John Hawkins asked a bunch of right of center bloggers to list the "20 Worst Americans of all time," from which he compiled the following list. The comments are mine. Personally, I find the collated list pretty much of a joke. It reflects the partisan passions of the moment, not anything resembling a serious verdict of history.23) Saul Alinsky (7)--a bad guy, to be sure, but top 20?
23) Bill Clinton (7)--GOPers still mad because he beat the crap out of them; sour grapes
23) Hillary Clinton (7)--I don't like her, but I think she's making a good Secretary of State
19) Michael Moore (7)--agree
19) George Soros (8)--maybe top 40
19) Alger Hiss (8)--the traitors are way to low on this list
19) Al Sharpton (8)--eh
13) Al Gore (9)--depends on whether global warming is as bad as he thinks it is
13) Noam Chomsky (9)--annoying to be sure, but not in top 20
13) Richard Nixon (9)--fair enough
13) Jane Fonda (9)--has been much less annoying in recent years
13) Harry Reid (9)--he's effective and wrong but not evil
13) Nancy Pelosi (9)--annoying? yes. one of the worst? no.
11) John Wilkes Booth (10)--finally somebody I wholeheartedly agree with, but should be higher
11) Margaret Sanger (10)--nope
9) Aldrich Ames (11)--yes, but should be higher
9) Timothy McVeigh (11)--yes, but should be higher
7) Ted Kennedy (14)--higher than the worst domestic terrorist? no
7) Lyndon Johnson (14)--ditto
5) Benedict Arnold (17)--too low
5) Woodrow Wilson (17)--huh?
4) The Rosenbergs (19)--good
3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt (21)--give him some credit for managing the winning coalition in WW II
2) Barack Obama (23)--way too high, even if socialized medicine ends up being his legacy
1) Jimmy Carter (25)-- being feckless and sanctimonious doesn't make him a bad guy
All in all, I have to agree with Jim Geraghty that:
I’m no fan of most of the Democrats on the list, and there are some good picks. But most of the modern political figures look ridiculous when we compare their actions to some of America’s most really notorious figures.
I agree with a lot of his alternatives too.
Anyway, I was one of the bloggers Hawkins polled, but as you'll see my list differs in a number of respects from the norm. Mine's in alphabetical order, BTW.
- Aldrich Ames--traitor
- Benedict Arnold--traitor
- John Wilkes Booth--killed our greatest President, contender for #1 on my list if rank ordered
- James Buchanan--feckless President whose inaction allowed the Southern rebellion to get off the ground
- Aaron Burr--traitor and murderer of Hamilton
- Robert Byrd--KKK member and the worst pork politician in history, plus an insufferable prig
- Jefferson Davis--leader of the traitorous Southern rebels
- Louis Farrakhan--race hate monger
- Nathan Bedford Forrest--treasonous Rebel general, caused or condoned the mass murder of black soldiers at Fort Pillow, founder of the KKK, contender for # 1
- Rutherford B. Hayes--President who threw Reconstruction under the bus to steal election
- Paris Hilton--personification of the celebrity obsessed culture
- Alger Hiss--traitor with really annoying apologists
- Jim Jones--mass murderer and race hate monger
- Ted Kennedy--Chappaquiddick, probable rapist, almost certainly a rape abettor, and progenitor of what might become socialized medicine
- Bernie Madoff--worst financial swindler
- Timothy McVeigh--worst domestic terrorist, probably # 1 on my list if rank ordered
- Michael Moore--he just oozes evil
- Ethel and Julius Rosenberg--atomic bomb traitors
- Roger Taney--Chief Justice who decided Dred Scott and Ex Parte Merryman
- Morrison Waite--Chief Justice whose decision in United States v. Cruikshank effectively disabled the federal government from protecting the freed blacks from white southern terrorists during Reconstruction
As you see, I focused mainly on traitors, since it is in some ways the worst of social crimes. Few crimes affect all of society in the way that treason does. Since I believe the Southern rebellion was the worst act of collective treason in our history, I gave it high priority. Since I believe the failure of Reconstruction is one of the great tragedies of our history, it deserved recognition too.
And then there's just a couple of folks who really annoy the crap out of me. But I tried to keep them to a minimum. And I really think you can make a case for Byrd and Kennedy deserving to be at least in the top 100. In their own ways, they each personify and symbolize some of the worst aspects of our political life. So I'd argue that only Hilton and Moore are real reaches on my part.
The one person who slipped my mind, but whom I probably would have found room for if I had thought of him in time is L. Ron Hubbard as our worst religious false prophet.
Update: Tyler Cown comments:
It's also hard for me to see how Bainbridge ends up with Paris Hilton and Michael Moore in his list of the worst and he seems to acknowledge this oddity toward the end of his post.
I did acknowledge that they were both a reach. Having said that, let me run the following defense of including them up the flag pole to see if anybody salutes: Moore and Hilton--like Byrd and Kennedy--may not deserve to be on my list on their own demerits, but they personify and symbolize--indeed have become icons for--things that really bug me about our culture:
- Byrd for runaway pork barrel spending
- Kennedy for the arrogant licentiousness of some many of our political elites
- Hilton as one of the earliest examples of how it is now possible in our culture to be famous merely for being famous without having any significant merit or worth
- Moore for the coarsening of our political discourse and the legitimation of propaganda as entertainment
These are all bad things, even if they aren't all bad people. Since I wanted somebody to symbolize them, these 4 seemed plausible candidates.
Speaking of the coarsening of our political disclosure, kudos to Brad DeLong for being his usual classy self.