Advertisement
Stuff

A Definitive Ranking of US Presidents from Lamest to Coolest

Was Barack Obama the coolest president? Is anyone less cool than Rutherford B Hayes?

by Hanson O'Haver
Sep 5 2016, 4:00am

Bill Clinton playing sax with Dan Aykroyd at the 2002 grand opening of the Mohegan Sun casino. Not sure why this is happening. (Photo by Todd Plitt/Getty Images)​

In January, a new president will be inaugurated, and Barack Obama will step down, ending one of the most remarkable runs in American history: For eight years, the US had a cool president.

Now, by "cool," I don't necessarily mean "good"—a big part of growing up is learning to tell the difference. Sometimes good people are cool, like Jesus Christ. Sometimes, though, good people are uncool, like most of the dads in old sitcoms. Most confusingly, bad people are sometimes cool, like most characters in Mafia movies.

So without saying anything about Barack Obama's policies, we should be able to say that he is, in fact, cool, the kind of guy who can be a relaxed and natural guest on a late-night show and who kills flies with his bare hands. In fact, he was attacked by a Karl Rove–backed group for being too cool before the 2012 election. That's how cool he is.

But was Obama the coolest president? Who was the least cool president? Who was the 27th coolest president? To answer these questions and more, I made a very scientific list. These rankings don't necessarily reflect their policies or the horrible, racist things they may have done—these are just about coolness, and coolness doesn't care about right and wrong.

43. John Tyler, 1841–1845

John Tyler was a slaveholder who sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War. His name lives on in John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas, where 40 percent of the students are black. Being the victim of historical irony is never, ever cool.

42. Franklin Pierce, 1853–1857

Franklin Pierce's whole life seems like a bummer. His wife was always sick with tuberculosis, he saw his son get crushed to death and nearly decapitated by a train, he was on the wrong side of everything (for example, he hated Lincoln), and he drank himself to death.

Rutherford B. Hayes, in case anyone cares what he looks like

41. Rutherford B Hayes, 1877–1881

Rutherford B Hayes banned alcohol from the White House because he wanted Prohibitionists to like him.

40. James Buchanan, 1857–1861

James Buchanan is most famous for being the only president to never get married (sorta cool?), and for failing to prevent the Civil War (not cool).

39. Andrew Johnson, 1865–1869

Lincoln's second VP was supposed to be killed in the plot that ended Lincoln's life, but his assassin got drunk instead of killing him. Johnson, like most presidents from the mid-19th century not named Lincoln, is barely remembered today. He stands out for making his own suits, feeding mice that he found, and showing up at random church services. Huh.

38. Chester A Arthur, 1881–1885

There are a lot of boring presidents, and chief among them is Chester
"A" Arthur. Even this list of "interesting" Chester Arthur facts is forced to note that he was the member of a salmon club, whatever that is. One of his final recorded statements is that, "After all, life is not worth living." On one hand, nihilism is almost always badass, but on the other—you just lived a whole life, joke's on you! What a chump.

Benjamin Harrison, doing his thing, which is being boring and uncool

37. Benjamin Harrison, 1889–1893

When Benjamin Harrison was 62, he married a woman who was young enough to be his daughter, but she was just his wife's niece.

36. Harry S Truman, 1945–1953

The most famous thing about Truman—other than him ordering the only uses of nuclear weapons against humans in history—is that he almost lost an election, and a newspaper got the result wrong. Look at this picture of him holding the paper and gloating like a herb. Act like you've been there before, dude.

35. Thomas Jefferson, 1801–1809

He wrote the Declaration of Independence when he was 33! Whatever. He also owned hundreds of slaves and raped some of them, even though his writings indicated that he thought the slave trade was wrong—in other words, he was philosophically dedicated to the idea of freedom but not when it interfered with his luxurious lifestyle. In short, fuck Thomas Jefferson. He's only this high because he's responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, so without him we wouldn't have New Orleans, the First City of Jazz ™.

34. William Henry Harrison, 1841

William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia a month after taking office—which developed out of a cold he caught giving a super long inaugural address that no one could actually hear because microphones didn't exist yet. Boo!

This guy

33. George W Bush, 2001–2009

Somehow George W Bush gained the reputation of being a down-to-earth guy voters "wanted to have a beer with," even though he was a recovering alcoholic, and if you have ever had a beer with a recovering alcoholic, you know that's a bad, bad idea. If George W Bush were really cool, he wouldn't be painting naïve self-portraits. He'd be into AbEx.

32. Warren G Harding 1921–1923

When a rapper names himself after you, you are obviously a bit cooler as a result, but Warren G Harding's reputation has suffered from the Teapot Dome scandal (not as interesting as it sounds) and from basically fucking everything that moved.

31. Herbert Hoover, 1929–1933

Herbert Hoover was president during the Great Depression (not cool) and the last years of prohibition, which he supported (also not cool). On the other hand, he translated a book with the heavy metal title, De Re Metallica, and "was an orphan whose first job was picking bugs off potato plants, for which he was paid a dollar per hundred bugs."

30. Grover Cleveland, 1885–1889 and 1893–1897

Grover Cleveland is the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms, which is a cool fact to know if you are yourself lame. He briefly worked as a hangman, which makes him one of the only presidents who definitely personally killed someone.

29. James A Garfield, 1881

When your legacy is "got killed less than a year after becoming president," you aren't very cool, sorry :(

28. Ulysses S Grant, 1869–1877

Ulysses S Grant has a complicated legacy, and I am not gonna get into all that. But he reportedly drank a lot while winning the Civil War, which basically makes him the star of an HBO drama. Gritty!

27 Ronald Reagan, 1981–1989

Ronald Reagan may have been the "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Punk Rock" according to this very website, but that was basically because he looked like the cartoon idea of what punks were supposed to hate. Conservatives may try to tell you Reagan is cool, but they are not exactly authorities on the subject. Also never forget he started his career in politics as an FBI snitch in Hollywood.

Andrew Jackson had a weirdly long face, if you ask me.

26. Andrew Jackson, 1829–1837

Andrew Jackson is one of the most important people in US history, a vicious racist responsible for some of the worst atrocities against Native Americans, a duelist and war hero who lived with a bullet inside him for years, the first politician to ride populism to the White House. I have no idea where to put him on this list, so I put him here.

25. Woodrow Wilson 1913–1921

Woodrow Wilson was also a huge racist (yes, they all were, but he was bad even for his time). His wife also basically ran his administration after he had a stroke—is that cool? Sure.

24. George Bush, 1989–1993

He's a war hero, sure, and the episode of The Simpsons making fun of him was great, but he's also one of the blue-bloodiest dudes to sit in the Oval Office. And remember, that Simpsons episode came about because he hated the show.

23. Richard Nixon, 1969–1974

I know it's technically wrong to view Nixon as a comic villain instead of a paranoid, drunken anti-Semite who enabled Henry Kissinger to commit war crimes in Cambodia. But if you just focus on Watergate, that photo of him making the V sign after resigning, and blaming the Vietnam war on the French, Nixon is not without a certain charm.

Teddy Roosevelt looked like a cartoon version of himself.

22. Theodore Roosevelt, 1901–1909

Teddy Roosevelt's macho schtick is pretty tiring, but without his Rough Riders, we'd never have DMX's "Ruff Ryders' Anthem," the second best musical anthem (behind "Int'l Player's Anthem").

21. Dwight D Eisenhower, 1953–1961

Warning about the "military-industrial complex" makes him cool in a darkly prophetic sort of way, and the whole "defeating Hitler" thing was good. Not as cool: being named "Dwight," supporting coups, presiding over the mass deportation effort dubbed "Operation Wetback."

20. William Taft, 1909–1913

Legend has it that Taft, America's girthiest president, once got stuck in a bathtub. Some people say this rumor is untrue, but have you ever heard a story of someone getting stuck in a bathtub about someone who hadn't actually gotten stuck in a bathtub? The whole incident is cool in a fat-guy way.

19. James K Polk, 1845–1849

The most interesting thing about Polk is that, as a teen, he had surgery to remove bladder stones with no anesthetic except brandy.

18. John Adams, 1797–1801

By becoming president first, John Adams tried to ensure that his son John Quincy could never top his old man. Classic cool dad move.

Marty Van Buren, what a guy!

17. Martin Van Buren, 1837–1841

Martin Van Buren married his cousin and tried to keep Texas out of the union. He's also the namesake for the "Van Buren Boys," an episode of Seinfeld about a gang named after the former president. ("They're just as mean as he was.") It's a wash.

16. James Monroe, 1817–1825

Fuck, forgot about Monroe. OK, this spot is as good as any for him.

15. George Washington, 1789–1797

George Washington pretty much drew the blueprint for how a president should be (war hero, tall, easily rendered through shading). The Beatles of presidents—not hip, exactly, but no one is going to talk shit about Washington.

14. James Madison, 1809–1817

James Madison is known as the "Father of the Constitution" and part of the team (with Alexander Hamilton) behind the Federalist Papers, giving hope to every manifesto writer that one day his or her blue-background-yellow-letter website will become the foundation of a system of government. He was also reportedly very short, which is cool. People like short guys.

13. Zachary Taylor, 1849–1850

For 16 months in the tumultuous years leading up to the Civil War, America had a president named Zachary. President Zach.

12. John Quincy Adams, 1825–1829

For the son of a president, John Quincy Adams seems like a pretty well-rounded guy. He taught at Harvard, served as our first ambassador to Russia, and was against slavery. According to Wikipedia, which, eh, is probably right, he's the first president to have his photo taken, to cut his hair short, and to wear pants instead of culottes—three cool milestones.

11. Millard Fillmore 1850–1853

"Millard Fillmore" sounds like an actor from one of those old pornos where everyone's hairy and the blowjobs look like a slide whistle tutorial.

10. William McKinley, 1897–1901

Getting murdered by an anarchist is definitely cool.

9. Bill Clinton, 1993–2001

I know. But on the other hand:

8. Gerald Ford, 1974–1977

Bumbling into the presidency after replacing first VP Spiro Agnew and then Nixon, Ford isn't traditionally regarded as "cool"; Chevy Chase's Saturday Night Live impression of him as a klutz remains basically the only thing we remember him for. But Ford was totally relaxed about that joke. And, uh, young Gerald Ford could kinda get it?

7. Lyndon B Johnson, 1963–1969

LBJ was fond on pulling his dick out in front of people and asking "Have you ever seen anything as big as this?" Vietnam was an unequivocal disaster, but it's arguably not totally his fault and "Hey hey/ LBJ/ How many kids did you kill today?" is easily one of the greatest chants ever. Johnson would never be mistaken for a nice man or even a decent one, but his legendary ability to intimidate others makes him the Tony Soprano of this list.

6. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933–1945

Forget the New Deal and World War II for a second—FDR made cigarette holders stylish long before Audrey Hepburn and Hunter S Thompson.

5. Jimmy Carter, 1977–1981

Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer and devout Christian, gets a lot of cool points for making his famous "hey guys this shit kinda sucks" speech, aka the "malaise" speech, a pretty bold move. Mainly, he's this high up because his daughter Amy added the Sex Pistols and Ramones to the White House record collection.

4. Calvin Coolidge, 1923–1929

Look, Great Depression great shshmession, you can't argue with a name like that.

3. Abraham Lincoln, 1861–1865

Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, was tall and depressed (glamorizing depression is not cool but let's not deny that, historically, depression and coolness have gone hand in hand), and his first vice president was named Hannibal. His line, "As a nation of free men, we will live forever or die by suicide," is the most badass thing anyone's ever written about America and a hell of an intro for a rock song.

2. John F Kennedy, 1961–1963

JFK's coolness is undeniable. He was young, hot, promiscuous, maybe an amphetamine addict, wore hip sunglasses, died tragically, and the head of a family of liberal heroes/terrible fuckups. He would be number one on this list except for...

1. Barack Obama, 2009–2016

Of course, Barack Obama is the coolest president. It's not even close. Obviously being the first black president is cool, but there's so much beyond that. He spent his formative years in Hawaii, the coolest state. He hung out with a group of pot smokers called the Choom Gang and did "maybe a little blow." (Wink, wink.) Look at his Summer 2016 Nighttime playlist: This is a guy who doesn't just have sex, he fucks. Check out this picture of him dressed in athleisure and standing in front of a sign that just says "69." Compare him to this video of our next president awkwardly dancing on Ellen. You can (and should) be upset about with the NSA and the failure to close Guantánamo and drone strikes and lots of other things, but come on: He's a cool guy.

Follow Hanson O'Haver on Twitter.

Tagged:
VICE US
Politics
barack obama
JFK
coolness
presidents
Bill Clinton
Opinion
Views My Own
Vice Blog