The Mediocre Presidents

“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”- Joseph Heller

Happy President’s Day! I hope the everybody is enjoying their time off from school or whatever they have time off from. This President’s Day I would like to pay a tribute to some of the past men who held the highest office in our country. Actually, I would like to focus on the men who did just a kind of alright job in office. Not every President can be the best President, but not every President can be the worse President. Both of those take effort. Instead of looking at those groups of men, let’s look at our mediocre Presidents, the ones who got elected simply because there was nobody better and did an alright job in office. They did not destroy America, but they did not really make it any better.

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William Howard Taft (1909-1913)

Usually known as the fattest President ever to hold office, William Howard Taft can also be known as The Man Who Really Didn’t Want The Job. During the awesome Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, Taft held the position of Secretary of War, but really wanted to be on the Supreme Court. However, Taft’s life changed when Theodore Roosevelt declared that he would not run for a third term in office (a decision he regretted almost instantly) and instead pressured Taft into running for office. With the support of President Roosevelt, Taft was easily elected, leading the Democrats to call his election a “forced succession to the presidency.” Immediately it became apparent the Taft had little political acumen and many Republican leaders still turned to Theodore Roosevelt for advice on issues. Many of Taft’s policies directly mirrored Roosevelt’s but he was never very progressive in implementing new policies. Things just stayed the way they were. Eventually Roosevelt became so fed up with Taft’s lack of progressivism that Roosevelt formed his own political party to fight against Taft in the reelection. A split GOP enabled the Democrats to win the election and Taft was later elected to a chair of the Supreme Court, the place where he always wanted to be.

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Gerald Ford (1974-1977)

Gerald Ford became the President right after President Nixon in 1974 and was immediately faced with an American public who did not trust the White House and by extension did not trust the President. Ford’s greatest success in office was that he restored a bit of respect for the office of the President. Most Americans saw him as a trustworthy and honorable man and it really helped put our minds at ease after the problems with President Nixon. However, Ford did not have as much luck in the political side of the Presidency. He was unable to fix the economic problems that were confronting the nation and was unable to do anything about rising inflation and unemployment. Ford did decently in foreign affairs, joining with the Soviet Union in the Helsinki Accords and officially removing all troops from Indochina. Overall though, Ford didn’t accomplish a whole lot besides showing the American public that the President could be kind of a nice guy sometimes. Also he provided excellent fodder for Chevy Chase’s impersonations.

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Rutherford B Hayes (1877-1881)

Rutherford B. Hayes was elected in a race so close that a special commission had to be set up in order to determine the validity of his appointment to office. The commission eventually decided that Hayes had won the election without much consideration for the popular vote, which outraged the Democratic party. Even though his presidency got off to an exciting start, the Hayes presidency was a presidency that you cannot really say a whole lot about. Hayes’s strategy was to take things easy and let all of his changes happen over time. Seeing as he only served for four years, you can imagine how much actually got done with that sort of attitude. Hayes seemed to have many things planned, but never really got around to doing them. He was able to withdraw Federal troops from the South and help the civil service become more merit based, but other than that he quietly left office after his four years were up. Hayes’s biggest accomplishment was restoring some prestige to the Republican party which had been sorely tarnished by previous presidencies, but his effect for America was basically to keep it out of any major problems.

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Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)

Benjamin Harrison is often viewed as a place holder president. Many of his actions seemed to be directly affected by the major party bosses in the United States at the time and he seemed to metaphorically sleepwalk through his presidency. Most who worked closely with him recounted his lack of enthusiasm for the job and his lack of desire to work in politics. Often it was said that he could not talk to people for more than two minutes about the issues. Probably because it bored him. That being said, Harrison was able to set America on the road to become a great world power under the Roosevelt and Wilson administrations and was able to keep America out of any trouble during his presidency. His biggest black mark is his support of the McKinley tariff that eventually caused a economic depression and his huge indifference to the industrialization in America. Although people throughout America were writing about the plight of workers, Harrison seemed to be completely unaware of the issues. Basically he was in office because according to the constitution we could not go four years without a president and there was not anybody better.

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Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)

Calvin Coolidge is the prime example of a mediocre President who did next to nothing. His nickname throughout his life was “Silent Cal” because he usually refused or was unable to speak to people. During the late 1910’s he served as Vice President under President Harding and was informed of the President’s untimely death while vacationing with his family. Coolidge’s father (who was a Justice of the Peace) awoke him at 2:00 am in the morning, informed Coolidge of the death, and swore him in as the 30th President of the United States, starting the most hands-off presidency of the modern era. The Coolidge administration was well known for doing absolutely nothing. Coolidge never reacted to the rise of Nazism in Germany, the growing danger of an economic crisis or the continuing problems of racism in the South. Although later Republicans would describe his presidency as laissez-faire, it can be best described as passive. Fortunately for Coolidge, America was running on auto-pilot during the 1920’s with very few foreign or domestic concerns however this lack of action set the stage for World War II and the Great Depression.  In retrospect we can see that Coolidge’s “hands-off” policy was not a matter of ideology but a reflection on his lack of enthusiasm or desire to make any radical changes with the state of American affairs. Considering that it was the 1920’s though, I do not really blame him.

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