-- worst failure of the 20th century = either Hoover or CARTER
-- best leaders: TR, Truman, Eisenhower, REAGAN
Since everyone is saying "Harding" for the first, I guess I need to explain why I did not!
First of all, though Harding had some major failings and personal incompetence, he actually KNEW the job was "too big for him". As a result, he chose a number of STELLAR Cabinet officers and let them largely run those areas. This led to major progress in key areas, both of foreign policy (Secretary of State Hughes) and pro-business monetary and domestic policies (esp under Secretary of the Treasury Mellon) as well as efforts to overcome tensions between business and labor.
Many forget that we were in a post-war recession when Harding took office, with some of the same difficulties as faced in 1929-30, but Harding administration policies were SUCCESSFUL. And, often forgotten, he actually was rather bold in speaking out AGAINST prejudice (very unlike predecessor Woodrow Wilson here).
The truth is that MOST of Harding's reputation is a combination of the realization by others of those areas of incompetence, AND the fact that he appointed his FRIENDS to OTHER high positions, which they abused (leading esp to the Teapot Dome Scandal). Really it was the association with SCANDAL that created the image of failure. If you take a close look at the WHOLE picture, factoring back in the policy successes, it is very difficult to rank his term as low as the popular image of it.
So, who IS at the bottom? Well, since you skipped over the 19th century, which gave us the three worst of ALL time (Pierce, Buchanan and A.Johnson - ironically, surrounding one of the two BEST, Lincoln), that takes me to either Herbert Hoover . . . or Jimmy Carter. Hoover has much to "commend" him here... though the USUAL picture is mistaken, as he was NOT laissez-faire, but rather in many ways committed the same "activist" mistakes as FDR (see below), but without foreign policy successes to balance them.
On the other hand, there is Jimmy Carter who managed major failure in BOTH domestic and foreign affairs (which is what gives him the nod), a man still quite sure of his ability and moral superiority.
(Ironically, one of Carter's greatest personal weaknesses places him in stark CONTRAST to Harding. Whereas Harding lacked ability, KNEW it and tried to hand off to those who HAD the ability, Carter, with much more native intelligence than Harding, did NOT know his limitations, and insisted on being in on details and minor decisions of all sorts.
Here are just SOME of his major failures:
FOREIGN & SECURITY:
--Tolerated Soviet Arms build-up - several countries fell under Communist control during his term (from Central America to Afghanistan)
--Responsible for the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of the militant, anti-American Iranian dictatorship under the Ayatollah Khomeini
--Iranian Hostage Crisis (result of the move above)
--Endorsed Church's gutting of the CIA (leading to serious intelligence failures, which we have been paying for ever since)
--21?misery index" (combination of interest and unemployment rates, and a device Carter cited in HIS campaign against Ford!)
--no effort to ameliorate horribly high marginal tax rates, increased government regulation -- all of which discouraged investment, stunted economic growth (In fact, this led to a strong push to cut tax rates and regulations that INCLUDED many Democrats in the South... people with whom Reagan later worked to pass his programs.)
(This includes none of his failures and unbecoming behavior SINCE leaving office, esp in UNDERMINING his successors, e.g., actively campaigning with foreign governments NOT to join the Gulf War coalition, negotiating a disastrous treaty with North Korea, virtually handing it nuclear capability.)
Not much room left for the "most successful" I guess. Frankly, that is a bit harder, and may take some time for us to finally give a fair assessment to.
FDR does NOT get it in my book, because for all his strength in World War II, and the important service his energy and optimistic "fireside chats" provided, as well as some good and necessary relief efforts, his great "experiments" with the economy were a total DISASTER.
Look, when the employment was often in the upper teens to 20s, never below 10?hroughout the 1930s, when the business environment is never stable, because the rules and regulations keep changing with each new experiment, so that businesses do not DARE take major investment risks (which the economy NEEDS them to do to create jobs and wealth)... that is NOT good stewardship of the "general welfare"!
That leaves me with Truman, Eisenhower and Reagan (some good things about JFK, but also some failings, and most importantly, he did not serve long enough to establish a clear mark in policies, etc) -- all of them very strong "Cold War" Presidents, serving to hold back Soviet power... and finally to defeat it (not ever to "just live with it" as Nixon and Carter were seeking to do).
At this point, I'd give the nod to Reagan
a) for TURNING AROUND the moribund economy of the 1970s, cutting taxes and regulations (even Clinton's best economic successes built on things REAGAN fought for, including welfare reform that was only possible when Republicans took Congress in 1994).
b) for reversing our sliding position in the world, NOT backing down against the Soviet Union and its client states (as he made clear with his prompt response in the case of Grenada), refusing to back down on missile placement in Europe, supporting the growing local democratic movements (beginning with Poland)... till eventually the Soviet Union cracked and fell from the pressure. (There were, of course, other key players in all this, but Reagan's role, as leader of the world's most powerful nation, CANNOT be left out.)
Answered By: bruhaha - 1/18/2008