Although diehard Republicans despise Barack Obama, many of us are savoring the last five months of his presidency. It didn’t quite hit me what a good president he’s been, until I stumped three people critical of his policies with this simple question: “Name one president better than Obama during the last 50 years.”
That led me to make a 50-year list of best-to-worst presidents. This wasn’t an easy task, as it’s as much a reflection of one’s values as it is of the effectiveness of the president. For me, being an environmentalist author and civil rights supporter, I naturally gave higher marks to presidents strong in those areas. With that in mind, here’s my list:
1) Barack Obama: He rescued the economy after George W. Bush crashed it and stopped the Bush-Cheney torture program. He saved the American auto industry. He made major steps on civil rights—gay marriage is now legal. He improved international relations by signing a nuclear agreement with Iran and reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. He’s been one of the most effective environmental presidents ever—renewable energy is booming, the Keystone XL pipeline has been stopped, and the Paris agreement has been signed. He also made health care available for all. Most impressively, he’s been successful despite a Republican Congress determined to put party-before-country and oppose him at every turn.
2) Jimmy Carter: While few would rate Carter as high as I do, the military didn’t fire a shot or drop a bomb during his presidency. We need more “Peace Presidents” like him. Carter was also far ahead of his time on conservation. Imagine where we’d be today if we had heeded the advice from his Address to the Nation on Energy.
3) Richard Nixon: Say what you want about Watergate and his personality issues, but Nixon was the last “Republican Environmental President.” He created the EPA, signed the Clean Air Act Extension of 1970, signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and signed the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
4) Bill Clinton: Because I admire Clinton, I feel like I should rate him higher, but NAFTA, the Defense of Marriage Act, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell knock him down a few notches. His positive accomplishments include signing the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the Brady Bill, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He also balanced the budget and deactivated 1,700 nuclear warheads from the former Soviet Union.
5) Lyndon B. Johnson: He signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, and the Freedom of Information Act. His support of the Vietnam War was a major negative, however.
6) Gerald Ford: He signed the Safe Drinking Water Act and was the ideal man to take over after Nixon resigned. Because he wasn’t elected, he governed from the middle. He also laughed with America, as Chevy Chase opened Saturday Night Live each week with a Gerald Ford fall.
7) George H.W. Bush: He was a better president than his son, but he appointed ideology-before-law judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and vetoed Congressional attempts to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. The latter made Fox News and AM-Hate radio possible, which in-turn led to the rise of bigoted demagogue and national embarrassment Donald Trump.
8) Ronald Reagan: He appointed activist judge Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court. His trickle-down economics policy was a horrible failure. He traded arms for hostages and repealed the Fairness Doctrine. Even worse, he ripped the solar panels off the White House and started the Republicans on an anti-environmental, global-warming-denying crusade that continues to this day.
9) George W. Bush: He did the worst thing any president could do—he lied to get our country into a war. He also became the “Torture President” and crashed the economy. And if that wasn’t enough to earn the bottom spot, he was also responsible for his running mate, Dick Cheney, who is easily the most evil nationally elected politician in American history.
With the above in mind, I hope you’ll cherish these final months of the Obama presidency. We may not have another president like him for a long time.