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April 02, 2004



So, Clinton is "the worst human being ever to occupy the office of President." Indeed. Worse than Nixon presumably. Good grief. This is such a bizarre judgement.

David Duff

How did you manage to put Blair above Thatcher? If a premier's reputation rests on the *twin* foundations of domestic and foreign policy, then Blair's non-existent programmes to improve the health and education services (and I do not count throwing money at them as a policy) must count as a black mark.

Also, just this week we have seen yet another example of his administration's reflex mendacity which has besmirched his reputation along with the whole 'New Labour' project.

Both he and Thatcher were courageous in foreign policy but at least she really was 'a pretty straight sort of a girl', whereas you couldn't trust Blair if he told you the time! And her free-market, domestic policies led to real wealth creation. Sorry, Oliver, but it's no contest!


Interesting to get the perspective of a Brit on the US President's achievement heirarchy. I couldn't disagee more on several points, however. Here's my list:

1. Reagan
2. Truman
3. Kennedy
4. W Bush
5. Eisenhower
6. H W Bush
7. Ford
8. Clinton
9. Nixon
10. Carter
11. Johnson

You miss the fact that the Civil Rights Act was not Johnson's baby at all, it was Kennedy's. Johnson's 'Great Society' programs are quite possibly the worst thing that has ever happened to my country, the legacy of affirmative action is divisive not unitive, and welfare has had a catastrophic effect on the family units of those it was supposed to help. Clinton and Ford are really a tie IMO, 'nation-on-auto-pilot' presidents. As self-serving as Clinton is, at least he was obvious about it, Johnson was pure slime with a smile.

I have to agree with David, how could Thatcher possibly rate lower than Blair? I like Tony a lot and have had quite a bit of respect for him, but his latest maneuver with denying you a referendum on the EU constitution is quite possibly going to be the worst thing that will happen to the UK since the bombing of London 60-odd years ago. Churchill was right: the socialists in Brussels will have you sharing the misery their policies generate. Communism-light is their goal, and they don't want your input.

Oliver Kamm

Richard Nixon was a liar, cheat and vulgarian, but I'm not aware he was either personally corrupt or a sexual predator. The image of the Clintons' last avaricious days in office is an episode without parallel in personal tawdriness within the Oval Office, while I defy anyone to read journalist Michael Isikoff's careful, unbiased and compelling investigation ('Uncovering Clinton') of, among other incidents, Bill Clinton's harrassment of Kathleen Willey without disgust.

It's because Kennedy talked Civil Rights but ran scared of his party in the south that he comes below Johnson. LBJ did the right and effective thing in signing the legislation, thereby marking a minimal but necessary atonement for this greatest stain on America's moral character.


In a similar light do you have any thoughts on the best and worst current European leaders?


Being a sexual predator is a very bad thing indeed (and we must demote Kennedy on those grounds, too), but it's nowhere near as bad as organising the covert bombing of a non-combatant country in so thoroughgoing a fashion as to precipitate the arrival of the Khmer Rouge. I'm also curious how Reagan, who should have been impeached for Iran-Contra, gets a push. How big was the debt he left to future generations, again? Perhaps he deserves a mention for his valiant "war-service" liberating prisoners from concentration camps . . .


I second that Phil.
My impression is of an honest and sincere person.

Anthony C

When it comes to current European leaders it rather seems to me that regardless of your political affiliation, our own dear Prime Minister must rank highly. Of the top of my head, worst would probably have to go to Berlusconi or Chirac.


Barry, did you really say that your impression of Clinton "is of an honest an sincere person"? I suppose that depends on your definition of the word 'is'. Even his most ardent supporters can't say that with a straight face. Hell, he has the distinct dishonor of being the only US President ever to be disbarred from arging the US Supreme Court......for lying under oath.

Steve Kingston

Concerning Lee re Reagan: he gets a high mark for being right about the USSR when all the experts were wrong. They believed it was, in the jargon, 'legitimate, permanent and orderly', that is, a state with a right to exist, that would continue to exist, and which made the world a safer place by its existence. Reagan didn't believe any of it, even though he probably couldn't tell you the difference between Kant and Hobbes. And he was right.
An expert is someone who knows everything about a subject but doesn't understand it.

Must query putting Macmillan so high in the list. Arguably he messed up Britain's chances of joining the EEC in the early 1960s - we might have been able to put a damper on French ambitions more effectively if we'd joined it earlier.

Tough call re Nixon vs. Clinton. In the end I'd have to put Nixon bottom because he did so much to harm America's image internationally - more, in my view, than Clinton did.


Steve: yep, and he gets the lowest marks possible for being a liar, subverting Congress, conducting murderous covert wars in Central America, and effecting one of the greatest shifts in wealth from the have nots to the haves. Gorbachev did far more to bring about the demise of the USSR that Reagan ever did.


Maragaret Thatcher is head and shoulders above all others; Jim Callaghan staked everything on the "social contract" with the TUC, which (predictably) failed to deliver. Given the quality of the competition, perhaps he still deserves a place in the top five.


Predictable I know but....

Ideologically-strident, openly devisive, patronising, authoritarian, often cruel, an open supporter of tyranny and political murder (Pinochet), nationalistic.

Sorry, but Thatcher was a dreadful leader. Yes, she controlled the unions (necessary) and instigated some freemarket reforms (necessary) but a decent left-of-centre Labour or (Oliver forbid) Liberal government would have done the same without destroying communities as she did, without causing the social and political divisions she did and without resorting to the (extrememly un-British) dumping of common sense and pragmatism and replacing it with ideological tunnel-vision. And, for those rightwingers who still insist on idolising her, she was directly responsible for the return of strong central government as a Tory party ideology, of social authoritarianism and the image of the Conservatives as a party for yobbish rich-kids.

Oh, and speaking as a Scot, she treated my country with a very unashamed contempt.

David Duff

Tell truth and shame the devil, but I simply can't be bothered to rebut Matty's assertions above. However, I will add something to his last sentence:
"Oh, and speaking as a Scot, she treated my country with a very unashamed contempt."

She didn't but she should have done! What a whinge-ing, moaning, everyone-else's-fault-but-mine bunch of state teat-suckers they are, and stupid beyond belief. They actually voted to 'enjoy' yet another tier of government and, to no one's surprise except theirs, it's costing them a fortune to provide an exotic, luxourious palace of wish fulfillment for the greatest dafties amongst them to parade what passes for their pathetic thought processes.

The make me ashamed to be half Scottish!


Good Grief No. Just the thought has spoiled my weekend. :-(
I misread the name of who commented for the second one, about Blair and Thatcher.
To my mind Maggie was the best post WWII leader of the last century.
The line, for my tired eyes, should be beneath the name of the one posting the comment.

John Farren

"Gorbachev did far more to bring about the demise of the USSR that Reagan ever did."
Indeed he did, insofar as he was the author of policies that wrecked the Soviet Union.

However, that outcome was hardly his intent, and the motivation considerably influenced by the challenge to the military and ideological position of the USSR that Reagan posed.


John: we'll have to disagree about that. What, though, is your position on Reagan's various criminalities (I particularly liked the 1984 judgement of the World Court condeming the illegality of his mining of Nicaraguan harbours)? A word from you on Iran-Contra? The splendid foreign policy triumph of the invasion of Grenada (not to mention the superb Middle Eastern strategy)? Anything at all on his disgraceful "social policy" (if we can so dignify the transfer of assets to his rich friends)?


Actually, though I am no Clinton fan he did accomplish two great things: NAFTA and Welfare reform. Both of those accomplishments (which were passed by working with a Republican congress) add greatly to his stature as a President. The shame is that his destructive personal behavior overshadowed these accomplishments and hollowed out his credibility, especially later when he needed it to fight Al Queda.

As for the statement that bombing Cambodia made it possible for the Khmer Rouge to take over, that is one of the most laughable things I have heard in a long time. Please, don't forget that the bombings of Laos and Cambodia were precipitated by the illegal invasions of both countries by the NVA as a flanking supply move. It was the actions of N. Vietnam (and China) that led to the instability of those nations, not the U.S.'s reactions to those moves.

That being said, Nixon was one of the without doubt the most mendatious of recent presidents (for obvious reasons). That he was a Republican is shocking considering some of the big-government programs he started, including the desasterous and short-lived price controls he attempted. He's (and K's) treatment of our RoV allies was dishonorable.

Johnson's attempt to fight a war on the cheap (in order to fund domestic programs) and under the radar only resulted in extending the war and making victory harder to achieve. Though he cannot be blamed for many strategic errors (as could Westmoreland and McNamara), he micromanaged the war never really deciding to really fight it, but unwilling to pull-out; truly indecision at its worst. I'd like to say that the most honorable thing he did was decide not to run in the '68 campaign, but...oh, hell, despite his not so great reputation, I still think he is overrated.

Phil Jackson

I think David Duff is right: in truth the Scots did very well out of Thatcher. It’s a mistake to think of her as a strict non-interventionist and, for purposes of local regeneration, the Scottish Office and the SDA of her day were persistently badgering multinational companies to invest in the lowlands. By the end of the ‘80s ’Silicon Glen’ - apart from being the most overworked phrase of the UK computer press - employed at least 50,000 directly, far more than was required to compensate for the loss of Ravenscraig and the other tax-sucking human zoos. Had anything remained of that Calvinist seed-corn that Weber had once identified as so favourable to earlier capitalism, it seems likely that all of Scotland would have economically flowered from these nursery promptings. But it was probably a mistake; Scotland’s once formidable gumption had long since rotted in the mires of socialism and national self-pity, and - paradoxically - Thatcher’s micro-level cajolery simply reinforced the idea that the country’s fate was the responsibility of someone else.

In dealing with the Scots she was too soft; far too pragmatic, feminine and understanding. What they really needed was a Pinochet.


Phil: top stuff. Are you on tour, or is this a solo stand-up gig?

David Duff

Phil, you won't be surprised to see me write, is spot on. The Scots are now so hooked on what the state needle injects into their life-support system, they are beyond redemption. However, the English are hovering on the cusp. Would anyone get elected in this country on a platform of throwing competition at state monopolies like the health and education (non)-services? Not a chance if the soft-shoe shuffle which passes for Tory policy is anything to go by!


So this passes for debate does it? Crude attacks on my country and pathetic by-the-book and ignorant rightwing claptrap. "The Scots are now so hooked on what the state needle injects into their life-support system, they are beyond redemption" God what rubbish! We have the fastest-growing economy amongst the home nations.

Incidentally, I find the idea that by voting for the return of a national parliament we should be mocked not only offensive but laughable. I've listened to endless defences of British soverignty against the EU (much of it true) from rightwing sources and for those same sources to argue that what is "right" for England is "wrong" for Scotland is, sadly, why so many see the English as self-serving opportunists who dish it out but can't take it.


is harold wilson's position in your league table an aggregate of his two terms as prime minister? wilson mk.I i believe to be marginally better than callaghan's time at the top (though i, like you, am sympathetic to JC's tenure as PM). wilson mk.II, however, would certainly have lowered his (wilson's) overall average and would result - fairly - in the position you prescribe him if this is indeed the case...

Canadian Headhunter

Oliver, I enjoy reading the comments on your blog.
But I find this this confusing: the name of the author appears below the line separating the his or her comment from the one below it.

Inotherwords, it appears in the same frame as the comment as the comment of a different author so it's sometimes difficult to intuit who the author is.

Dave Sullivan

"the worst human being ever to occupy the office of President"

This quote reflects bias opinion.
I suggest studying the progress the U.S. made while Clinton was in office.
The "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act" alone should put Clinton higher up on the list.

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