In his latest installment of judging former presidents, Ivan Eland writes, “Two former presidents have recently been in the news for unfavorable reasons. Recent DNA testing showed that Republican Warren Harding, already believed to have had an extra-marital affair with at least one mistress, likely had a love child with another, perhaps confirming the second one’s tell-all book about their affair written in the 1920s after Harding had died in office. Another former president, Democrat Jimmy Carter, announced that he had cancer. What do these seemingly unrelated chief executives–in both time, party, and temperament–have in common? They were both significantly better presidents than the historical reputations they have been given.
In fact, these presidents may have been better than they themselves believed. Warren Harding famously admitted that he was unfit for the role of chief executive. In Jimmy Carter’s case, he has done little to try to improve the historical memory of his time in office, instead concentrating on many noteworthy humanitarian accomplishments during his post-presidency–perhaps an admission that things didn’t go so well while he was in the White House. These two men were too hard on themselves.”
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