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?

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Members have made 38 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Vesparado Inactive

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

    • #1
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:12 am
  2. Profile photo of Benjamin Glaser Inactive

    Most Overrated: Abraham Lincoln

    Most Underrated: Grover Cleveland

    • #2
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:14 am
  3. Profile photo of Foxman Inactive

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

    • #3
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:16 am
  4. Profile photo of Mollie Hemingway Contributor

    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.

    • #4
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:17 am
  5. Profile photo of Tony Davis Inactive

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

    • #5
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:23 am
  6. Profile photo of MMPadre Inactive

    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.

    • #6
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:24 am
  7. Profile photo of She Member
    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?

    • #7
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:31 am
  8. Profile photo of EJHill Member

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

    • #8
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:37 am
  9. Profile photo of Carol Platt Liebau Contributor
    Carol Platt Liebau Post author
    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!

    • #9
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:39 am
  10. Profile photo of Bill Nelson Member

    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.

    • #10
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:41 am
  11. Profile photo of Schrodinger's Cat Inactive

    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

    • #11
    • February 18, 2013 at 9:58 am
  12. Profile photo of Eric Hines Member
    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

    • #12
    • February 18, 2013 at 10:05 am
  13. Profile photo of Eric Hines Member
    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

    • #13
    • February 18, 2013 at 10:14 am
  14. Profile photo of Eric Hines Member

    My vote for Most Misunderstood President:

    William Howard Taft

    Eric Hines

    • #14
    • February 18, 2013 at 10:15 am
  15. Profile photo of D.C. McAllister Contributor

    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

    • #15
    • February 18, 2013 at 10:41 am
  16. Profile photo of Troy Senik Editor

    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.

    • #16
    • February 18, 2013 at 10:46 am
  17. Profile photo of 1967mustangman Member
    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.

    • #17
    • February 18, 2013 at 10:50 am
  18. Profile photo of neighborhood cat lady Inactive

    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.

    • #18
    • February 18, 2013 at 11:00 am
  19. Profile photo of Tom Meyer, Ed. Editor
    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.

    • #19
    • February 18, 2013 at 11:13 am
  20. Profile photo of John Murdoch Member

    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.

    • #20
    • February 18, 2013 at 11:23 am
  21. Profile photo of Jerry Carroll Inactive
    Bill Nelson: 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. · 1 hour ago

    The wily FDR knew very well what he was doing on the international stage. The country wasn’t interested in another European war, so he boxed the Japanese into a corner with two ways out: war or a humiliating and unacceptable loss of face. The Japanese ruling clique was as delusional as the North Koreans are today, so there was never doubt about the choice. The colossal blunder Hitler made was keeping his word to the Japs and declaring war after Pearl Harbor.

    • #21
    • February 18, 2013 at 11:24 am
  22. Profile photo of Group Captain Mandrake Inactive

    Most overrated – JFK. It’s possible that he might be eclipsed by Obama in the future, but it’s going to take a few years, I think.

    Most underrated – sorry, my knowledge of US presidents isn’t good enough to answer this, but based on the what I’ve read of Amity Shlaes’ new book (and her discussion with John J. Miller), I have no reason not to go with Coolidge.

    • #22
    • February 18, 2013 at 11:45 am
  23. Profile photo of neighborhood cat lady Inactive
    Sumomitch: 

    Jackson and Jefferson owned slaves/fought Indians/had sexist attitudes, and are therefore “overrated,” regardless of their accomplishments in growing the nation. · 27 minutes ago

    I think Jefferson fails all by himself, on his own standards and behavior. His obstructionism and vendetta against Hamilton, while serving in Washington’s cabinet, was extreme and inexcusable. His support for the Union was virtually nonexistent; he took very parochial positions favoring Southern plantation owners, and against almost any Federal powers. His infatuation with the French Revolution left him blind to French influence in the US, and left him equally blind to any other diplomatic direction. He was economically and financially illiterate and incompetent, and opposed all efforts to put the republic on a sound financial footing. 

    I’m not sure that his Presidency accomplished anything more than the Louisiana purchase.

    • #23
    • February 19, 2013 at 1:01 am
  24. Profile photo of tabula rasa Member
    Troy Senik, Ed.
    tabula rasa:

    Could have been great, but we’ll never know: Having read Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic, I feel that James Garfield, had he lived, might have been a great president. He had integrity, talent, and great modesty (i.e., the anti-Obama). Sadly, we won’t know. · 16 minutes ago

    I agree. Having read this book last summer, I can’t recommend it heartily enough. It reads like a screenplay and is gripping on three different levels: politics, scientific innovation, and true crime. · 1 hour ago

    Couldn’t agree more. This is the kind of book that gives “popular history” a good name. Well-written and highly readable–but serious.

    • #24
    • February 19, 2013 at 1:53 am
  25. Profile photo of Eeyore Member

    My memory of the Washington/Lincoln/Presidents Day confluence was that W & L had their own until the MLK holiday was proposed. There was objection to yet another paid Federal holiday, so the compromise was to add MLK and consolidate those two other guys into just “Presidents.”

    • #25
    • February 19, 2013 at 2:09 am
  26. Profile photo of DrewInWisconsin Member
    Carol Platt Liebau:

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

    Amazing! An extremely lengthy book review that barely mentions the book at all! It’s almost as if the reviewer (Jacob Heilbrunn) had some other agenda.

    • #26
    • February 19, 2013 at 3:25 am
  27. Profile photo of Sumomitch Inactive
    neighborhood cat lady
    Sumomitch: 

    I think Jefferson fails all by himself, on his own standards and behavior. 

    ***

    I’m not sure that his Presidency accomplished anything more than the Louisiana purchase. · 2 hours ago

    You make the Federalist case against Jefferson. The response would be that Hamilton and the Federalists were favoring the urban financial and manufacturing interests (high debt, excise taxes on whiskey and high tariffs to pay interest on the debt) at the expense of the small Western farmer. The Federalists tilted as much toward England in their policies as Democrat-Republicans toward France.

    But the clincher, which you dismiss: the Louisiana Purchase. Without that (which Jefferson’s tilt toward France may have enabled), the US would have been limited to being an Atlantic coast client state of either France or Great Britain. The Purchase went against his own Party’s stand against implied Federal powers and cramped view of executive power under the Constitution. You can accuse him of hypocrisy, but it was the kind of bold action–beyond partisanship–that ensured that the USA would become a continental nation and its history would matter to the world. From the view of US history, that is greatness.

    • #27
    • February 19, 2013 at 4:00 am
  28. Profile photo of philo Member

    I submit that the most underrated President is rather obvious. (Look to the right.) If for nothing else, he is behind only Washington and Lincoln as the greatest of all Americans…period. Not to mention dealing with a divided nation like Mr. Obama couldn’t even imagine.

    As for overrated, I must add to the sentiments of neighborhood cat lady…Mr. Jefferson’s behavior as Vice President during the critical infancy period of this nation precludes him from any position of acclaim in lists like this.

    I will also argue slightly with Umbra Fractus above…I put Adams in a special category. If Washington was indispensable partly because he refused ultimate power, Adams was critical because he accepted the will of the voters…he let the system work…and, while not the most magnanimous looser, demonstrated that a peaceful transition of power can happen. It is still a demonstration of American greatness every time it happens.

    • #28
    • February 19, 2013 at 4:45 am
  29. Profile photo of FX Meaney Member

    I agree with Tom Meyer. 

    The most overlooked — and therefore underrated — president in terms of effect (in his case, negative) on the nation is Lyndon B. Johnson. Lincoln freed the slaves to give them economic freedom. Instead, it appears LBJ’s strategy was to re-enslave them as permanent Democratic voters with government goodies regardless of the disintegrating impact on their family structures. “200 years,” he thought.

    • #29
    • February 19, 2013 at 5:49 am
  30. Profile photo of James Of England Moderator
    Tom Meyer
    neighborhood cat lady

     

    Jefferson’s behavior during Washington and Adams careers was deplorable, but we shouldn’t count that against his presidency, which had an awesome first term: the afore-mentioned Louisiana purchase, a strong economy, and the most impressive debt pay-down in the country’s history, all while keeping Hamilton’s better economic policies in place and appointing the very capable Gallatin in charge of Treasury.

    The two worst things about his presidency was his involvement in Burr’s treason trial — he actually signed blank letters of pardon for the prosecution to use — and ramping down our naval production. · 11 hours ago

    He used the power of the United States Navy to impoverish Americans through an embargo. We’ve had some problems with protectionism in the past, but no one has equalled Jefferson’s zeal to keep America a bucolic, undeveloped, rural country.

    Like a cymbal, he added greatly to the symphony of thinkers when so many came together to shape the new country but, like a cymbal, when his voice became the dominant strain it was clear that other, less jacobinical, voices were needed. Happily, America supplied.

    • #30
    • February 19, 2013 at 7:11 am
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