We’ve had some stinker presidents. Men who, for one reason or another, just were not up to the task of being president. Some might have been good or even great but for a character flaw or two—how did we not see those flaws before we chose them?
It might be helpful to see who historians have picked as our worst presidents before I discuss mine and the leadership lessons we can gain from them.
|Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Survey 1996||Wall Street Journal Survey 2005|
Surveys of historians has a flaw—most of the historians surveyed are professors who have a liberal bias. A few years ago Alvin Stephen Felzenberg wrote the book The Leaders We Deserved (And a Few We Didn’t): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game. Felzenberg rated each president on: 1) Character; 2) Vision; 3) Competence; 4) Economic Policy; 5) Preserving and extending liberty; 6) Defense, National Security and Foreign Policy. The scale was 1-5. Felzenberg’s top five and bottom five presidents and their average scores:
|Top Five||Bottom Five|
|Lincoln – 5
Washington – 4.67
Roosevelt, T. – 4.5
Reagan – 4.5
Eisenhower – 4.17
|Hoover – 1.83
Nixon – 1.83
Pierce – 1.67
Johnson, A. – 1.67
Buchanan – 1.5
Poor James Buchanan; he seems to be everyone’s favorite whipping boy when it comes to worst presidents; but it’s not undeserved.
Here’s my ranking of our current president:
- Character – 2
- Vision – 2
- Competence – 1
- Economic Policy – 2
- Preserving…Liberty – 1
- Defense…Foreign Policy – 1
- Average – 1.5 — tied Buchanan!
Some of your reading this will disagree with my thoughts on Barack Obama, but the man is a disaster, in my opinion.
My pick of the five worst presidents are:
Hoover – he had the credentials, and given a different time, he might have been a success. But, when the stock market crashed, Hoover simply did not have the competence to respond.
Pierce – his handling of the brooding events that would lead to the Civil War are a study in not what to do.
Carter – good riddance and take your malaise with you! Has even done a poorer job as a former president; some of his comments are close to treasonous.
Johnson, A. – elevated to the presidency upon Lincoln’s death, he simply did not have the tools for the office. We’d have been better off if Lincoln had kept his first term vice-president, Hannibal Hamlin.
Buchanan – if ever a man came to the office with the necessary experience it was Buchanan; having experience and tools means little if you can’t use that experience to govern.
Obama – (honorable mention); it is too early to judge his term objectively, but I believe that history will rank him in the bottom tier if not at the bottom of our presidents.
- Sometimes events and situations make or break a career—Buchanan, Hoover.
- Being the leader is not an entry-level job—Pierce, Obama, Carter
- Inspire your people; things may be bad, but adopting an Eeyore outlook will not help—Carter
- Lead or get out of the way—Andrew Johnson
Some will note that U.S. Grant is missing from my list of bad presidents. Felzenberg rates Grant our 7th best president, tied with Zachary Taylor, William McKinley, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy. Grant was a great leader, he simply was not (always) a good judge of character and was too trusting.