Yesterday was President's Day, a national holiday meant to honor our nation's leaders past and present, yet mostly an excuse to sell discounted furniture. I've discussed presidential rankings in the past, and though my list of the ten greatest presidents will mostly match anyone else's, I also wonder who has become overrated and underappreciated in the sands of time. As a treat for you historical buffs, and with a slight nod to PBS' recent Bill Clinton documentary, I present my argument for our most overhyped --and underhyped-- commanders in chief:
Most Overrated President: Ronald Reagan. In choosing Ol' Dutch, I am by no means implying that our 40th president was terrible. Yes, he had his imperfections, but the level by which modern conservatives emulate him is bewildering. Inflation sank and Reagan was blessed with steady job growth, but only in his last five years in office. He raised the national debt, carried massive deficits, and is often given too much credit for the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.
Second Most Overrated: Harry S. Truman. The man who dropped the hydrogen bomb on Japan got off to a promising start after FDR's sudden passing, yet he won the 1948 election by the skin of the teeth. Truman's handling of union disputes in the wake of various post-war shortages was --and still is-- considered quite ineffectual. It takes a lot for labor voters to swing Republican, which is exactly what Truman did. His bungling of the Korean "Police Action," combined with scandal within the administration, is cited by many as to why he was crushed in the 1952 New Hampshire primary. The strength of Truman's legacy lied in his foreign policy (the Berlin airlift, Israel, NSC-68), but domestic affairs just weren't his strong suit.
Most Underrated President: William McKinley. Count me amongst Willie Mac's apologists, a small yet devoted legion. Most historians will argue that McKinley was the dilligent buffer between the economically shaky Gilded Age, personified by the 12-year rotation of Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, and the progressive era ushered by the irrepressible Teddy Roosevelt. TR scholars "thank" McKinley for dying in office, for otherwise the cowboy would've likely never been POTUS in his own right. Regardless, McKinley's accomplishments have been vastly underappreciated; in his 4 1/2 years in office America became a world colonial power, Hawai'i was annexed, and the Open Door policy was established. Now, if he can be forgiven for establishing the gold standard...
Second Most Underrated: James Knox Polk. Easily our nation's finest one-term president, the least-known consequential POTUS re-established the independent treasury system, reduced tariffs, acquired Oregon Country (peacefully), and annexed California and what is now New Mexico (via war). Four specific campaign promises, four crucial accomplishments for the young nation. One must wonder what he would've accomplished had he wanted to run a second term... or lived long enough to do, as he died three months after leaving office.
Finally, to cleanse the palate, please enjoy this list of Jeremy Lin puns that have not yet been used in the media:
- Artificial Lin-semination
- Lin-reconcilable differences
- Lin-dustrial engineering
- Lin-cohesive meaning
- Lin-decent liberty with a minor
- Lin-capable of feeling
- Lin-sufficient data
- Financially Lin-secure
Next week: the year in music, 1992.