Saturday, December 31, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

The ten worst Americans

So I see there's a meme going around the blogosphere on the "10 worst Americans." This seems as fitting a top 10 list as any to end the year. It was worth perusing some of the other lists, as they refreshed my historical memory a bit. That said, here's my list, without comment, in alphabetical order.

UPDATE: OK, two quick comments. First, I added Ames to Angleton because I was blanking on the former's name when I first put this together. They are perfect döppelgangers, however.

Second, I do find it interesting that the majority of my names come from the Cold War era.

Aldrich Ames/James Jesus Angleton
Theodore Bilbo
John Wilkes Booth
Aaron Burr
Nathan Bedford Forrest
J. Edgar Hoover
Charles Manson
Joseph McCarthy
Richard M. Nixon
Al Sharpton
Readers are heartily encouraged to amend, revise or propose their own lists.

posted by Dan on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM


I'd nominate Ronald Reagan for his crimes against Central America and his utter contempt for international law.

posted by: peter on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

All Things Beutiful TrackBack A Challenge To The Blogosphere: 'The Ten Worst Americans' List

As a post Christmas/Hannukah Challenge, I invited the Blogosphere to name 'The Ten Worst Americans'....Daniel Drezner puts his list up here.

posted by: Alexandra on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

I'm interested in why Angleton was included. Was it his 'own-goals' or was it something else?

posted by: Klug on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Is Sharpton on their because of the Brawley incident, the mini-riot in harlem, or his support for Italian-american republicans?

posted by: Dervin on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

The guy who runs the Westboro Baptist Church should be on the list.

posted by: Dave on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

I generally concur. But, c'mon, Sharpton? What about Roger Taney? Chick Gandil? Bull Connor? General John DeWitt?

posted by: The Pooka on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

John Yoo

posted by: Jon H on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

All lists of this type are temporary until the formation of the Second American Republic. Only then will all the rascals of this era be exposed.
Enjoy your new overlords.

posted by: DILBERT DOGBERT on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]


He was labeled a kook, until the Soviet archives and some arrests proved that he was not paranoid.

How about Jesse Jackson? He had a great legacy to work with and squandered it.

Teddy "sink-or-swim" Kennedy?
Robert McNamara?
The State Department? (group category)
Noam Chomsky?

The possibilities are endless.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

George Washington. For crimes of High Treason against His Majesty King George.

posted by: Oren Havaldi on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Barry Manilow.

posted by: MattF on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

In an alternative version of history by Orson Scott Card, G. Washington after winning the war commands his men to execute himself because of his own treasons against the King. Kind of like harakiri.

posted by: Oscar Shapley on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

General Lee. What, nobody's seen Ken Burns' THE CIVIL WAR?

posted by: Tomfoolery on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]


Aaron Burr was one of the greatest Americans in our history; he has been horribly maligned by posterity, largely due to Thomas Jefferson and the cabal supporting him.

He was a great heroic foot soldier in the Revolutionary War, a great New York Senator, and a great vice president.

He may have shot Hamilton, but after all, Hamilton was shooting at him - and not "in the air" as that insincere and deceitfully contrived note Hamilton left proports.

Look into this please.


posted by: The Objective Historian on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

You can call me Aaron Burr, from the way I'm dropping Hamiltons

posted by: Jacob on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Daniel, can you offer a post explaining your criteria for picking these choices? Why Al Sharpton, who is annoying, instead of say, Benedict Arnold, who if he had succeeded might very well have killed the nascent republic?

posted by: Geoff on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

President Jimmy Carter, for delivering Iran to the Ayatollah Khomeiny and Nicaragua to the Sandinistas.

posted by: jaimito on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

President Jimmy Carter, for delivering Iran to the Ayatollah Khomeiny and Nicaragua to the Sandinistas.

posted by: jaimito on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Oklahoma City bomber doesn't make this list?

posted by: Bob on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

This list is embarassing. Nixon? McCarthy? And on the other hand, truly bad people like Clinton, Carter, etc. are excluded. Incredible.

posted by: aa on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

I've seen a few of these lists and, as expected, those with mainstream partisan affiliations have loaded their lists with prominent members of the opposing party (Clinton, Carter, Nixon, Reagan, etc.). I'm sure these things aren't taken too seriously by their authors, but such lists betray history and demonstrate a lack of moral clarity. Does anyone think that Clinton was a worse American than, say, any individual who played a role in perpetuating slavery?

posted by: Sam on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Take Aaron Burr off the list, and substitute Woodrow Wilson as one of our ten worst. Burr was an opportunist and a ne'er-do-well, no doubt, but he didn't really do all that much in the way of tangible damage. A loser no doubt, but not one of the "ten worst."

Woodrow Wilson in contrast was one of our very worst. He was an ardent racist and segregationist even by the standards of the time, a hypocritical and violent man who watched approvingly as labor leaders were lynched by mobs throughout the country, a warmonger who stupidly invaded our near neighbors in Latin America on the flimsiest of pretenses (except in the case of Pancho Villa, who really was a thug), got the US involved in WWI, an at best questionable war for "freedom"-- only to stand by as the British gunned down innocent Irish civilians after the Easter Rebellion in 1916, and both the British and French extended their wretched empires into the Middle East (the reason that we're in there today), while the world became safe not for democracy, but for totalitarian ideologies like fascism and communism. I used to be a Wilson fan, but the more I read about him (and see how his stupidly pious, self-righteous, hypocrisy-laden statements are bandied about), the more it becomes clear that he was one of our worst Presidents by far.

posted by: Grendel on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Oh, and I agree with one of the posters above-- how in the world did you manage to leave Timothy McVeigh off the list? The Oklahoma City bombing was by far the worst domestic terrorist incident in US history, and the worst overall until 9/11. I have trouble taking any such list seriously that leaves off Timothy McVeigh. Also, I doubt too many will argue with your pick of Charles Manson, but there were other serial killers even worse. What about Jeffrey Dahmer, or Ted Bundy, or Randy Kraft? IMHO it'd be fair to just list, as one entry, "recent American serial killers," since for some reason the worst of them tended to cluster in the 1970's. Also, among assassins-- what about James Earl Ray (or whoever killed ML King for those who buy into the idea that someone else shot the gun)? Or Oswald?

posted by: Grendel on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

DD, is Angleton included on the assp. that he was actually a mole? Or for doing his job honestly but badly?

posted by: Anderson on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Sharpton is a slimeball, but he's minor leagues.

Ames but no Hiss (for syping, co-founding the UN) or the Rosenburgs (for abetting the Soviet nuke program)?

Nixon but no Clinton (for destabilizing Kosovo, abetting the nuke programs of China and North Korea) or Carter (for abetting totalirarianism in Iran and Nicaragua) or Kissinger (for selling out South Vietnam, at the very least)?

At least Watergate didn't lead to deaths - not to excuse attempted election-fixing and conducting espionage by operatives from one political party against the another party, but hey, you'd think entries in a "ten worst" list would all involve some degree of unwarranted lethality. In which case McCarthy and Bilbo wouldn't make the list.

From the Civil War era, I'd nominate Captain Henry Wirz from the South and William Tecumseh Sherman from the North. And Forrest, too - no domestic terror group has as great a legacy as the Klan.

Ten is way too small a number.

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

[Bilbo's] second term was filled with controversy involving his idea to move the University of Mississippi from Oxford to Jackson.

Okay, so he had *one* good idea in his life.

posted by: Anderson on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Hmm, I'm not sure about a few of the inclusions on that list, Nathan Bedford Forrest in particular. Forrest was a self-made man and a natural military genius. Against that is the fact that he dealt slaves for a short time and that he was a leader (although not the founder of) the Ku Klux Klan, joining in 1867.

But Forrest ordered the Klan to disband in 1869 because it was "being perverted from its original honorable and patriotic purposes, becoming injurious instead of subservient to the public peace."

Let's remember that the Klan did actually disband (though not in 1869), and that the Klan we see today was formed in the 20's as a nativist organization rather differing from the purpose in Forrest's day. Which was largely to fight the northern military occupation of the Southern states and the opportunists who swarmed into the conquered territory after the Civil War. It hardly seems fair to blame him for the later Klan.

Among the other figures in Dan's list, three don't seem worthy - Bilbo, Manson, and Sharpton. Pipsqueeks. I think two or three major names have been omitted - Huey Long, Orville Faubus, and arguably William Randolph Hearst.

posted by: Don Stadler on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

On second thought, substitute George Wallace for Orville Faubus in my list above.

posted by: Don Stadler on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

My resolution for 2006: no more lists.

posted by: Zathras on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

What about Andrew Jackson ("Chief Justice Marshall has made his decision [to forbid genocide against the Cherokee] -- now let him enforce it!") Or Teddy Roosevelt, he of the gory repression of the (genuinely democratic) Aguinaldo rebellion, which inspired Mark Twain to propose a new American flag with black stripes and the stars replaced by little skulls? Or John Adams, enthusiastic pusher of the Sedition Act?

And what's this crap about Carter "enabling totalitarianism in Iran and Nicaragua" by refusing to try to prop up two tyrants -- the Shah and Somoza -- against the landslide wishes of their own people?

posted by: Bruce Moomaw on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

I haven't put the effort into creating a list myself, but I'll join the chorus of folks who consider this one ridiculous. The comments have been right on: Al Sharpton, but no Timothy McVeigh?

As for the excess of Cold War figures, the epochcentricity? is not surprising. But the it is unfortunate, and another flaw of the list.

You can call me Aaron Burr, from the way I'm dropping Hamiltons

She acted like she's never seen a 10 before.

posted by: b. phillips on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

I should have taken a deep breath before hitting "post" on my previous comment. "Ridiculous" is a rather extreme; I should have instead said that some of the names were a bit ridiculous.

posted by: b. phillips on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Anyone who defends Nathan Bedford Forrest needs to read some history. Two words: Fort Pillow.
Same for Robert E. Lee. The greatest traitor in American history.
But I have to agree that list making is passe.

posted by: msj on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

If the animus on Burr is the killing of Hamilton, I would recommend the Smithsonian article of a few decades ago that explained the reason why Hamilton's shot went into the trees.

posted by: MTC on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

'And what's this crap about Carter "enabling totalitarianism in Iran and Nicaragua" by refusing to try to prop up two tyrants -- the Shah and Somoza -- against the landslide wishes of their own people?'

From bad to much worse is what the crap is about.

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

The two Cs....Cheney and Chomsky!

posted by: centrist on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

I'll tell ya, reading the lists on All Things Ugly and Evil was an eye-opener. Anybody who puts Martin Luther King on a list of 10 worst Americans is beyond the pale.

posted by: Barry on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

I was stunned to see Aaron Burr on your list. Please do some research. I think you will learn to appreciate this interesting early American.

posted by: burrite on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

It's a pretty weak list. If you're gonna include Al Sharpton, you'd better toss in dozens of other ethnic rabble-rousers, starting with at least the Know-Nothings. Charles Manson?!?! Hell, he was outdone by the roughly contemporary Gacy. Likewise Alrich Ames vs. the naval turncoat Walker.

Aren't you supposed to be a PhD in *American* politics, or some such? It really looks like you need to read some history.

posted by: sglover on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Anyone who uses the word 'anyone' to attack others in a discussion like this is being a complete nincompoop, mjs.

The discussion isn't whether Bedford Forrest was a good man - he wasn't particularly. But the discussion is whether he merits being included on a '10 worst' list, and that depends almost completely upon his status as the leader of the Klan for 2 years. Forrest winds up carrying the blame for a completely different organization founded many years after his death, which is unjust.

Some more possible nominees for '10 worst'. Has anyone thought about adding John Jacob Astor and Jay Gould to the list? Both of them far worse than Forrest. What about Andrew Jackson?

Robert E. Lee? He was no more a traitor than many others who went with their home states in 1861. He possibly broke an oath to the US government - which might make it worse than a poor farmer. But again he's far from unique. What makes him worse than someone like Jefferson Davis or John Breckinridge?

posted by: Don Stadler on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Jimmy Carter.

posted by: Mike on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

I'd take out a few people on the grounds that there's no substantive evidence that they were being deliberately evil. Lee, Burr, Forrest, and arguably Nixon all deserve the benefit of the "honorable intentions" doubt. They were also included, it seems to me, on the basis of behavior that's at most shady or doubtfully legal, and that behavior generally conformed to a popularly recognized code of honor of some sort (duels were legal in the early 19th century and acceptable to a hefty segment of society; I'm particularly surprised by Burr's presence on the list.) Including serial killers along with them makes you wonder what redeeming qualities said serial killers must have had. And Sharpton is a joke. A number of the inclusions are also highly arbitrary: Manson but not Jim Jones? Booth but not Oswald? Ames but not the Rosenbergs?

I'd argue that you should refrain from listing any Presidents after, say, 1955, and people who committed nasty crimes against famous people (as opposed to nasty crimes against ordinary people -- it doesn't seem like there's that much temptation to include them, now, is there.) It's too easy to be swayed by your own biases and whichever History Channel documentaries you've watched.

What about Suge Knight, Stanley "Tookie" Williams, or, in the above referenced group category, the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese families? Or SDS/Weatherman, ELF, etc.? You know, spreading terror and violence from coast to coast, blowing up or otherwise "eliminating" their enemies, often en masse and almost universally without warning (and not by means of manipulating the tax code.)

posted by: Sarah on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]


posted by: KarlikSuka1 on 12.31.05 at 08:20 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?