Presidential Failures

I wrote an article for Metroland a year or so ago about the Art of Presidential Failure. The article wasn’t about presidents who failed once they got into office, it was about candidates who failed in their efforts to move into the White House.

But what about the guys who actually ruled the land? I dug out an old list from a college political science notebook circa 1984 and updated it to pick up the past twenty years. I have not include George W. Bush, yet, since his administration isn’t over. His father’s there, though, pretty low down on the list. The list ranks presidents by their degree of success and failure: character issues don’t count, it’s a matter of how they played the cards they were dealt, and how well (or not) they accomplished what they set out to do, whether or not I agree with what it was they did.

Unparalleled Successes:

George Washington

Abraham Lincoln

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Great Successes:

Thomas Jefferson

James K. Polk

Theodore Roosevelt

James Madison

Andrew Jackson


Grover Cleveland

Woodrow Wilson

Harry S Truman

Ronald Reagan

William J. Clinton

Place Holders:

James Monroe

Martin Van Buren

Rutherford B. Hayes

James Garfield

Chester A. Arthur

William McKinley

Dwight D. Eisenhower

John F. Kennedy


John Quincy Adams

Millard Fillmore

Franklin Pierce

Benjamin Harrison

William Howard Taft

Calvin Coolidge

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Great Failures:

John Adams

Andrew Johnson

Ulysses S. Grant

Richard M. Nixon

Gerald Ford

Jimmy Carter

George H. W. Bush

Miserable Failures:

William Henry Harrison

John Tyler

Zachary Taylor

James Buchanan

Warren G. Harding

Herbert Hoover

I know that Google would lead us to believe that the current president will join the list of miserable failures. Maybe he will, although I’d probably put him with his father right now as a great failure . . . since he has, for the most part, accomplished the things he’s wanted to accomplish, whether the citizens want him to do so or not. I think history will paint him as a weak president who became the willing pawn of the people who surrounded him, who were throwbacks from the Cold War era. I think Bush 43 will be viewed as the last gasp of the Cold War, in fact: Rummy and Dick’s peers are getting a bit too old to make another stab at taking us back to the glory days of the Ford administration.

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