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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Eland judges “good”, "bad" US presidential leadership

Whom would you judge “good” or bad? Why?
Does this matter? Why? Why not?
Editing by Carolyn Bennett

US defense analyst Ivan Eland is author of Putting ‘Defense’ Back into U.S. Defense Policy; The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed; Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty; and Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq. Eland is also Senior Fellow and Director of the Independent Institute’s Center on Peace and Liberty. This week one of Eland’s articles poses and answers the question “Is Barack Obama the Worst President in American History?” 

eferencing one of his books, Eland chooses list A as America's worst presidents. Others have chosen list B. You might want to reflect on your choices of good and bad US presidential leadership and legacy and the reasons underlying your choices.


James Knox Polk: 11th president of the United States (1845–1849). Under his leadership the United States fought the Mexican War (1846–1848) and acquired vast territories along the Pacific coast and in the Southwest. Polk’s beginning and ending: b. November 2, 1795, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; d. June 15, 1849, Nashville, Tennessee.

William McKinley: 25th president of the United States (1897–1901). Under his leadership, the United States went to war against Spain in 1898, acquiring global empire including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. McKinley’s beginning and ending: b. January 29, 1843, Niles, Ohio; d. September 14, 1901, Buffalo, New York.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (American scholar, statesman remembered for his legislative accomplishments and high-minded idealism): 28th president of the United States (1913–1921). Wilson’s leadership took the United States into World War I and “became the creator and leading advocate of the League of Nations (Nobel Peace laureate recipient 1919). His second term saw passage and ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Woman Suffrage (White American women’s right to vote). While seeking American public support for the Treaty of Versailles (October 1919), Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke, which lasted for the rest of his term and “caused the worst crisis of presidential disability in American history.” Wilson’s beginning and ending: b. December 28, 1856, Staunton, Virginia; d. February 3, 1924, Washington, D.C.

Harry S. Truman: 33rd president of the United States (1945–53). His leadership took the United States through “the final stages of World War II and through the early years of the Cold War, vigorously opposing Soviet expansionism in Europe and sending U.S. forces to turn back a communist invasion of South Korea.” Truman’s beginning and ending: b. May 8, 1884, Lamar, Missouri; d. December 26, 1972, Kansas City, Missouri.

n his choice of four worst U.S. presidents Ivan Eland concludes that these presidents “led the country into needless wars that changed America for the worse.”

He says, “Polk purposefully started a war with a weak state, Mexico, to steal a third of its land and, in doing so, aggravated regional tensions that eventually led to America’s most searing and cataclysmic war – the Civil War.”

McKinley’s blemish, Eland says, was undertaking “the Spanish-American War to launch the United States, which had revolted against the British Empire, into its own imperial role by acquiring colonies and beginning the long, interrupted trajectory toward America as an interventionist superpower.”

He condemns Truman for “convert[ing] a local war in Greece into an expensive worldwide Cold War against the Soviet Union, which began with a stalemated hot war in non-strategic Korea that led to the creation of the national security state, the imperial presidency, and the shelving of the traditional requirement that the American people, rather than its leader, would decide if war was needed.” 
As to America’s 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, Eland says, he “ignor[ed] America’s tradition of staying out of Europe’s wars, took the nation into World War I, which laid the seeds for the Bolshevik Revolution, Hitler’s rise, World War II, and the Cold War.”

Therefore, by comparison, Eland says, the current US president, though “a bad president whose stock is dropping, … because his war against ISIS” is likely to exacerbate “Islamic radicalism and terrorism” is not the worst president in US history. For that dishonor, Eland chooses Woodrow Wilson for having, Eland says, “ruined the 20th century and is now working on the 21st.”

Franklin Pierce (nickname, Young Hickory): 14th president of the United States (1853–57). His leadership “failed to deal effectively with the corroding sectional controversy over slavery in the decade preceding the American Civil War (1861–1865).” Pierce’s beginning and ending: b. November 23, 1804, Hillsboro, New Hampshire; d. October 8, 1869, Concord, New Hampshire.

James Buchanan: 15th president of the United States (1857–1861). His leadership tried but “failed … to find a compromise in the conflict between the North and the South to avert the Civil War (1861–1865).” Buchanan’s beginning and ending: b. April 23, 1791, near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania; d. June 1, 1868, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Warren Gamaliel (G.) Harding (nostalgic promises won presidency by largest popular-vote margin): 29th president of the United States (1921–1923). His leadership “accomplished little of lasting value [and] soon after his death a series of scandals doomed the his presidency” causing it to be “judged among the worst in American history.” He died during his third year in office. Harding’s beginning and ending: b. November 2, 1865, Caledonia [now Blooming Grove], Ohio; d. August 2, 1923, San Francisco, California

Herbert Clark Hoover (lauded as a humanitarian earned during and after World War I as he rescued millions of Europeans from starvation): 31st president of the United States (1929–1933).  His leadership was unable to alleviate domestic (US) “widespread joblessness, homelessness, and hunger during the early years of the Great Depression.” Hoover’s beginning and ending: b. August 10, 1874, West Branch, Iowa; d. October 20, 1964, New York, New York.

hat do you think?

Sources and notes

Biographical briefs on US President, Britannica: (2013). Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Deluxe Edition.  Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica.

Eland bio, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Eland

“Is Barack Obama the Worst President in American History?” Ivan Eland, November 4, 2014,


A lifelong American writer and writer/activist (former academic and staffer with the U.S. government in Washington), Dr. Carolyn LaDelle Bennett is credentialed in education and print journalism and public affairs (PhD, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan; MA, The American University, Washington, DC). Her work concerns itself with news and current affairs, historical contexts, and ideas particularly related to acts and consequences of U.S. foreign relations, geopolitics, human rights, war and peace, and violence and nonviolence. Dr. Bennett is an internationalist and nonpartisan progressive personally concerned with society and the common good. An educator at heart, her career began with the U.S. Peace Corps, teaching in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Since then, she has authored several books and numerous current-affairs articles; her latest book: UNCONSCIONABLE: How The World Sees Us: World News, Alternative Views, Commentary on U.S. Foreign Relations; most thoughts, articles, edited work are posted at Bennett’s Study: http://todaysinsightnews.blogspot.com/ and on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/carolynladelle.bennett. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/08UNCONSCIONABLE/prweb12131656.htm http://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-000757788/UNCONSCIONABLE.aspx Her books are also available at independent bookstores in New York State: Lift Bridge in Brockport; Sundance in Geneseo; Dog Ears Bookstore and Literary Arts Center in Buffalo; Burlingham Books in Perry; The Bookworm in East Aurora


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