Worst Presidential Mistakes – Says U of L Study

Top Errors by Presidents Are War, Arrogance, Cover-ups and Sex

Historians and political scientists announced the Top 10 Mistakes of American Presidents. In all cases conflict, conceit, concealment or promiscuity are evident.

The University of Louisville’s McConnell Center released the results of a nationwide survey of 91 political and historical scholars called the Top Ten Greatest Presidential Mistakes. The errors were ranked by degree of severity and placed alongside the President that created them. The directory boils down to three areas; errors in military judgment, errors caused by attitude and abuse of power.

Top Error: Military Judgment

Military judgment errors, including failure to act, inefficient or improper actions and bad decisions top the deeds that led to grave blunders. Combined with the resultant gaffes from presidential attitudes (below), military judgment became the number one area for Presidential Mistakes.

  • Failure to act – “[James] Buchanan (#1) fiddled while Rome burned. He saw the breakup of the republic…and watched the union break;” said Dr. Michael Genovese professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University.
  • Inefficient Action – “Neither all the way in nor all the way out, [Lyndon] Johnson (#3) hoped to muddle through [Vietnam…];” according to Dr. Andrew Busch, American policy and government professor at Claremont University.
  • Improper Action – Dr. Shirley Warshaw, presidential consultant and historian believed, “The failure of President [John] Kennedy (#8) to thoroughly question the CIA on the Bay of Pigs invasion …led to escalating tension…with the USSR….The Cuban Missile Crisis [and]…the potential for nuclear war” resulted.
  • Judgment – Professor of American studies at Columbia University, Dr. Richard Pious argued, “As commander-in-chief [James] Madison (#6) did not have to…go to war. This was a war of choice…” Dr. Peri Arnold, professor of political science at Notre Dame University, put it best: Madison’s choice was “bad judgment.”

Second Failure: Presidential Attitudes


In presidential history, personal characteristics including belligerent attitudes, arrogant opinions, innate stubbornness and blatant mistakes abounded. Presidents’ staunch defenses of positions led to devastating national consequences, including economic disasters and war.

  • Belligerence – Andrew Johnson (#2) “…remained a pugnacious defender of his region [and] his defiance on northern public opinion…encouraged further southern resistance to Reconstruction…”, theorized Dr. Thomas Mackey, professor of history and law at the University of Louisville. Dr. Michael Les Benedict, constitutional and Civil War historian said, “We [Americans] continue to pay.”
  • Arrogance – Dr. Andrew Dowdle, political science professor at the University of Arkansas argued about President Ronald Regan (#9); “Iran-Contra stopped the recovery of public trust in the presidency….” Convicted obstructionist, Lt. Col Oliver North immortalized the administration’s attitude with his words, “I thought [violating the law] was a neat idea.”
  • Stubbornness – Woodrow (#4) “Wilson’s stubbornness doomed the League of Nations and led to the rise of Hitler,” according to Dr. Ryan Barilleaux, chairman and professor of political science at Miami University.
  • Errors – History professor at the University of Alabama, Dr. Forrest McDonald alleged, Thomas (#7) Jefferson’s 1807 Embargo Act “…almost destroyed the American economy.” The resulting protectionism culminated with “…tariff controversies between the north and south.”

Abuse of Power

Often called, the most powerful person in the world, the position of Commander in Chief of the United States has seen many historical abuses. They include criminal activity and sexual scandal.

  • Criminal Activity – Richard (#5) Nixon’s Watergate scandal has become synonymous with presidential criminal pursuits. Dr. Shirley Warshaw surmised, “for a President to encourage his White House staff to contribute to a criminal cover-up is the height of arrogance of an imperial presidency.”
  • Sexual Scandal – Bill Clinton (#10) did more too negatively affect his legacy, with the Monica Lewinsky sex affair, than he did to harm the nation. Political science professor, Dr. Robert Loevy of Johns Hopkins University postulated that Clinton possessed “great political skills compromised by constant personal scandal.”


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