The Most Overrated Presidents

News / Politics

The Most Overrated Presidents

By: James Smith

A while back we took a look at the best one-term presidents. Today, we’re turning our attention to the most overrated Presidents. Does a President have an inflated reputation because of things he did before he entered office? Were his signature achievements actually actions of gross injustice against his own citizens? Does his great personality cause us to overlook a noticeably mediocre resume? Those are some of the questions we considered in putting together our list. Fair warning: some toes are stepped on.

4. Ronald Reagan
How, exactly, did Reagan go from a moderately successful Republican president to the messianic idol that he is in conservative circles? Talking to Republicans, one gets the impression that Reagan had a Midas touch. In reality, his Presidency, though often successful, had a more checkered record: he escalated the war on drugs (which continues to cost the government billions of dollars each year), was either criminally negligent or actively engaged in the Iran-Contra affair, and drove up the national debt via his insistence on cutting taxes while lavishing money on the military. 

3. John F. Kennedy
For all that, Reagan still served eight full years and oversaw an era of prosperity and security in America. JFK, meanwhile, is perhaps the most iconic president of the twentieth century, but his reputation comes more from his public speaking abilities and womanizing ways than from anything he accomplished. He served less than three years (due to his assassination in 1963), in which time he had the signature achievement of staring down the Soviet Union in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He also sponsored a disastrous invasion of Cuba and laid the groundwork for the Vietnam War. It isn’t that he wasn’t interesting or memorable as a person -- just that he wasn’t all that remarkable as a president.

2. Andrew Jackson
Jackson is universally admired for his tough demeanor and his war record. Unfortunately, most of his accomplishments in office came as a result of his desire to run roughshod over his opponents -- and a lot of those accomplishments were not that great, like a staunch support for slavery and an unhealthy desire to kill as many Indians as possible. He was also responsible for the development of the spoils system of democratic government, essentially ending Washington’s ideal of seeking compromise and unanimity in government decisions.

1. Thomas Jefferson
Of all the United States Presidents, however, Thomas Jefferson is easily the most overrated, largely due to the eloquence of his rhetoric and to his prestige as one of America’s founding fathers (especially for writing the Declaration of Independence). Unfortunately, his record as President is mediocre across the board: though he made the major acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase, he also effectively crippled the Navy, killed overseas trade via the 1807 Embargo Act, supported slavery and forceful Indian removal, and was often caught in the awkward position of using federal power to accomplish his goals even as he forcefully argued against the expansion of the powers of the federal government.

[All pics via Wikimedia Commons. Top - US Government. Reagan - White House. Kennedy - White House. Jackson - Thomas Sully. Jefferson - Rembrandt Peale]

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