Who’s the best U.S. president since World War II?

January 12th, 2010


I nominate Dwight Eisenhower.

This came up yesterday in a conversation at work that spilled over onto Twitter. One big epistemological question that underlies the main question is obvious: What do we mean by “best”?

E.g., some people might look back and say that the answer to the question is LBJ, citing his work to enshrine universal civil rights into U.S. law. Others might say, though, that Johnson’s handling of Vietnam disqualifies him from vying for the title of “best.” Similar arguments could be made against Nixon (Vietnam and Watergate), Reagan (ginormous budget deficits), and so on.

Anyway, feel free to answer these two questions in the comments:

  • Who’s the best U.S. president since World War II?
  • What do you mean by “best”?

Expect a follow-up post or two in this vein . . .


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2 Responses to “Who’s the best U.S. president since World War II?”

  1. Steven M. Smith Says:

    I second the nomination of Dwight Eisenhower.

    His domestic, foreign and economic policy was good to excellent. He rates an A+ for the respect people both at home and abroad had for him, which marks him as a leader’s leader.

    As I mentioned in my tweet to you, he was a great president throughout his term while other presidents had great moment.

    He does benefit from being elected president before I was born. And being president during excellent economic times. From what I know, he handled himself and the country well, which was especially noticeable when he alerted the people to the military-industrial complex.

    From what I know, Ike was the George Washington of the post WWII era.

  2. Alex Jones (@BaldMan) Says:

    In this case I define of “best” as to who had the strongest positive impact on our nation, leaving aside the personalities. As such I think there are a few contenders, including a one-termer who might be a dark-horse so to speak.

    I agree that Eisenhower is at the top of the list, but I would also include Clinton (ignoring personality quirks/failures) given his accomplishments on the economic front (achieved a bipartisan balanced-budget resulting in a surplus), civil rights issues and handling of global events like the wars in the Balkans. Sadly the economic efforts didn’t last, so perhaps that doesn’t count for much.

    I would also point to Bush 41, who is underrated and proved far more capable than people realized at the time. His efforts to reduce Nuclear build up and proliferation as well as the economic impact of increasing fair trade policies were significant. He also pulled together 30(ish?) nations for the first Iraq war and was strong enough to realize the boundaries of that coalition, choosing to avoid toppling the Iraqi regime which would have lead to accusations of Imperialism, which have grown oh so common since. His presidency also saw the American for Disabilities and Clean Air acts. Like Eisenhower, I think his reputation will rise as time goes on.

    Johnson is an interesting case – he gets major points deducted for his decisions on Vietnam, but his impact on Civil Rights, education and Medicare were tremendous. And no President in the 20th Century was as skilled at working Congress to accomplish his goals. His experience in the Senate was key.

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