachment trial. Nice.
- His actions regarding terrorism also take him down. Firstly, he had many, many chances to take down Osama Bin Laden. In 1996, he sprung up on the US’s radar for all the wrong reasons and the defence services asked if they should do anything. What did Clinton say? No. Later on, Bin Laden started creeping up more and more as the world learned more about al-Qaeda, but Clinton continued refusing to do anything. He even refused to hire Arabic translators to help out in monitoring, which could have at least helped somewhat.
Clinton was a very good President in a lot of ways. Domestically he achieved an awful lot, and his handling of the economy meant that the 90s was a prosperous time for the United States. All the right statistics point in his favour, which is why scholars rate him so highly. Similarly to Carter, he did well in helping Israeli relations with its neighbours, good because of how volatile a region it is. Unfortunately, he wasn’t perfect. His foreign policy in Somalia left a vacuum that would be taken up by war lords and his ignorance of Rwanda allowed maybe up to a million people be murdered. Ignorance seemed to be a common trait of his- he ignored the Bin Laden threat. Though not mentioned earlier, Clinton also allowed Gerry Adams to get a visa to visit the US, even though Adams was still designated a terrorist at the time (I still call him that). The State Department and nearly everyone else was (rightly) opposed to letting the man in, Clinton ignored them, hoping he’d renounce his violent ways. Did he? No.
George W. Bush
Terms: 2, 2001-2009
Background: Son of former President Bush, Bush and his father are the second parental duo to get the Presidency (Adams/Quincy Adams). Like his father and grandfather, he was at the Skull and Bones Society at Yale and was also a cheerleader. A few years later, he got an MBA from Harvard. After a spell in the military and business worlds (he bought the Texas Rangers), Bush eventually got involved in politics. He lost a race for a congressional seat in the late 70s, but worked on his father’s campaigns in the 80s. In 1995, he managed to beat the popular Democrat Ann Richards (her daughter Cecile is the current President of Planned Parenthood) to become a two-term Texas Governor. In 1999, Bush announced his run for President, portraying himself as a ‘compassionate conservative.’ Beating off stiff competition from 2008 candidate John McCain, Bush found himself squaring off against VP Al Gore. The 2000 election is probably the most contentious in history, and it took months before the Supreme Court asked Florida to stop its recounts.
- On September 11th 2001, four planes took off from various points in the US. Two crashed into both World Trade Centers (known as the Twin Towers) in Manhattan. Another hit the Pentagon in Arlington and another, intended probably for the White House or the Capitol Building, was crashed into a field outside of Shanksville. After the dust was settled, nearly 3,000 people had been killed. Though he was in lockdown for most of the day, Bush eventually delivered a statement to his frightened people. In the next few days and weeks, Bush’s delivery ratings skyrocketed to above 90%. He urged citizens not to attack Muslims and other ethnic minorities, proclaiming that it was nothing to do with them. When he visited the debris in New York, he made an effort to speak with the emergency service workers and later gave a powerful speech whilst standing on some rubble. His calm, soothing manner after a time of great crisis showed what a genuine leader he was-one can always tell a great leader from how they react in times of crisis.
- A proud compassionate conservative, Bush focused hugely on the prevention of AIDS, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where it remains a huge issue. Foreign aid is always a controversial policy, but in this case it actually helped somewhat. Midway through his administration, Bush pledged $15 billion to the cause- something that helped 4.5 million get the drugs they needed to prevent it. It is believed to have saved at least 11 million lives by encouraging abstinence, use of contraceptives within a faithful relationship and frequent testing.
- Thanks to the superbly well-thought out mortgage of the Lehman Brothers Bank, the economy started to take a nosedive in around 2007-2008.Whilst Bush did handle the economy spectacularly- as we will see later, he did stop it from being a lot, lot worse than it was. Though Congress initially voted it down, it eventually passed the Troubled Asset Relief Programme (TARP), essentially a government bailout. Though I don’t usually like government interfering in private business, letting the banks fall on their own would have been absolutely catastrophic, and Bush stopped the recession getting to 1929 level, though he did not stop it from happening.
- Several factors contributed to the fall in Bush’s initial popularity, the economy was a huge influence. Whilst Bush’s tax cuts and free market enterprise are commended for their fiscal conservatism. Bush did not offset them enough with cut spending. Expanded Medicare for the elderly (helping them to pay for their prescriptions) and big programmes like The No Child Left Behind Act did cost money, and tax receipts fell. The debt also increased as the government lost more revenue than it had planned to. If he had planned properly, the tax cuts would have been much better for America.
- If anything was the point of no return, it was 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The Hurricane affected predominantly African-American areas, such as New Orleans, where many sadly died and many more were displaced. 80% of New Orleans was flooded, meaning mass evacuations were needed. Bush was criticised for his lack of response, and many believed that was because it was a black, working class area. He had returned late from his holiday and whilst he did a flyover over the affected area, many believed he was not caring enough because he did properly visit the affected area.
- Oh the War on Terror. Whilst Afghanistan had a few benefits- it got rid of the horrible terrible Taliban, but it still left the country a terrible place. Unfortunately, Iraq was an absolutely terrible, terrible excuse of a war and cemented Bush’s place as one of the least favourite Presidents as rated by the scholars. Only four countries- the US, UK, Poland and Australia- worked together to invade the country, and whilst it lasted only two months, nobody expected what came next. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a very, very evil man and Iraq did not deserve such a terrible leader, but the invasion made things worse. A power vacuum was left as opposing forces scrambled for control, with tribal leaders, warriors and government officials all fighting for it. Thousands upon thousands of Iraqis were killed, injured and displaced, with many becoming refugees. Many soldiers were tragically killed in the line of duty, as were members of the Iraqi law enforcement. Most troubling of all of these was how Islamic State used all of this to gain capital, getting support from wannabe terrorists and taking over vast swaths of lands. Without going into too much detail, IS are probably one of the most evil, vitriolic and disgusting group of people to exist. Finally, the scandal over ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and the mistreatment of prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison showed how cruel a minority of the Americans could be.
As a person, I do have genuinely like George W. Bush. I think he is fundamentally a good person, but he was absolutely misguided and not a fantastic person. His actions after 9/11 were exemplary and showed some of the best leadership of some of the men on the list. On top of this, I commend his actions on preventing HIV/AIDS in some of the poorest countries in the world. Unfortunately, he had a lot of issues- the economy was terrible, he did nothing about it and he really could have handled Hurricane Katrina a lot better. Ultimately, as someone who is fervently anti Neocon, I cannot forgive how awful the Iraq War was. Overall, Bush will never be remembered as a US Presidential great. Sorry.
Terms: 2, 2009-2017
Background: Born to a Kenyan father and white American mother in Hawaii, Obama is the first African-American president, or of any ethnic minority in fact. He lived in a variety of places, including Indonesia, before he attended Harvard and Colombia, becoming a lawyer. Whilst working in a Chicago law firm, he met his future wife Michelle- a double Ivy Leaguer also. Obama was an Illinois State Senator before going into the US Senate for one term. Propelled to the national spotlight after making the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama announced his candidacy in 2007. Beating off extremely tough competition from former First Lady and US Senator Hillary Clinton, Obama became the nominee.
- Cuba has always been a thorn inside, especially since the overrated dictator that was Fidel Castro took over in 1959. Beginning in late 2014, talks began between the US and Cuba, mediated by none other than His Holiness, the Pope Francis. Talks occurred in the neutral grounds of Canada and the Vatican City. Amongst the successes were the lifting of US travel restrictions (it was very hard for citizens to get into Cuba), and for the embassies of the other countries being opened in Havana and DC. These had been closed since 1961, the year of Obama’s birth. In March 2016, Obama became the first US President to visit Cuba in nearly a century, officially indicating a thaw in relations. US politicians had mixed views, but Latin American politicians were thrilled and there was a positive international reception.
- On a terrorism front, Obama had some successes. The Iraq War essentially ended under Obama, who withdrew vast numbers of troops from the region. He did keep some troops in the country, but that was to ensure a smooth transition and they served in advisory roles (especially since the boom of ISIS) as opposed to front line ones. Operation Enduring Freedom, the Afghan operation, was ended under Obama, beginning a transition to an independent Afghan government, though troops still remained. His highest point, however, was in May 2011. Though the news had already been broken, Obama stood in the White House and announced that the US Navy SEALS had successfully executed a raid that had killed Osama bin Laden. The USA rejoiced as they praised their wonderful military along with the President who had executed the order. Bin Laden’s death may not have made the world safer, but it certainly stopped the life of a truly evil, devious man.
- Bush, a very socially conservative and pro-life man, enacted very strict rules on the development of stem cell research. In March 2009, Obama lifted these restrictions. No doubt Nancy Reagan (who passed last year) was happy, as the former First Lady had been campaigning staunchly for stem cell research after her husband’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and later his death, caused by complications. This unlocks research potential for thousands of diseases, from dementia to Parkinson’s, diseases which afflict millions. Let’s hope that something comes of this.
- In the UK, we have what the Americans would call ‘socialised medicine,’ the single-payer NHS. In the US, this is not a thing, and healthcare is an extremely hot button topic. Taking advantage of the Democratic majority in Congress he enjoyed early in his presidency, Obama passed the Affordable Care Act (more commonly known was ‘Obamacare’) in December 2009. Whilst it expanded coverage and ensured people could not be penalised for pre-existing conditions, it is an extremely flawed piece of legislation. The left contends it does not go far enough, the right believes the state goes too far. There were fines for those who did not take up insurance, which is going too far. Premiums skyrocketed, going from several hundred to several thousand per month, making hard working families choose between shelling out for insurance they may never use or paying the fine. No wonder the GOP, however flawed in its attempts, want it gone.
- Obama also went very, very far in his foreign policy. The Arab Spring was in full swing during the Obama administration, and one issue was Libya. The international community pulled out a no-fly zone, and Obama went further by sending forced to commit air attacks. Many in the domestic community rightly criticised him, believing that Obama had overstepped boundaries in a sovereign state. It was the responsibility of the Libyans to get rid of the evil dictator, not Obama. In Pakistan and other countries, the Obama administration relied heavily on the use of drones to kill targets. These drones were not used well, and killed an incredible amount of poor civilians. Civilians in Pakistan are already disadvantaged by the chaos that goes on there, and them being killed in their own land by foreign forces is reprehensible. People rightly attack Bush, but not his successor.
- Obama, like him or not for being Mr. Cool, was no friend of this country. Recent unearthed reports revealed that he mocked the special relationship and Britain in secret, seeing it as nothing more than a joke. As soon as he arrived at the Oval Office, he took out the bust of the great Winston Churchill. I respect Obama for choosing the great Martin Luther King Jr to use, but I don’t see why both couldn’t be. Ultimately, what turned me off him was the April 2016 speech. When he visited the UK two months before the referendum, he promised that ‘Britain would be at the back of the queue’ for any future trade deals. This threat was offensive to the millions of Brits- both remain and leave, who thought that Obama was overstepping his boundaries by interfering in British domestic affairs. Many also believed Downing Street had a hand in this, as Obama used the British ‘queue’ instead of ‘line,’ though Obama, Cameron and many others denied this completely, leaving it up to interpretation.
Just as Bush 41 was an underrated President, Obama was a pretty overrated one. Whilst he did enact some good policies, such as opening up relations with Cuba and scaling back operations in the War on Terror, Obama ultimately had a lot of failures. Racial tensions reached a high (thought that is arguably more society’s fault), gun control could not be decided upon and Obamacare was an absolutely massive legislative failure. Obama also overstepped his boundaries in domestic affairs, which whilst not very good for Britain, it was absolutely catastrophic for Libya- now a mess. His killing of civilians, a record number for drones, is also a failure.