On this Presidents Day 2015, I know you, my loyal readers and faithful followers, are likely chomping at the bit to hear who I, the critic of seemingly every major political name from both sides of the political aisle, consider to be the greatest person to ever hold the highest office in the land (and, yes, my tongue was placed firmly in my cheek as I wrote this sentence).
Well, I can guarantee you this, it’s none of the men standing for the photograph above (or even, peering through the window in the background). Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate our most recent presidents a great deal for a variety of reasons. I appreciate that someone is willing to serve in arguably the worst possible job in the history of the world. Who wants a job where in which at least 50% of your employers instantly despise you upon taking the position? It’s at least commendable that anyone is willing to pursue this office.
It takes the perfect balance of narcissism and humility and thick skin to be even remotely effective from within the Oval Office. Some have done the job better than others. Some have pursued better agendas than others. Some have lead an ever divided and incredibly diverse populace more effectively than others.
But, in terms of which presidents I appreciate the most, my answer is always the same.
I value the commander and chiefs which the annals of popular history has all but forgotten but were successful in enabling average Americans to freely thrive and prosper.
Today, every new President comes into office primarily concerned with their legacy. They begin their terms with a litany of campaign promises to take care of the “friends” who “took care of them” in terms of votes and contributions. This is nothing new and is par for the course in our, less than perfect, but the still the best in the world, electoral system. However, what frustrates me more than the price of a beer at the ballpark, is how much more effort modern American Presidents put into securing their personal legacies and political agendas than they do in fulfilling, even understanding, the legal descriptions and limitations of the job which they hold.
That’s why I’m not all that impressed with the big names like Eisenhower or FDR. I am too much a fan of liberty and the genius behind the US Constitution to join in the cult-like worship of Abraham Lincoln. And, shortly after each took office, I have been an unapologetic critic of both W’s and Obama’s presidential agendas (for completely different reasons mind you).
With this in mind, I now present to you, my short list of Presidents who understood their job, fulfilled it well, and enabled our nation to freely thrive in ways hard to dream possible today. Without any further adieu, I humbly submit my list of favorite American presidents (in no particular order).
In an era which would see big government tax-and-spending Presidents like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, Coolidge stood apart as one who used the “bully pulpit” in order to change the perception of how government should work. He cut taxes substantially on at least three occasions and appointed laissez-faire actors to government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and Interstate Commerce Commission. Coolidge slashed government regulations which discouraged small business development. He supported equal rights for women, African Americans, and Catholics. He was an especially vocal advocate for the right of women to vote. The federal debt was reduced by one-fourth as state and local governments grew substantially and surpassed the federal budget.
The only President to serve non-consecutive terms, Grover Cleveland was one of the final “small government” Democrats. Upon his election, he clung to the gold standard for the American dollar. He opposed American imperialism and on several occasions prevented the US from engaging in military action. He significantly cut tariffs and vetoed many bills, especially those that would have expanded the welfare state, creating additional government dependency among the poor and minority groups.
Celebrated by many as the poster child of modern day libertarianism thanks to his being selected to draft the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson did his best to enact pro-liberty policies once he became President. He eliminated much of the “Hamiltonian” government excess that had been left behind by Presidents Washington and Adams. He also banned slavery in the Northwest Territory, as well as banning the International Slave Trade in 1807. While some libertarians may decry the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson is documented as having been very hesitant and thoughtful about the constitutionality of his actions.
Martin Van Buren
Instead of continuing the hawkish war policies of his predecessor, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren made peace through diplomacy with Mexico. He also followed a “hard money philosophy” to the economy through which he lowered tariffs, promoted free trade, and allowed the economy to fully recover from the Panic of 1837 without federal bailouts or involvement in the free market.
The United States would benefit immensely from the election of another individual as pro-liberty and pro-free market as these four listed above. In an era of endless spending, fiscal irresponsibility, regulatory expansion, ceaseless wars, the total loss of personal privacy, and minuscule differences between the big government philosophies of both major parties, another Calvin Coolidge, Grover Cleveland, Thomas Jefferson, or Martin Van Buren would be a breath of fresh air to our stifling authoritarian status quo. Until then, we must continue to fight for the principles these men pursued throughout their political careers. We must fight for and defend the notion of true liberty so that one day we might elect a president willing to be largely forgotten by the annals of popular history in order that average Americans may take full advantage of the liberty before them, pick themselves by their own boot straps, and make a name for themselves once again.