Robert Spencer Rates the Presidents

A "great president is one who puts America first," concludes bestselling author Robert Spencer in his latest book, Rating America's Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was an Absolute Disaster.  His review of presidential history offers a provocative, intriguing analysis of what exemplifies policies that maintain American independence at home and abroad.

Spencer proudly follows the limited government traditions of Founding Fathers like Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  They, Spencer claims, "would largely agree with my evaluations."  While "America first ... has been mislabeled, derided, and dismissed as 'isolationism,'" for Spencer, this phrase "only means that in dealing with the world, American presidents will be looking out primarily for the good of Americans."

Embracing President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1961 warning against the "military-industrial complex," Spencer usually opposes American military interventions abroad, a message that has the most compelling, fresh evidence.  The "George W. Bush/Barack Obama effort to plant democracies in Muslim countries so that they would no longer pose a threat to the U.S. is a foredoomed endeavor," he soberly analyzes.  "Democracy led to the installation of Sharia constitutions and regimes that hated America" in Afghanistan and Iraq, countries that became America's "two lengthiest and costliest nation-building endeavors."

Unsurprisingly, for the conservative Spencer, the 1981–1989 "presidency of Ronald Reagan stands out brilliantly in American history," yet Spencer argues that Reagan also went astray in Afghanistan.  His administration covertly aided the mujahedeen's successful insurgency against Soviet invaders in 1979–1989, a victory that hastened the Soviet Union's demise and the Cold War's end.  He therefore bears "responsibility for the jihad attacks on September 11, 2001, and the general resurgence of the global jihad in the twenty-first century," argues Spencer, without offering and weighing any realpolitik alternatives.

Astonishing to many, Spencer even asserts that President George H. W. Bush's conduct of the 1991 Gulf War "was yet another unnecessary foreign intervention."  In an online interview, this author noted the broad American and international consensus against allowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to occupy oil-rich Kuwait while threatening the wider region's vital energy resources.  Hussein's stunning defeat additionally allowed for a containment of Iraq that largely eliminated Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs, including a nuclear program on the verge of successful proliferation.  Spencer's response that Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region could have led Kuwait's liberation will convince few.

By contrast, Spencer offers no dissent to World War II (1939–1945) as a necessary struggle against totalitarian evils in Germany and Japan.  Here President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)'s inspiring leadership "is one of the cornerstones of his reputation as one of America's greatest presidents."  Yet he "made drastic mistakes in his handling of the war," Spencer notes, such as Roosevelt's Japanese-American internment, a "needless deprivation of the civil liberties of numerous loyal Americans."  Roosevelt's advocacy for the postwar United Nations (U.N.) also disappoints Spencer, for the U.N. has been "steadfastly and consistently anti-American" under widespread communist and Islamic influence.

Domestically, Spencer damns Roosevelt's iconic New Deal.  This bloated mass of government programs and regulations did far more to stimulate historic myths than economic growth.  After Roosevelt became president in 1933, the "economy recovered more slowly during the Great Depression than it did from any other economic crisis in the nation's history," Spencer notes.  

Roosevelt's Democratic successor down the line, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, fared no better launching in 1964 the War on Poverty.  Its welfare programs have since cost over $22 trillion, over three times the cost of all America's actual wars.  American poverty rates, already falling rapidly before LBJ, encompassed 17 percent of Americans in 1965 and had dropped to 14 percent by 2014.

These presidents would have been unrecognizable to earlier generations of Democrats.  The Democratic Party had traditionally contained Jeffersonian defenders of limited government, like President Andrew Jackson (1829–1837).  "Remarkably, the Jackson administration remains the only one in American history to pay off the national debt completely," Spencer admires. 

Yet at the 20th century's dawn, progressive ideology began to influence both Democrats and Republicans like President Theodore Roosevelt, who sometimes exclaimed, 'To hell with the Constitution."  FDR's distant cousin Teddy "opened the door to the good of the people being invoked as an excuse justifying all manner of abuses of power," Spencer laments.  "Authoritarianism — in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Communist China, and many other places — would be the bane of the twentieth century; progressivism was a softer version of the same impulse."  Unfortunately, against this challenge, Republicans like Eisenhower often "reduced the Republican Party to a faint echo of the Democrats." 

Along with economic liberty, Spencer is equally zealous for civil rights, and he therefore notes often overlooked racial equality stands of Republican presidents Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885) and Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929).  He lauds the original Republican president, Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865), as a "penetrating and original thinker and something that is even more rare, a remarkable writer."  Among his contemporaries, "Lincoln continued to stress the immorality of slavery, a fact that few others dared to approach."  

Lincoln's leading general in the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant, followed the martyred Great Emancipator as a Republican into the presidency in 1869.  Not far behind Lincoln, Spencer places Grant, often criticized for corrupt subordinates, "in the top tier among the presidents" for his commitment to full enfranchisement of formerly enslaved blacks in the defeated Confederacy.   Had Grant "been able to fully implement and enforce his Reconstruction agenda, he would have gone down in history as one of the nation's greatest presidents, bridging and healing the racial divide that continues to be a source of strife."

By deviating from "criteria developed by socialist internationalist historians," Spencer upends commonplace rankings of well known (e.g., Woodrow Wilson) and more obscure presidents (e.g., Warren G. Harding).  In the longstanding debates over whether defeating Germany was necessary in World War I (1914–1918), Spencer unambiguously concludes that America under Wilson had "no reason to get in" in 1917.  Thus, "Wilson merits the title of the first internationalist president, who put the interests of the world ahead of the interests of his country," and "his presidency was an unmitigated disaster."  

Postwar America resoundingly elected in 1920 to succeed the Democrat Wilson the Republican Harding, often a mere footnote in America's presidential pantheon.  Yet under Harding's tax and spending cuts, the "twenties began roaring," Spencer notes.  "The country was much better off with the simple and humble Harding in the White House than it was when the renowned intellectual and crusader for civilization Wilson was there."

Vice President Coolidge succeeded Harding in office after the latter's death in 1923 and won the 1924 election.  Like him, Coolidge has had no great presidential histories, but he was a "modest man whose accomplishments as president were anything but modest."  By his last year in office in 1928, for example, only America's wealthiest two percent paid income taxes.

Spencer's well developed analysis leaves no surprises in his concluding chapter on the current president, Donald Trump.  "Accomplishing so much despite the unparalleled obstacles he faced places Trump in the first rank of American presidents," Spencer enthuses.  Agree or disagree, Spencer makes an original and valuable contribution to America's presidential history.

Image: Ninian Reid via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 (cropped).

A "great president is one who puts America first," concludes bestselling author Robert Spencer in his latest book, Rating America's Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was an Absolute Disaster.  His review of presidential history offers a provocative, intriguing analysis of what exemplifies policies that maintain American independence at home and abroad.

Spencer proudly follows the limited government traditions of Founding Fathers like Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  They, Spencer claims, "would largely agree with my evaluations."  While "America first ... has been mislabeled, derided, and dismissed as 'isolationism,'" for Spencer, this phrase "only means that in dealing with the world, American presidents will be looking out primarily for the good of Americans."

Embracing President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1961 warning against the "military-industrial complex," Spencer usually opposes American military interventions abroad, a message that has the most compelling, fresh evidence.  The "George W. Bush/Barack Obama effort to plant democracies in Muslim countries so that they would no longer pose a threat to the U.S. is a foredoomed endeavor," he soberly analyzes.  "Democracy led to the installation of Sharia constitutions and regimes that hated America" in Afghanistan and Iraq, countries that became America's "two lengthiest and costliest nation-building endeavors."

Unsurprisingly, for the conservative Spencer, the 1981–1989 "presidency of Ronald Reagan stands out brilliantly in American history," yet Spencer argues that Reagan also went astray in Afghanistan.  His administration covertly aided the mujahedeen's successful insurgency against Soviet invaders in 1979–1989, a victory that hastened the Soviet Union's demise and the Cold War's end.  He therefore bears "responsibility for the jihad attacks on September 11, 2001, and the general resurgence of the global jihad in the twenty-first century," argues Spencer, without offering and weighing any realpolitik alternatives.

Astonishing to many, Spencer even asserts that President George H. W. Bush's conduct of the 1991 Gulf War "was yet another unnecessary foreign intervention."  In an online interview, this author noted the broad American and international consensus against allowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to occupy oil-rich Kuwait while threatening the wider region's vital energy resources.  Hussein's stunning defeat additionally allowed for a containment of Iraq that largely eliminated Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs, including a nuclear program on the verge of successful proliferation.  Spencer's response that Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region could have led Kuwait's liberation will convince few.

By contrast, Spencer offers no dissent to World War II (1939–1945) as a necessary struggle against totalitarian evils in Germany and Japan.  Here President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)'s inspiring leadership "is one of the cornerstones of his reputation as one of America's greatest presidents."  Yet he "made drastic mistakes in his handling of the war," Spencer notes, such as Roosevelt's Japanese-American internment, a "needless deprivation of the civil liberties of numerous loyal Americans."  Roosevelt's advocacy for the postwar United Nations (U.N.) also disappoints Spencer, for the U.N. has been "steadfastly and consistently anti-American" under widespread communist and Islamic influence.

Domestically, Spencer damns Roosevelt's iconic New Deal.  This bloated mass of government programs and regulations did far more to stimulate historic myths than economic growth.  After Roosevelt became president in 1933, the "economy recovered more slowly during the Great Depression than it did from any other economic crisis in the nation's history," Spencer notes.  

Roosevelt's Democratic successor down the line, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, fared no better launching in 1964 the War on Poverty.  Its welfare programs have since cost over $22 trillion, over three times the cost of all America's actual wars.  American poverty rates, already falling rapidly before LBJ, encompassed 17 percent of Americans in 1965 and had dropped to 14 percent by 2014.

These presidents would have been unrecognizable to earlier generations of Democrats.  The Democratic Party had traditionally contained Jeffersonian defenders of limited government, like President Andrew Jackson (1829–1837).  "Remarkably, the Jackson administration remains the only one in American history to pay off the national debt completely," Spencer admires. 

Yet at the 20th century's dawn, progressive ideology began to influence both Democrats and Republicans like President Theodore Roosevelt, who sometimes exclaimed, 'To hell with the Constitution."  FDR's distant cousin Teddy "opened the door to the good of the people being invoked as an excuse justifying all manner of abuses of power," Spencer laments.  "Authoritarianism — in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Communist China, and many other places — would be the bane of the twentieth century; progressivism was a softer version of the same impulse."  Unfortunately, against this challenge, Republicans like Eisenhower often "reduced the Republican Party to a faint echo of the Democrats." 

Along with economic liberty, Spencer is equally zealous for civil rights, and he therefore notes often overlooked racial equality stands of Republican presidents Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885) and Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929).  He lauds the original Republican president, Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865), as a "penetrating and original thinker and something that is even more rare, a remarkable writer."  Among his contemporaries, "Lincoln continued to stress the immorality of slavery, a fact that few others dared to approach."  

Lincoln's leading general in the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant, followed the martyred Great Emancipator as a Republican into the presidency in 1869.  Not far behind Lincoln, Spencer places Grant, often criticized for corrupt subordinates, "in the top tier among the presidents" for his commitment to full enfranchisement of formerly enslaved blacks in the defeated Confederacy.   Had Grant "been able to fully implement and enforce his Reconstruction agenda, he would have gone down in history as one of the nation's greatest presidents, bridging and healing the racial divide that continues to be a source of strife."

By deviating from "criteria developed by socialist internationalist historians," Spencer upends commonplace rankings of well known (e.g., Woodrow Wilson) and more obscure presidents (e.g., Warren G. Harding).  In the longstanding debates over whether defeating Germany was necessary in World War I (1914–1918), Spencer unambiguously concludes that America under Wilson had "no reason to get in" in 1917.  Thus, "Wilson merits the title of the first internationalist president, who put the interests of the world ahead of the interests of his country," and "his presidency was an unmitigated disaster."  

Postwar America resoundingly elected in 1920 to succeed the Democrat Wilson the Republican Harding, often a mere footnote in America's presidential pantheon.  Yet under Harding's tax and spending cuts, the "twenties began roaring," Spencer notes.  "The country was much better off with the simple and humble Harding in the White House than it was when the renowned intellectual and crusader for civilization Wilson was there."

Vice President Coolidge succeeded Harding in office after the latter's death in 1923 and won the 1924 election.  Like him, Coolidge has had no great presidential histories, but he was a "modest man whose accomplishments as president were anything but modest."  By his last year in office in 1928, for example, only America's wealthiest two percent paid income taxes.

Spencer's well developed analysis leaves no surprises in his concluding chapter on the current president, Donald Trump.  "Accomplishing so much despite the unparalleled obstacles he faced places Trump in the first rank of American presidents," Spencer enthuses.  Agree or disagree, Spencer makes an original and valuable contribution to America's presidential history.

Image: Ninian Reid via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 (cropped).