Let's compare Obama and Trump to Buchanan

Discussion in 'History & Past Politicians' started by Greenleft, Jan 15, 2021.

  1. Greenleft

    Greenleft Well-Known Member

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    I was a little reluctant to put this thread in this part of the forum since it references contemporary politicians, but with one 19th century president and one former president and another soon to be former president, I felt this was the appropriate place.

    So with polarized politics in the United States, both sides of the political divide are saying the most recent president of the opposing side is the worst president the United States has ever had.

    Of course you can make the argument that while you may not like Trump or Obama, they are certainly not the worst and likewise James Buchanan is not the worst president in American history. But when it comes to rankings by historians, Buchanan more often than not makes it at the bottom. And I want to issue a challenge to people who make the harshest accusations against contemporary politicians.

    Important context: James Buchanan is considered responsible for the breakup of the Union and the start of the civil war.

    So if you believe Barack Obama is the worst President the United States has ever had, could you tell me what James Buchanan did better?

    If you believe Donald Trump is the worst President the United States has ever had, again, what did James Buchanan do better?
     
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  2. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    To my way of thinking the bottom 4: Buchanan, Hoover, Grant and Harding, represent an almost impenetrable barrier at the bottom.
    Where I get enraged is that my pick for fifth worst: Lyndon Johnson, comes out high on the recent lists instead of low. Van Buren, Tyler, Andrew Johnson and Pierce might be placed behind LBJ, but to put him high on any list requires rejecting results in favor of your political leaning.
    No one can yet be objective about those 2 but worst is not in the discussion.
     
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  3. Greenleft

    Greenleft Well-Known Member

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    I would not agree with you on Grant being on the nearly impenetrable bottom. I like to also observe a President's character before and after their time in office. With that in mind, Grant was a Civil War hero. Also, while President, he fought and crushed the first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan.
     
  4. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    You are aware that there was corruption at every level of government during Grant's 2 terms and a recession for the whole second term, aren't you?
    If you don't hold those things against him he ends up behind Hoover because 2 of Hoover's Supreme Court picks were good and his cabinet impressive.
    He would also fall behind Harding. Though Harding did literally nothing, his 4 Supreme Court picks voted as he hoped and the economy was fine.
    If you ignore recession and scandal, where does Trump end up?
    If you're talking about most sins lifetime of a person who became President, Trump towers over most but it's hard to ever catch up with Andrew Jackson because he literally was guilty of genocide with the Trail of Tears.
     
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  5. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    It's going to be lonely in this thread, so maybe we can talk about things slowly with no real arguments.
    In 2018, before Trump finished his second year, I decided to rank the 40 Presidents who completed at least 2 years top to bottom (counting Cleveland as only one President).
    I used the following considerations: wars, recessions, scandal, laws, cabinet, Supreme Court picks and intangibles.
    Obviously the last guy has the worst intangibles, but I'm afraid he did well with at least half of the other 6.
     
  6. Greenleft

    Greenleft Well-Known Member

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    I like to categorize into 3 categories: management, intent and policy.

    Management: their ability to confront the circumstances of the time (like natural disasters) as well as their ability to handle the government machine (style of management whether that be a hands on or hands off approach).

    Intent: whether the man was well meaning or not. Good intent: genuinely caring for the poor and doing all in their power to pull people out of poverty. Bad intent: in office only for pure power and greed (teapot dome and Watergate) and motivated by hatred of others (racism, xenophobia).

    Policy: Good intent does not always lead to good policy even if the policy looks good on paper. A subsidy might be well intended but wasteful and unproductive. A tax cut might be intended to bring more prosperity, but instead handicaps the government with being able to take action.

    The best way to ask these questions: How did your President confront the challenges of the day? Did he mean well in trying to make your life more prosperous and peaceful? Were his ideas practical?
     
  7. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    That looks like the criteria someone would devise if he was attempting to put Trump at the bottom.
    Of course maybe it was devised long ago by someone trying to put Nixon at the bottom.
    Have you considered what that criteria does to some of the nice Presidents?
    That line about poverty is important. I think the first President who specifically tried to make poor people richer was Wilson, so the first 27 start by losing 16 of 100 possible points. Even setting slaves free didn't make the former slaves richer, just free to starve, beg or steal.
    While we're thinking of Lincoln consider the word peaceful. He could have kept it peaceful by letting the Confederates leave without a fight. So he starts at 67% and can only go down.
    While most take a hit, the early Presidents also gain points on the greed for money or power line, because there wasn't much power in the Presidency in the early years and most got poorer by taking the job.
    If you use intent to rate Presidents you'll have to read a lot of minds.
     
  8. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    I can't post often, mostly on Tuesdays, so I'll use every chance I get to make some progress.
    Your category management largely corresponds to my 3: cabinet, Supreme Court and laws.
    The difference is my 3 of 7 equals about 43% while yours is 33%.
    Use my scale for Obama in just that category.
    If you think his cabinet was flawless give him the full 14 points. I won't argue until you pit him head to head with one of the greats.
    He got 2 solid Supreme Court picks but the third didn't make it. The best you can do is 10 points.
    He got 2 big laws through, both in his first 2 years and almost nothing since. I call that 3 points.
    If you argue that those 2 laws were so big and so important that they're worth more than a lot of little laws spread evenly over 8 years you can get him to about 8 points.
    So the best you can do is 32 of 43 points.
    Your way he gets 11 for the cabinet, 8 for Supreme Court and 6 for laws or 25 of 33.
     
  9. Greenleft

    Greenleft Well-Known Member

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    You've given me a lot to think about. I will concede to most of your arguments. What I can however do is make some observations; sometimes there are no win situations. Like when Truman decided to end the war quickly by dropping the atomic bombs over Nagasaki and Hiroshima. True many were vaporized in an instant and many more suffered for decades from radiation, but would a long dragged out land invasion with fanatical Japanese soldiers fighting to the death be better? Look at the Japanese holdouts that kept fighting until 1974.

    As for being free to starve, I don't like that argument. It's the kind of argument Biblical apologists make for slavery in the Bible. Honestly I have NEVER heard of slave masters saying anything other than: "If you don't do what you are told, I'll kill/beat you" If I am wrong, please tell me of moments in history when a slave master said something along the lines of "There's the door. Feel free to walk into the wilderness and make it on your own"

    As for gaining wealth and power, some people could be in it just for the fancy titles. I would LOVE to have people calling me "Your Majesty" even if I could not tell them to hop on one leg for my own amusement.

    Also the argument of people being products of their time (you did not mention that but it crossed my mind) I only accept under specific conditions. For example; if I have never experienced same sex urges and everyone around me told me how wrong gay sex is and NOBODY around me was telling me a different narrative, I would forgive myself for being homophobic. But if a minority of people were telling me how wrong slavery is thus giving me all the arguments to think about, I could think it fully through and challenge my culture. Another example: I could mistakenly believe a race of human is superior, but I would be forgiven for believing that if it was the general consensus of the time as long as I did not perform horrific experiments like vivisection or eugenics. Personally, I try not to be a product of my day and age ad think progressively hence I am not a conservative. Maybe however in a future age, 5 year olds would be allowed to vote and I am naïve to think they cannot be able to make such decisions.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2021
  10. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    Judging people 200 years apart by current standards is a problem. That's why most of my criteria on judging Presidencies is based on things that don't change. It was hard for Washington to get his Supreme Court Justices through.
    Suppose you consider only one category: managing a war.
    McKinley wins, because his war was over fast and we gained territory.
    Next comes Bush Sr. because his war went very fast and we didn't gain territory.
    Next comes Polk because we won in 2 years and took a lot of territory.
    Bush Jr. comes next, because the mission: driving out 2 dictators, was accomplished quickly. The problem of keeping things peaceful after that is a separate matter and with that Bush, and the next 2 guys, need to be compared only to the Reconstruction Presidents.
    Wilson is fifth because he started slowly but won quickly when we got there.
    Lincoln is sixth because it took 4 years to win and there was a lot of bungling before he found a winning combination.
    Then comes FDR. I agree that nuking Japan was a good idea. What I object to is most of that island hopping. I think FDR wanted a headline with some kind of victory every 2 weeks and that was the only way to get it. Also his insistence on unconditional surrender extended the war and caused the final solution.
    Eisenhower ended the Korean War quickly with a tie. That's not glorious but dignified and practical.
    Truman gets his mixed bag for a fast end to WWII but messing up in Korea.
    Then comes Nixon because he got us out of Vietnam, though it took 4 years.
    Madison is next for an unnecessary war that did us no good.
    Kennedy got us into Vietnam. We can hope he was about to pull out but we'll never know.
    LBJ is at the bottom. No one messed up as badly as he.
     
  11. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    I have an extra few minutes today. Maybe you'd like to rank the scandal presidencies. I'll put them in chronological order and try to resist judgments. Rank them and we'll compare notes.
    Someone tell us if I miss one.
    John Adams kept Washington's last cabinet members and found out after 2 years that some were working against him.
    Jackson's cabinet had some type of dispute about gentlemen's codes, no harm to the Presidency.
    With Grant there was corruption everywhere. His Attorney General was accused. Congressmen did the salary grab. Everyone was involved in the Credit-Mobilier scandal. Tammany Hall ran New York. Reconstruction made the south a mess. It ended with the disputed election. Grant was accused only of being foolish.
    Taft had a problem in the cabinet.
    Harding died before they could attach him to the Teapot Dome Affair.
    Kennedy's women included mob employees.
    Nixon was trying any means to win a second term. Wire taps, burglary and coverup is illegal.
    Reagan's staff members were always being investigated by a bored Special Prosecutor. The Iran-Contra Affair was well-intentioned and no one connected it to the President.
    Clinton's scandals began on day one plus the ones he brought with him. My mother was a victim of Filegate. Other big ones like compromising national security were soon ignored for the juicier sex crimes.
    The horrors of the last 4 years are impossible to think about without gagging and no one involved is honest enough to trust on any detail, but where do they rank in this list?
     
  12. Greenleft

    Greenleft Well-Known Member

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    Again, all I can really do is make some observations.

    I have my own issues with the part I put in bold. When it comes to some things like foreign policy it really depends on who you ask does it not? This is yet another layer of difficulty in judging the performance of any head of government.

    Example: There is no doubt that Theodore Roosevelt was a very successful president and there are multiple reasons to applaud his administration (his trust busting policies and the setting up of national parks). But when he aided a rebellion in Panama to break away from Colombia in order to be able to get the Panama Canal constructed, he earns the resentment of Colombians for interfering in their internal affairs but Americans have obvious reason to applaud him doing so for it served the economic interests of the United States.

    People say many things about Clinton. Still, despites scandals I give credit to Clinton for being a stable pair of hands that gave the United States relative peace and prosperity. Unless you can specifically point out how life expectancies went down between Bush and Bush (lol) and there was less money in the pockets of average Americans, you can't take away that feeling of being content and happy in the 90's.
     
  13. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    I was miserable in the 90s because my mother was a victim of Filegate and I was becoming physically ill hearing about his sex life. I've been physically ill since 2015 because of Trump as well. The difference is that back then I could listen less often to news updates and hear late night monologues about things unrelated to the scandals.
    I see you have a problem with Bush Jr being successful as a war President.
    Obviously your personal bias about right and wrong is directly related to your political bias.
    If you forgive Clinton's scandals because of the good economy you must love Coolidge for great economy and no scandals. Objectively Coolidge falls in the middle because he did nothing to create the good economy though. He also did nothing about anything. That's not bad governing but you can't get positive votes without positive action. Clinton can't take credit for the good economy since it was good when he took over. After the biggest tax increase ever he lost control of Congress. Gingrich was responsible for what followed. Bush Sr. did things to avert a major economic mess. It's not clear what he did, but the problems we got at the end of Bush Junior's administration would have been the natural sequel to Reagan's administration in his father's years.
    The only fair question for you right now though is what can a well-intentioned Democrat do wrong to make you put him low on the list, specifically LBJ and Carter?
    By the way I end up with Monroe first. No war, no recessions, no scandals, era of good feeling, bought Florida, averted crisis with the Missouri Compromise, had a great cabinet, one solid Supreme Court Justice, recognized the new South American countries and announced a plan to protect them.
     
  14. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    You got me thinking about Buchanan though.
    When I decided he was the worst of the 4 total disasters I saw no reason to compare him to anyone else. So when I decided to assign Kennedy, Reagan, Nixon, Ford and Carter to their final rank and the last 4 to their temporary positions I started by comparing Clinton (the worst of that bunch) to LBJ, then inched him up one President at a time until he lost (to Grover Cleveland). For the rest I started with Clinton and they all won and worked their way up.
    You won't believe how long I agonized about Obama versus Chester Alan Arthur.
    So why don't you try to match up Trump versus Buchanan after their first 3 years in office (because they both drop like a stone in year 4). Can you try that? Can anyone try that objectively?
     
  15. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    Last week I tried to compare Buchanan after 3 years to Trump after 3 years but it was unbearable. Trump is too disgusting as a person to assign the high marks he deserved at 3 3-year mark.
    Buchanan after 3 years was not doing too badly, so I started comparing him to Obama after 6 years.
    Obama too does a lot better at the 75% mark.
    Then I discovered that most presidents went down the last 25% of their terms. Among the Presidents who did better were Monroe and Lincoln, already first and third in my reckoning.
    In the contempt department of course Trump has much in common with Jackson, but I overcame that to place him in eighth place, the dividing line between Presidents with no black marks on their record and those with a blemish. That is a block as hard to penetrate as the bottom 4. Jackson also gets better his last 2 years.
    Measuring Buchanan against his rivals for the bottom he worked past Hoover, Grant, Harding, Van Buren, LBJ, Andrew Johnson, Carter and Ford, but he struggles there because Tyler got the Webster-Ashburton Treaty through and Pierce, though he did nothing at all the first 3 years, had no reason to do anything the first 3 years.
     
  16. Greenleft

    Greenleft Well-Known Member

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    I really don't want to change the subject, but I have to comment on this. You can make very good arguments for others being given credit for the good economy in the 1990's. Clinton was a stable pair of hands in the sense that he did not squander the prosperity in any risky spending program nor any major tax cut that could handicap the government. Other progressives will strongly disagree with me (they wish somebody like Sanders was in charge back then) but I think Clinton was the right man for the time and circumstances.

    Coolidge is indeed a hero in the Ron Paul tradition of libertarianism. BUT if you hand over an economy that can collapse (the stock market crash of 1929) less than a year after you leave office, that is hardly something to be proud of. You can make the argument that Clinton presided over similar circumstances, but we will never really know since the economy only collapsed in 2008 which was more than 7 years after he left office.

    I wish I could do what you just did. For that, I can say well done on your research. I mean that. Unfortunately I would be strongly tempted to be lazy and just look up Wikipedia for information on the first 3 years of Buchanan versus the first 3 years of Trump (even though I have 2 libraries at my disposal. I'm a librarian).
     
  17. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    It's not too hard if you use fixed rating systems with tangible points to assess.
    Using my 7 categories through 3 years of the Buchanan administration:
    Wars: No foreign wars but he did nothing about the fighting in Kansas. Locals in Virginia dealt with John Brown.
    Recessions: Solid economy.
    Scandal: No scandal.
    Laws: No laws passed, no laws needed, but it might have helped if he had a plan to comfort northerners that the Dred Scott decision would not result in slavery becoming legal everywhere.
    Cabinet: Average men with a couple big names.
    Supreme Court: One weak but loyal appointee.
    Intangibles: Anger about slavery rose to a fever pitch.
    That gives him about 65 points through 3 years, dropping to about 47 after 4.
     
  18. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    I think Trump ends up with at least 70 points through 3 years. He already has zero for intangibles, so in year 4 he loses on the economy and mismanagement of the pandemic, but you can't subtract more than 14 points for that.
     
  19. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    So I turned my attention to the top of the list.
    Monroe gets 95 points, losing only for the brief economic slump of 1819 which quickly righted itself without government interference, and Jackson's aggression against Florida, quickly corrected.
    Teddy comes right behind at 94, losing mostly for the continuing struggle with the Philippines.
    Lincoln ended up with 88 points, because of intangibles, a weak cabinet and some problems with the war.
    That looked weak for third place, so I checked my pick for fourth: Wilson. He ended up at 78.
     
  20. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    Thinking someone might inch past Wilson I looked through my next 4. It's like splitting hairs at this point, but I was able to keep them in their positions:
    FDR 77
    Washington 76
    Polk 75
    Jackson 74
     
  21. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    I decided to go one step lower, and Jefferson leaped past them to 85. Obviously 3 years ago I was not ranking the 7 categories equally and not thinking about a ranking based on 100 points. I had Jefferson behind Jackson because he had a more limited agenda for laws and half as many Supreme Court Justices, all less loyal to his intentions.
     
  22. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    I can live with Jefferson in fourth place instead of 9th, but maybe some other people move up by this method.
    I moved to McKinley, 10th after my 2018 revision, I think, but I wasn't looking at the list and it doesn't matter anyway now.
    He ended up at 83.
     
  23. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    I figure someone might get mad if I tell you Reagan ended up in 11th place.
    In the early 80s I patted myself on the back when I placed him at 22nd. So many people around me loved him. That included W. H. Harrison, Garfield and Zachary Taylor (no harm done and good intentions). In 2018 I omitted them and considered Cleveland as only one President. (I think he was 23rd and 29th back then.)
    Reagan ended up with an even 80 points.
     
  24. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    I've been struggling with Eisenhower versus Truman ever since the first list. Eisenhower wins by a sliver for ending Korea, 5 Supreme Court picks to 4 and overall popularity. Assigning numbers he won 81 to 79.
     
  25. Phil

    Phil Well-Known Member

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    3 years ago I ended up with Bush Sr. wedged between Ike and Harry. With this system he doesn't do as well.
    I was trying hard to avoid ties, so I gave him 73 points to keep him behind Jackson.
    W. ended up 2 points behind his father: 71.
     

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