I will probably be doing a longer post about presidential reputation — I like Yglesias’s way of organizing things — but in the meantime I must present this truly molten take:
Taft being listed twice 5 slots apart isn’t even the best part!
Obama, despite having at worst the third-greatest record of progressive accomplishment of any president since the Civil War while running an unusually scandal-free administration, is tied for second-worst president since 1900. The main reasons are that 1)not every aspect of his agenda passed, 2)the power of the financial industry was not entirely eliminated, and 3)Obama was replaced by a Republican president [who lost the popular vote bigly and won a fluky Electoral College victory after the Director of the FBI baselessly implied that his opponent was a crook less than two weeks before the election.] As Stoller evaluates Obama, the legislative context doesn’t matter — everything hangs on the president, and if a hostile Congress won’t pass something it is by definition because the president is “weak.”
So let’s compare Obama to some of the Democratic presidents Stoller thinks are far better than Obama:
- Truman Had an attractive, progressive economic agenda whose most important elements failed to pass. The Taft-Hartley Act, one of the worst and most consequential statutes passed by Congress after World War II, passed over his veto. Filled the Supreme Court with inept poker buddies who were awful on civil liberties. By the end of his tenure had popularity ratings Donald Trump wouldn’t sign for. Replaced by a two-term Republican administration.
- JFK Had an attractive agenda that had utterly failed to pass at the time of his assassination. Escalated in Vietnam. Nominated a Miranda and Roe dissenter to the Supreme Court. Much handsomer than his vastly more accomplished successor, which is presumably why Stoller ranks JFK above him.
- Wilson Had more legislative success than Truman or JFK, but nothing remotely as heavy a lift or consequential as the ACA. Nominated worst Supreme Court justice of the 20th century, and not coincidentally also had the worst combined civl rights/civil liberties record of any 20th century president. Succeeded by 12 years of Republican administrations.
- Carter Had a decidedly mixed economic agenda that mostly failed to pass. Started the road to deregulation. Pretty good foreign policy, but terrible economic results. Followed by two terms of the one 20th century president Stoller considers worse than Obama.
So, in conclusion, because Obama did not solve every possible problem and was replaced by a Republican, he is a far, far worse president than other presidents who were (with one exception) followed by Republicans while accomplishing far less good stuff and/or more bad stuff. Matt Stoller is a truly learned analyst of American political history.