Historically Speaking: A historical assessment of 14 presidents


The White House is pictured in June 2020. (Photo by Tabrez Syed via Unsplash)

Tom Morrow

During the last half of the 20th century and through much of what has passed thus far in this century, there often has been less than stellar performances on the part of U.S. presidents. These are my personal subjective assessments, not from a political, but from a “historical,” point of view.

Harry Truman: “B-plus” … The toughest decision any president ever made was whether to drop the two atom bombs to end World War II. Historians mostly agree Truman saved more than 1 million lives with that decision, which puts him high on the list for top presidents.

Dwight Eisenhower: “B-minus” … During his eight years in office, “Ike” led the nation like he led the Allies to victory in Europe. But he lied to the world about the U.S. secret U-2 spy flights over Russia while the Soviets shot it down and pilot Gary Powers was put on trial. But all-in-all, Ike did a noteworthy job.

John F. Kennedy: “B- minus” … Kennedy’s action to halt the Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis gives him a “Profile in Courage” mark. But the revelations of his womanizing do sort of deter from many of his good marks.

Historically Speaking by Tom MorrowLyndon B. Johnson: “C-minus” … LBJ deserves high marks for his passage of Kennedy’s Civil Rights bill, but the quagmire of the Vietnam War that cost thousands of American lives compares with those lost during WWII. The bloody Vietnam War will be the primary subject future historians will study about his presidency.

Richard Nixon: “D-plus” … He opened the door for trade with China, but the negative side of things outweighs the positive during his tenure. The Watergate burglary of the Democrat headquarters ended up proving Nixon was less than truthful to the American public. He was shamed and ended up resigning from office in disgrace. Indeed, he was a “crook.”

Gerald Ford: “B-minus” … He did a credible job of holding down the seat in the Oval Office, but Ford’s pardoning of Nixon is the one thing voters remembered at the polls during the ’76 election. He was a good man, but his time in office was too short for serious measurement.

Jimmy Carter: “C-minus” … His administration is a good example of Americans voting with their pocketbooks. Recession, inflation, sky-rocketing gasoline prices and the year-long imprisonment of American embassy members hung around his neck like a heavy weight. A nice guy, but he’ll be remembered more for the Habitat for Humanity houses he helped build rather than the long gasoline lines of the ’70s.

Ronald Reagan: “B-minus” … While his eight years in office had its rough spots, namely the Iran-Contra scandal, voters re-elected Reagan in a landslide. He emerged at the end of his second term with a relatively good reputation. But he had a sad ending, dying of Alzheimer’s disease. At the end he, had no awareness of his long and successful life.

George H.W. Bush: “C-plus” … About the only memorable decision Bush made was organizing several nations for Operation Desert Storm, which was the liberation of Kuwait from Iraq. The so-called war lasted about 100 hours. During his first election, he promised “no new taxes.” Later, however, Bush went back on his word. On his re-election attempt, a third-party challenge split the Republican vote, handing the win to Democrat Bill Clinton with less than 50% of the tally.

Bill Clinton: “C-minus” … Clinton balanced the budget one of his eight years in office, but historically he’ll be remembered for being impeached for a sexual encounter with a young intern.

George W. Bush: “C-minus” … He won the presidency by electoral vote but lost the popular vote to Vice President Al Gore. Nine months into his first term, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center led to Bush’s retaliation by attacking Iraq, charging it threatened the Middle East with “weapons of mass destruction.” There were none.

Barrack Obama: “C” … The most significant historic thing Obama did was becoming the nation’s first Black president. He spent eight years staying out of harm’s way. About his only other accomplishment he’ll be remembered for is getting the Affordable (health) Care Act passed. Of course, Obama did more, but will future history scholars take note?

Donald Trump: “D” … He was the most divisive U.S. president in history. Voters either loved or hated him. His cavalier malfeasance made Nixon’s seem like child’s play. Trump had many good moves. His actions to slow the flow of undocumented immigrants across the border were extraordinary. His policies made the U.S. an international energy leader. Ironically, millions supported him even though many didn’t like him as a person. He was responsible for the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol building, which was a national embarrassment. For 2024, hopefully, Trump will take his vast support and back another candidate. If he tries to run again, it surely will split the GOP, ensuring a Democrat victory.

Joe Biden: (so far) “D” … Needless to say, the current president is faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, many of which are his own making. Witnessing Biden’s decisions proves being the leader of the free world takes a younger person, regardless of party.

Tom Morrow is a longtime Oceanside-based journalist and author.

Columns represent the views of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the North Coast Current’s ownership or management.