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Most. Overrated. President. Ever.

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As an addendum to the Harding discussion, I think it’s telling that the strongest points to be made in Harding’s favor involve improvements over the civil rights and civil liberties records of Woodrow Wilson. Is there any question that Wilson is the most overrated president ever? The compendium of rankings here puts him as high as fourth and no lower than eleventh, but on balance his record was terrible. His civil liberties record was unspeakably bad, and this can’t be explained away by context — it was a much worse record than Lincoln with much less excuse, and he actually wanted more authority to criminalize political dissent than Congress was willing to grant. And, of course, the opportunity for the worst civil liberties record since Adams was created by dragging to the United States into a war whose connection to the national interest was (to put it charitably) oblique. As Matt notes, he also entrenched segregation above and beyond the requirements of his political coalition. And he is also responsible for a Supreme Court appointment–a sixth-rate intellect who refused to shake hands with his Jewish colleagues and among countless other reactionary holdings voted to uphold the show-trial death sentences of the Scottsboro boys — who has to be the worst of the 20th century. He did have some domestic policy achievements, and put Brandeis on the Court too, but that’s a pretty bad president.

Put it this way — JFK is the other candidate for most overrated among progressives, but an ineffectual pro-civil rights record is infinitely preferable to an extensive record of pro-apartheid accomplishment, McReynolds was a much worse blunder than Byron White, etc.

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