Warren G. Harding, 1921-1923
WHY HE WAS SO BAD: Harding shared Bush’s contempt for the English language, and employed what H.L. Mencken called “the worst English I have ever encountered.” He campaigned in 1920 on returning America to “Normalcy,” a word Harding invented that means “isolationism, xenophobia, and letting big business do whatever the hell it wants.” Upon winning the presidency, he appointed a squad of cronies to important government positions who then proceeded to take bribes and rob the government blind. As a result of the Teapot Dome scandal, which involved the accepting of bribes from businessmen in exchange for leasing public oil fields, Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, went to prison in 1931. Oh yeah, Harding was possibly a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
WHY HE WAS BETTER THAN GEORGE W. BUSH: The big goal of his isolationist foreign policy was to avoid involvement in wars, and I certainly can’t fault him for that. Most historians believe that Harding probably didn’t even know about the shit his buddies were pulling, and he didn’t stick any of that bribe money in his own pocket. The scandals of his administration didn’t fully shake out until years after his death. And those who dispute Harding’s Klan membership are quick to point out that he was the first President ever to publicly speak out against lynching. In 1921 he gave a famous speech on race relations in Alabama, of all places. And the most important reason for Harding’s superiority to Bush: he died in office in 1923, and even if he was the clueless incompetent that pretty much everyone who has ever studied him says he was, he just didn’t have time to fuck things up that much.
James Buchanan, 1857-1861
WHY HE WAS SO BAD: He was President in the years immediately preceding the American Civil War and did absolutely nothing to prevent it. When he was inaugurated, the Supreme Court was deliberating on the Dred Scott case; Buchanan referenced it in his inaugural address as “happily, a matter of but little practical importance.” When seven southern states seceded and formed the Confederacy in early 1861, Buchanan, who was just keeping the office warm for Abraham Lincoln anyway, did absolutely nothing.
WHY HE WAS BETTER THAN GEORGE W. BUSH: This is a tough one . . . not only did Buchanan stand by holding his dick while the Union was split in two by secession, but he previously tried to admit Kansas to the Union as a slave state, and he did virtually nothing when faced with the Panic of 1857, which led to a brief but severe recession, unemployment and riots in the streets. But he volunteered for military service and served honorably in the War of 1812, helping to defend Baltimore against the British. It had nothing to do with his presidency, but I award him bonus points for his service, which stands in sharp contrast to our current Chief Executive.
Andrew Johnson, 1865-1869
WHY HE WAS SO BAD: The guy only got the job as Vice President because he was the only southern Senator who didn’t join the Confederacy after secession, and he only got to be President because Lincoln had to go and get his brains blown out. As President, he appointed new governors to the former Confederate states, most of whom soon passed the so-called Black Codes, which curtailed the freedoms of newly-freed slaves, including denying them the right to vote. Johnson also vetoed what would have been the first-ever civil rights law. True, he was the first President ever impeached, and he avoided removal from office by just one vote, but that was mostly for political reasons, because the Republicans in Congress just hated the guy that much.
WHY HE WAS BETTER THAN GEORGE W. BUSH: He might have been a horrible President, but he was one of the few men to hold the office to come from a true working-class background. He worked as a tailor before his political career took off, and as President he took the side of common Confederate soldiers, whom he believed the rich plantation owners had persuaded to fight the war to protect their own wealth. In my book, a shitty President standing up for the common man beats a shitty President who tries to fuck the common man every time.
Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853
WHY HE WAS SO BAD: In 1850 he signed the Fugitive Slave Act into law, which made it a crime for federal officials not to arrest and return escaped slaves to their masters. He also admitted California into the Union, and they’ve been nothing but trouble ever since.
WHY HE WAS BETTER THAN GEORGE W. BUSH: During his term, Fillmore founded the White House library, a location in the Executive Mansion which, I would imagine, has seldom been visited less frequently than in the past six years.