Most Overrated and Underrated American Presidents

Who are in your opinion the most overrated and underrated American Presidents? NOTE: this only counts what they did as President not any previous accomplishments


Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican, 1801-1809)
James Madison (Democratic-Republican, 1809-1817)
Andrew Jackson (Democrat, 1829-1837)
Woodrow Wilson (Democrat, 1913-1921)
John F. Kennedy (Democrat, 1961-1963)
James Carter (Democrat, 1977-1981)
William Clinton (Democrat, 1993-2001)


James K. Polk (Democrat, 1845-1849)
Zachary Taylor (Whig, 1849-1850)
Chester A. Arthur (Republican, 1881-1885)
William McKinley (Republican, 1897-1901)
Richard Nixon (Republican, 1969-1974)
George HW Bush (Republican, 1989-1993)

Nixon, underrated?!

John Adams always seems to be forgotten, unjustifiably IMHO.

Viewed objectively Nixon accomplished a great deal as President: opened up China, pursued detente with the Soviets, brokered a peace that could save South Vietnam, continued and expanded many New Deal/Great Society programs, and took America off the gold standard.

Carter is overrated? Don’t most people think he sucked as POTUS?

Gerald Ford should be on the overrated list.

Wasn’t elected to the office, didn’t serve a full term, got in by pardoning tricky Dick.

Honorable career in the Senate, notwithstanding, highly overrated President.

I don’t think anybody (unlike Carter who is praised by some liberals) has ever praised Ford as a good President.

What a coincidence. There are five overrated Democrats (no Republicans) and four underrated Republicans (one Democrat).

Ford never served in the Senate. Was in the House a long time though. And I’ve never seen anyone put Ford on a list of best presidents.

Why not add FDR to the “over-rated” list and Bush Jr. to “under-rated”?

Your bias shines through so as to make any of your reasoning suspect.

It’s pretty obvious that a conservative poster would think that conservative presidents did a good job, at least moreso than liberal presidents. That his lists reflect that doesn’t mean anything.

How about addressing specifics?

This goes doubly for Curtis. He doesn’t post anything of substance and this OP is more of the same. Why do you think they’re underrated and overrated?

He also created the EPA, and was a pretty fair bowler. But there was something else about him… Can’t quite remember… I think it was in the papers…

Seriously though, Nixon could have negotiated the second coming, but there’s still Watergate. Reminds me of the old joke about the reporter asking another president’s wife, "But apart from that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the performance? "

I think it does history a disservice to simply throw someone like Nixon into categories like underrated and overrated. Nixon was a complicated person and had a complicated presidency. It’s a valid question, I suppose, but there are much more important things to understand about Nixon and our collective view of him.

Nitpick: House

Now that that’s out of the way…

Let’s start with a preliminary link to [thread=533286]The President Elimination Game[/thread] thread, which contains reasoning for many of my below opinions.

Further, let me disclaim my opinions by saying I’m not considering the SDMB to be the “ratings” by which I am determining the following to be true or false. Historical polling of both the general public and historians collectively are my barometer for how a president is “rated”.

Thomas Jefferson - Completely disagree. Jefferson was a fantastic president, and while Adams did cede power somewhat peacefully, Jefferson restored much of the damage that could have been done by his predecessor to public faith in government and in the office itself. I think he’s generally thought of highly because his contributions to the Republic are immense, and he was an effective president.
James Madison - Agreed. His accomplishments mostly took place outside his term in office.
Andrew Jackson - Tentative agreement, though more on this below. Incredibly effective military leader, due to his barbaric nature. The same nature made him a barbaric bastard of a president.
Woodrow Wilson - Overrated, but not among the most overrated. I guess there is a lot of anti-Fed sentiment going around nowadays though, and he was quite a bastard.
John F. Kennedy - JFK is romanticized, but not necessarily overrated. He was a great and effective president given political climate of the time and his short term in office.
James Carter - Not at all overrated, as he isn’t often rated very highly.
**William Clinton ** - Copping out on Clinton (as I will with GHWB) with a “too soon to say”

James K. Polk - He’s always rated rather highly, so I can’t consider him overrated.
Zachary Taylor - Agreed. Principled man who could have been even more effective had he had more than 1/3 a term to work with.
Chester A. Arthur - Agreed he is underrated (though again, not sure about most).
William McKinley - He always seems to be rated rather highly, so I don’t see McKinley as underrated.
Richard Nixon - What is it with Nixon lately? The apologists seem to be out in droves since about 2005. Nixon had accomplishments, and rarely do people fail to mention them in preface to, or as footnotes for, the true centerpiece of his presidency.
George HW Bush - See Clinton, above.
I’m truly surprised at the reasons you consider Nixon “underrated”, given you seem to consider Jackson “overrated” for the same reasons - effective in a few areas, but unforgivably bastardly in others. The distinction is their mode of execution and standards of the time. I’d forgive Jackson before Nixon, considering Jackson’s treatment of Native Americans may have been viewed differently in the 1820s/30s, but Nixon’s tricks were unacceptable in any era.

Ronald Reagan – part of this is my own politics, but it’s primarily due to the Reagan worship these days (e.g., the people who are working to have something named after him in every county in the US). Reagan may have been a good president, but the worship of him and his memory – compared to the the facts of his administration – is verging on the ridiculous.

Curtis, aren’t you in 8th grade? Do you go to a middle school with a great history curriculum? I don’t think I had learned enough about the presidents by 12th grade to determine which were under- or over-rated, sad to say.

Or am I confusing you with another poster?

Over-rated? Almost any POTUS could fit that including Lincoln (after all even he admitted that he could live with slavery if that would preserve the Union and he only freed the slaves beyond his control). Washington? He fought a war that grew out of taxation just to use his military authority to enforce an unpopular tax on whiskey and quash a rebellion over it.

Under-rated? Almost the same thing. Millard Fillmore? Dude knew banking and finance damn well.

yeah Nixon… great… let’s also add in that he is the beginning and genesis of the “Southern Strategy”. Also Curtis does the term “Does it play in Peoria” strike a bell with you?
Nixon along with that rabid dog Pat Buchanan (who’s attempt to re-event himself to me is laughable) and H R Haldeman created the modern wedge politics. This is an instance that leads to crowds of people referring to our current president as a “sleeper cell” or as they did at a rally in Tenn towards the end of the campaign to yell “monkey” when his name was mentioned.

100% agreement. I opened this thread to post nearly verbatim what you said.

I think Ford was a good President for doing the thing I dislike most about his Presidency: pardoning Nixon. I wouldn’t have done it, yet Ford sold it to me back then as the right thing to do for the country. Only after Ford’s death did he reveal his real reason was to help a friend. I didn’t know that Nixon had any friends other than Bebe. I now think Ford’s reason was wrong, but the outcome right. That wouldn’t pass muster with me for a legal opinion, but it was a political one, so he gets points with me for doing what may have been best for the country and unpopular. It has been a lousy precedent over the years with the Weinberger pardon (and keep in mind here that Weinberger’s family and my family go back 80 years as friends, his mother used to babysit me) and Scooter’s commutation and others. Bush’s decision to not pardon Scooter is one I happen to like, only becoming redisgusted with the commutation when I think about it.

I thought Carter was a bad President in 1980 and voted for Anderson. Time and thoughtfulness lead me to believe that Carter did an excellent job, particularly with his successful war against inflation and his efforts to balance the budget. He got the blame for the immediate economic fallout and Reagan got the credit after the crunch was over, but stopping inflation started with Carter doing the right thing when he did at the probably knowing cost of a second term.

Most Overrated:

  1. JF Kennedy: allowed himself to be manipulated by the military, fostered needless near-war faceoff with Russia. All in all, ineffective, but lots of flash.
  2. Woodrow Wilson: going over Congress’ head in post WWI treaty making was NOT wise. He guaranteed American isolationism in the 1930’s.
  3. FD Roosevelt: despite fervent neo-marxist claims, his “New Deal” did NOT end the great depression (his policies actually prolonged it). Plus, his failure to comprehend Japanese war aims led to near-disaster in the Pacific.
    Most Underrated:
  4. DD Eisenhower: “Ike” preferred to work hard and keep a low profile. He guided the USA in post war chaos, and called a halt to the disastrous Korean War. His big failing was getting involved in Vietnam.
  5. C Coolidge: only US president to actually reduce the government budget. He also avoided foreign alliances, and reformed many areas of civil service.

Pssst. You mean, he only freed the slaves beyond his control with the Emancipation Proclamation. Until he was killed, he definitely promoted the 13th Amendment in Congress, using what would later be called “the bully pulpit” of the presidency to throw all his weight behind it. Since the 13th Amendment freed all the slaves, and since the president could not legally do more than push it through Congress, I think it’s a sour quibble that people always try to add that qualifier. Said qualifier is only true for the period 1862-1865 at the most, anyway.