Bad Presidents pp 211-220 | Cite as


  • Philip Abbott
Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)


We have identified ten bad presidents with a reasonable degree of confidence and examined the case that George W. Bush too can be classified in this category. We have been able to classify bad presidents into two categories, keeping in mind the possibility of a third. In both cases of badness, some tipping point (a single action or cluster of actions) forms the basis for inclusion into the category. Sometimes, these tipping points are actions that later led to disastrous consequences for the nation, such as Fillmore’s support for the Compromise of 1850 and Coolidge’s economic policies. But sometimes they were willful decisions in which the consequences were already clear such as with Andrew Johnson’s vetoes. The tipping point of some presidents was actions deliberately undertaken by stealth such as Buchanan’s endorsement of the as yet unannounced Dred Scott decision and Nixon’s actions after the Watergate decision (see table 13.1).


Compulsive Sexual Behavior Good President Presidential Performance American Political Culture Accidental President 
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  1. 5.
    Michael A. Genovese discusses this option. A Presidential Nation: Causes, Consequences, and Cures (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2013), pp. 163–64.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., “On Presidential Succession,” Political Science Quarterly 89 (1974): 475–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. See, Philip Abbott, Accidental Presidents: Death, Assassination, Resignation and Democratic Succession (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 198–205, for a discussion of this proposal and others concerning succession and the vice presidency.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 7.
    On this point, see especially, Terry Moe, “The Politicized Presidency,” in John E. Chubb and Paul Peterson, eds., The New Direction in American Politics (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1993), pp. 235–71. Moe attributes this “quest for control” to bureaucratization of the office but Daniel Gavin and Colleen Shogan have shown that this behavior predates the modern presidency. “Presidential Politicization and Centralization across the Modern-Traditional Divide,” Polity 34 (2004): 479–504. Also consider the implications of the “opportunistic politician” offered by Lara Brown, Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2010).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Georg Simmel, “The Stranger,” in Donald Levine, ed., On Individuality and Social Forms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), pp. 142–49.Google Scholar

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© Philip Abbott 2013

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  • Philip Abbott

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