A Presidents’ Day Game

At the outset, I’ll note that I object to the drab nomenclature of “Presidents’ Day.” After all, if Abraham Lincoln (February 12) could preserve our country and George Washington (February 22) could serve as its figurative father, surely we could take the trouble to observe their birthdays individually (and not necessarily through offering the government workforce a day off!).

All that aside, who’s up for a little Presidents’ Day game? 

Who do you think have  been America’s most overrated and underrated presidents?  For this year, at least, here’s where I come down:

Most overrated: Barack Obama (by a mile)

Most underrated: Calvin Coolidge (I’m currently reading Amity Shlaes’s fabulous Coolidge, predictably sneered at in The New York Times).

What do you think?! Other contenders?

  1. Vesparado

    I’d follow Obama with Kennedy as a very close second (maybe even a tie)

  2. Benjamin Glaser

    Most Overrated: Abraham Lincoln

    Most Underrated: Grover Cleveland

  3. Foxman

    I don’t think that JFK would be nearly so well thought of if he had not been killed.

  4. Mollie Hemingway
    C

    I’ll go ahead and be the curmudgeon who reminds everyone that today we mark George Washington’s birthday, not presidents in general. I even fought with my husband about this today when he told our children we were honoring multiple presidents today!

    Speaking of, my children are pretty obsessed with William Howard Taft. Mostly on account of the bathtub incident. I don’t have the heart to tell them much more about his presidency.

  5. Anthony Davis

    Fight of the week! I also have a particular irritation about “Presidents Day.” It’s George Washington’s Birthday (observed), officially.

  6. MMPadre

    There’s a difference between being overrated and being destructive.  Arguably, the destruction set in motion by Woodrow Wilson has been more durable than most.   As to Presidential greatness, I measure it strictly by the pound, putting WHT’s ample stomach way out in front.

  7. She
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: I’ll go ahead and be the curmudgeon who reminds everyone that today we mark George Washington’s birthday, not presidents in general. I even fought with my husband about this today when he told our children we were honoring multiple presidents today!

    I’d forgotten that, having lost track of things in the fog of political correctness, but you’re right.  But why do we have to have a holiday the third Monday in February (not Washington’s birthday), and call it ‘President’s Day,’ (not Washington’s name)?  What’s wrong with having it on Feb 22 (Washington’s birthday) and calling it ‘Washington’s Birthday’ like we did when I was in grade school?

    Why do we have to have these artificial ‘Monday’ holidays, anyway?  What was wrong with Memorial Day on May 30 and Washington’s Birthday on Feb 22?  

  8. EJHill

    Everything I know about the Presidents I learned from the Warner Brothers (and sister, Dot, the cute one)

  9. Carol Platt Liebau
    C
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: . . .

    Speaking of, my children are pretty obsessed with William Howard Taft. Mostly on account of the bathtub incident. I don’t have the heart to tell them much more about his presidency. · 21 minutes ago

    So funny!  That’s the one detail about WHT that my five-year-olds remember, too!

  10. Bill Nelson

    Most Underrated: Theodore Roosevelt who established the modern US “empire”. A Roosevelt presidency under his Bull Moose banner would have been a diaster.

    Most Overrated: Franklin Roosevelt who allowed the world to slip into WWII when he knew the cataclysm that was coming and lacked the will and ability to enlighten the US public. Having read “In the Garden of Beasts” (as well a many volumes of WWII history and Churchill), the lack of Roosevelt’s attention to foreign policy was a major contributor to the scope of the war.

  11. Schrodinger

    Most Overrated: FDR – his policies made the depression worse. His war leadership is largely a myth.

    Most Underrated: James Monroe -  the Monroe Doctrine

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Monroe

  12. Eric Hines
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: I’ll go ahead and be the curmudgeon who reminds everyone that today we mark George Washington’s birthday, not presidents in general.  · 31 minutes ago

    Depends on whom you ask.  

    Presidents’ Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February. Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, it is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. Traditionally celebrated on February 22—Washington’s actual day of birth—the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers.  (http://www.history.com/topics/presidents-day)

    Eric Hines

  13. Eric Hines
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: Speaking of, my children are pretty obsessed with William Howard Taft. Mostly on account of the bathtub incident. I don’t have the heart to tell them much more about his presidency. · 50 minutes ago

    On the matter of Taft, how many Presidents went on to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?  This Bill didn’t do too badly, apparently.  Then, after going to the Supremes, he wrote opinions like this one in Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co.:

    It is the high duty and function of this court…to decline to recognize or enforce seeming laws of Congress, dealing with subjects not entrusted to Congress, but left or committed by the supreme law of the land to the control of the States.  We cannot avoid the duty even though it require us to refuse to give effect to legislation designed to promote the highest good.  The good sought in unconstitutional legislation is an insidious feature because it leads citizens and legislators of good purpose to promote it without thought of the serious breach it will make in the ark of our covenant or the harm which will come from breaking down recognized standards.

    Eric Hines

  14. Eric Hines

    My vote for Most Misunderstood President:

    William Howard Taft

    Eric Hines

  15. D.C. McAllister
    C

    Instead of giving my own, just for entertainment value, here’s a list from ThinkProgress of their top five overrated presidents (you can read the reasoning behind their picks here): 

    1. Andrew Jackson

    2. Ronald Reagan

    3. Woodrow Wilson

    4. Thomas Jefferson

    5. James Madison

  16. Troy Senik, Ed.

    Cleveland and Coolidge for most underrated (if you spliced their DNA, you’d get Ron Swanson)

    I’d say it’s a close call between Wilson and FDR for most overrated. On one hand, FDR seems like the clear winner because he’s become a much more iconic figure than Wilson. On the other, Roosevelt also has more plausible offsetting virtues thanks to his handling of World War II.

    Since I’m operating in pairs, I should also note the two presidents I find most vexing — intermittently attractive and repellant: Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt.

  17. 1967mustangman
    EJHill: Everything I know about the Presidents I learned from the Warner Brothers (and sister, Dot, the cute one) · 1 hour ago

    Love that song.

  18. neighborhood cat lady

    Heck, I remember back when Lincoln had his own birthday.

    Underrated: Gerald Ford. He ended our national nightmare!

    Overrated: Thomas Jefferson. A first-rate mind in a third-rate human being. 

    The man who should have been a president: Alexander Hamilton.

  19. Tom Meyer, Ed.
    C
    neighborhood cat lady: The man who should have been a president: Alexander Hamilton.

    Hamilton was a great and brilliant man, but he would have been a terrible president: too energetic, too hot-blooded, and not a very good politician, either.

    Channeling Rob Long, I’m going to vote for LBJ for most under-rated in terms of (negative) influence: we’re going to be digging ourselves out of the whole we created by electing that man for decades.

  20. John Murdoch

    Overrated: John F. Kennedy.

    Underrated: Dwight D. Eisenhower.

    Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis well–at the cost of killing a Soviet spy; but the crisis occurred because Kruschev accurately viewed him as a dilettante playboy. Everybody (probably including Kennedy) was surprised to discover Kennedy had more depth.

    But–he’s the genius who brought us Vietnam, and laid the foundation for Johnson’s Great Society and the metastasizing federal bureaucracy. His legacy is based on having been assassinated.

    Dwight Eisenhower didn’t just win World War II–he built the Interstate System, which completely transformed the American landscape, economy, and demographics. And he didn’t just adopt a policy proposal from some think tank (or federal agency)–this was his vision, based on his experience trying to lead a military expedition across the U.S. on the Federal Highway System; and reinforced by his first-hand observation of the German Autobahn. That one policy initiative, I would argue, touches more Americans every day, and influences more of the American economy, than any policy initiative of any other president.

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