Jimmy Carter and "The Worst Figures in American History"

Kevin Glass
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Posted: Aug 15, 2010 7:54 AM
Making the internet rounds was this list of "the 25 worst figures in American history" by TH contributor John Hawkins. It's already been commented on, and quite ably, by Ed Morrissey, Steven Bainbridge, Tyler Cowen, Matt Lewis, Doug Mataconis and Jim Geraghty.

Lists are generally fun, harmless affairs that mean little and stir up conversation. This effort by John seems to have come with very poorly-designed parameters that created a very odd assortment of characters whose crimes range from making dishonest documentaries to mass murder. Here's the list [duplicate numbers indicate ties]:

23) Saul Alinsky
23) Bill Clinton
23) Hillary Clinton
19) Michael Moore
19) George Soros
19) Alger Hiss
19) Al Sharpton
13) Al Gore
13) Noam Chomsky
13) Richard Nixon
13) Jane Fonda
13) Harry Reid
13) Nancy Pelosi
11) John Wilkes Booth
11) Margaret Sanger
9) Aldrich Ames
9) Timothy McVeigh
7) Ted Kennedy
7) Lyndon Johnson
5) Benedict Arnold
5) Woodrow Wilson
4) The Rosenbergs
3) Franklin Delano Roosevelt
2) Barack Obama
1) Jimmy Carter

Ed commented that, as a political blogger, he naturally assumed that this list would and should be made up of the worst political figures in American history. This was a feeling obviously not shared by all of those surveyed (witness McVeigh and Booth). There's a further problem with the methodology of the survey: if there's a general consensus amongst conservative political bloggers that Jimmy Carter was an incompetent an ineffective president, and thus worthy of inclusion in the 20-25 range, their myriad votes and the unranked nature of Hawkins' initial polling may put Carter unrealistically high.

Peruse the list and judge for yourself. There has been, however, a strange smattering of left-wing indignation and self-congratulation about how this proves how "crazy" conservative bloggers are. Andrew Sullivan says "this is the conservative movement today. It makes the John Birch Society look tame." No. This was a small selection of conservative bloggers making subjective decisions on vague parameters, and some strange results popped out. Many of those polled have responded with their own bewilderment at the results of the final list. It doesn't even approach the level of anecdata in a serious study of the state of the conservative intellectual community today.

For some libertarian push-back on Jimmy Carter as "worst American", check out Reason on Carter's beer deregulation and Tyler Cowen on the entirety of the Carter presidency.