JFK the worst president of the 20th century? Maybe…

Posted by: Phineas on July 19, 2011 at 3:31 pm

**Posted by Phineas

So argues Thomas Ricks, a lifelong Massachusetts Democrat, in a short article at Foreign Policy:

“As I studied the Vietnam war over the last 14 months, I began to think that John F. Kennedy probably was the worst American president of the previous century.

In retrospect, he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco. He came into office and okayed the Bay of Pigs invasion. Then he went to a Vienna summit conference and got his clock cleaned by Khrushchev. That led to, among other things, the Cuban missile crisis and a whiff of nuclear apocalypse.

Looming over it all is the American descent into Vietnam. The assassination of Vietnam’s President Diem on Kennedy’s watch may have been one of the two biggest mistakes of the war there. (The other was the decision to wage a war of attrition on the unexamined assumption that Hanoi would buckle under the pain.) I don’t buy the theory promulgated by Robert McNamara and others that Kennedy would have kept U.S. troops out. Sure, Kennedy wanted out of Vietnam — just like Lyndon Johnson wanted out a few years later: “We’ll scale down our presence after victory is secure.” And much more than Johnson, Kennedy was influenced by General Maxwell Taylor, who I suspect had been looking for a “small war” mission for the Army for several years. Indochina looked like a peachy place for that — warmer than Korea, and farther from Russia.”

It’s an interesting argument. Clearly Kennedy has been overrated to the point of canonization by Democrats who see a Golden Age in his administration that was lost to assassination. Along with the foreign policy problems Ricks mentions, many of Kennedy’s major domestic initiatives were stalled in Congress, only to be pushed through because of LBJ’s skillful politics in the wake of Kennedy’s murder.

On the other hand, JFK’s reputation has had a bit of a revival on the Right, at least by comparison with those Democrats who came after him: he did set us on the course to the Moon; he was a Cold Warrior vis-a-vis the Soviet Union (albeit an inept one); and he pushed through major tax cuts that lead to the early 60s boom.

But the worst of the 20th century? It think Ricks is using a bit of hyperbole to to force a reconsideration of Kennedy, for I can posit a few candidates for “worst:”

  • Woodrow Wilson, for his imposition of segregation in the federal government, his needless violations of civil rights during and after World War 1, and his general disdain for the Constitution.
  • Herbert Hoover/FDR. Peas in a pod, controversial only because Hoover is a demon and FDR a demigod in the liberal theology. Yet, far from being a laissez-faire do-nothing whose evil had to be undone by the New Deal, Hoover was a big-government interventionist whose work laid the foundations for FDR’s programs, and those programs lengthened the Great Depression by seven years. Considering the misery of the Depression, that should put both men up there on the “worst” scale. There’s also the matter of the Japanese internment of World War II, a candidate for the greatest civil rights crime of the 20th century, rivaling slavery and the ethnic cleansing of the Indian tribes in the 19th. Let’s give FDR the lion’s share of this.
  • LBJ: His “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” massively and unconstitutionally expanded the federal government, harmed African-Americans, and put us well on the road to the entitlement crisis we face today. And let’s not forget badly, horribly mishandling the war in Vietnam.
  • Nixon: Criminality in Watergate, wage and price controls, and weakness with the Soviets via detente. The latter made the Soviets feel they could make a final push to gain superiority over us, which for a time they may have achieved.
  • Carter: Need I say more?

So, while Ricks has a point about Kennedy’s weaknesses, there are others arguably as bad or worse. If forced to make a choice, for now I’d choose LBJ; Carter was weaker, but Johnson’s entitlement binge is doing us much greater long-term damage. And while FDR expanded the government and mishandled the Depression badly, he at least won his war.

Whom would you choose?

LINK: Doug Mataconis votes for Woodrow Wilson.

via Big Peace

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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17 Responses to “JFK the worst president of the 20th century? Maybe…”


  1. Great White Rat says:

    Defintely not JFK. He did at least have some redeeming economic intelligence and steadfastly believed in American exceptionalism, exactly opposite what we have in the White House today. He was probably the last liberal president who could be somewhat trusted with the office.

    Carter was the most obvious failure, if only because his errors backfired on him so quickly and so spectacularly. In contrast, the effects of LBJ’s malfeasance have been like a slow cancer. It’s a close call. While we’ve seen the longterm effects of Johnson’s undermining of the social structure, we still don’t know what the final outcome will be of the way Carter encouraged islamofascism. Both have the potential to destroy our liberty somewhere down the road if not handled.

  2. maddogg says:

    LBJ edges out FDR for worst President, as he was so effective at implementing his paving of the road to Hell programs. May he rotate long on Satan’s spit.

  3. Candismoo says:

    I must thoroughly disagree! JFK was the last “true” President we had, period! He fought back against the Elite cabal, and paid the highest price for it. He tried to stop all of their crazy shit, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer!

  4. arcman46 says:

    The assassination of JFK both romanticized and canonized him as a great president. The big government policies of FDR and LBJ would lead me to believe that they would have been the worst. Carter was bad simply because he was inept and in way over his head. History will tell where the ONE rates among the worst.

  5. Carlos says:

    Woodrow Wilson, violations of human rights;
    Herbert Hoover, massive interventionist;
    LBJ, massive and unconstitutional expansion of government;
    Nixon, criminal;
    Carter, chump.

    Gosh, it sounds like they rolled them all together and named it Obhammud!

  6. John says:

    Wilson was the greatest fool of the five, but only because Carter at least had the wit to start rearming the military. LBJ and FDR certainly did the most damage to the country over the long term.

  7. steveegg says:

    Do I grade on total damage or damage per term? Only on the latter does JFK make the Bottom 5.

    An underrated bad President is Uncle Teddy – the FDA and the land-grab that is the National Parks Service come to mind.

  8. kx59 says:

    of that group I choose…all of them. Elitist Prog scum or criminals the lot. Well except for Carter. He was just moonbat crazy.

  9. John A says:

    Every President/Administration did some good things and some bad things, and made mistakes.

    But worst 1901-2000? Pres. Wilson. He did not so much administer as rule. Apparently he believed he was elected as a modern Greco-Roman tyrant, to have absolute power for a pre-determined number of years.

  10. Lorica says:

    I don’t know, all the the listed have done some totally horrible things to this country. On a more personal note, and I have stated this belief here before, I do believe that LBJ was a co-conspiritor in JFK’s murder, if only after the fact. He made himself incredibly rich from the Vietnam war, which it is said that Kennedy wanted to get us out of. I do believe that Kennedy “green lighted” the assasination of Vietnam’s President Diem, and the military take over of the country. Even his recordings reveal that he had made the suggestion that someone should deal with Diem, and had fore knowledge of the plan and did nothing. Then there is the whole Marilyn Monroe thing. How many of us believe that JFK was directly or indirectly linked to her suicide?? I always found it odd how just 3 weeks after having the time of her life singing to the President, she “kills” herself.

    So many questions, so little we actually do know about these men who lead us. – Lorica

  11. Noelegy says:

    This morning, I was reading a post about Michelle Bachmann’s response to the criticism about her taking medicine for migraines, and someone commented about the truly prodigious intake of prescription medicines that JFK had, and it was not viewed as being detrimental to his ability to be President.

  12. Noelegy says:

    Lorica, all I know is that Texas and Texans are still paying for the fact that JFK had the misfortune to get shot while in Dallas.

  13. Aarradin says:

    JFK was a truly terrible President. The Hagiography began prior to the assassination, but really took off afterwards. His misrule will never be truly appreciated, overshadowed as it is by the myths surrounding the assassination.

    I bring this up often when arguing that it would be a disaster for this country were Obama to suffer a similar fate. We’re far better off voting him out and having his policies judged by their results. If he were to get bumped off, the media and the leftist monopoly on education would forever portray him as a demigod.

    Nixon: were he not a crook, I think he’d rate higher than most give him credit for. In any case, he did nothing that had the kind of lasting devastation any of the others on your list did.

    Teddy R. was a Progressive, and deserves to be on the list of worst Presidents of the century.

    Who was the worst of the worst? IMO, FDR, by far, was the worst. Millions suffered needlessly throughout the depression as a direct result of his policies. Worse though, was his destruction of the Supreme Court, turning it into the instrument of federal usurpation of power. The use of the Commerce Clause to grant the federal government unlimited powere, rendering the 10th amendment meaningless, occurred as a result of his bullying of the SCOTUS.

  14. Wayne says:

    I remember that Goldwater was actually ahead of JFK in the polls at the time of the assassination. So as a 15 year old I was actively campaigning against Kennedy, but I felt as all others when Kennedy was assassinated and saw it as an act against the American people. But I never have felt that Kennedy was un-American and anything but a patriot. Bay of Pigs was a mistake, and left allies hanging literally. But he was no Communist like the current President. I would say worst presidents of the 20th century were Wilson (a racist and founder of the Federal Reserve), LBJ (certainly the most vile), Nixon (I still have nightmares about him – worst thing he did may have to take us off the gold standard) and Truman (The only man to use a Nuclear bomb). But It all depends on ones criteria.

  15. captaingrumpy says:

    I cannot really comment for I am Australian and have not experienced any President.The Experience I have received from watching the Congress and LSM and such is that Obama thinks he is a ruler.Not a President ,elected to serve,BUT a RULER that has power thrust upon him and needs to instill the fear of God on those that should dare but to doubt his word. THAT,is my view.

  16. George Robinson says:

    I was with the agency in the early sixties, shot while stationed in Salvador by the original drug people, assigned to the “Texas White House” security during recovery. Who knows from worst but I can testify that the Mafia had nothing on the LBJ crowd. People who only remotely knew who we were or what we were actually doing would try to get us to do “Mega Felonies”. Being old and old school we never tell even though no one else is still alive but there existed neither moral nor scruple in the entire administration including Ladybird.

  17. raugaj says:

    I have said for years that LBJ’s policies destroyed the black family. Previous to his “Great Society”, 80% of black children were born to wedded couples. Now, almost 80% are born to single mothers and the black father has become an anomaly.