A few thoughts on former Presidents.

Earlier today I came across this article in one of my favorite publications “The Freeman” by FEE. My friend Daniel Bier has written an article examining some of the policies adopted during the widely derided presidency of Jimmy Carter. As it turns out some of those policies became the seed bed for entire industries (such as craft brewing) and in the long run had positive impacts on economic freedom and the continuing diversification and development of industries today.

The following are some thoughts of mine that developed while I read his article and is not intended as a critique or even review of Mr Biers fine article. I hope you enjoy my thoughts, and that you enjoy Mr Biers article.

I’m not usually a huge fan of ranking former presidents. Generally speaking it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff and the mild hagiography political partisans ascribe to their tribes representatives makes clear history difficult. Politics are complex, some presidents like Bill Clinton clearly did not have ideologies consistent with the eventual policies that came to fruition during their presidency. Welfare reform is for instance a good example of a useful policy that was passed with considerable opposition from the Clinton administration that turned out well. At times this question of “who is leading?” can make it unclear as to whether presidents, the congress, or such as with same sex marriage the courts (and a few highly motivated, committed litigants) are really the driving forces of policy. Popular presidents do not necessarily make productive, or effective presidents, and the value sets myself and others that generally share my political view points tend to be fairly distinct from popular values.

That said I think that at least in the post Vietnam era of Nixon onward Jimmy Carter tends to rank very low among libertarians and conservatives, while Reagan ranks fairly high. Generally I think this is unfair, Reagan, while decisive was fiscally irresponsible and there is little if any clear evidence his carry a big stick foreign policy produced much good. Indeed his administration’s most cynical and colossal failure of foreign policy was playing both sides of the Iran Iraq war. Ultimately the US government funded and armed both the Iraqis and Iranians and instigated a war that went on to eventually consume 15 million lives in one of the largest conventional wars of the post WWII era. Because it involves parties generally no deemed sympathetic the significance of the damage done by this war in moral, economic, and strategic costs tends to be heavily discounted if not ignored by many conservatives. The war entrenched the authority of the Ayatollah while it also armed and bolstered the Hussein regime. On the same token while Richard Nixon was a deeply corrupt and paranoid president that laid much of the economic policy groundwork (such as price controls) that eventually precipitated the economic crisis that the Carter and Reagan administration we challenged with undoing. Nixon did to his merit open US policy to China, a relationship that has in the past 40 years brought immense improvement to the average quality of life for nearly a billion people worldwide, great wealth to some, and a healthy trade relationship that while at times is uneven is generally peaceful. I think that at least in a moral and practical view, a failure of clear understanding of history and a lack of moral courage is displayed when people adopt romantic views of the presidency and subsume serious discussion about the value of policies proposed to party allegiances or personality cults such as that cultivated by Donald Trump.

I admire Mr Bier’s effort to examine the Carter administration more soberly. This is the kind of effort of even handed deliberate analysis that we should invite into our otherwise noisy discussion of politics.

Oh and my quick ranking of post Vietnam presidents
Nixon 1/2-meh
Ford- less meh but still meh
Carter- mehlight
Reagan 1- mehlight
Reagan 2- meh
Bush Sr- meh
Clinton 1- mehlight
Clinton 2- less meh but still meh
Bush Jr 1- meh
Bush Jr 2- meh
Obama 1- meh
Obama 2- meh