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In Jay Tea's post regarding faith, troll wannabe JimX (like the product Ex-Lax, except that his effect uses vitriol and rhetoric rather than choco-flavored chemicals) derided several Republicans when I noted that President Obama has no humility in him whatsoever. Rather than argue with JimX on the matter (tantamount to barking back at a mongrel), I am taking the question to the greater audience. Which presidents have struck you as especially humble, and which were personally arrogant? To be clear, when I say 'humble' I do not mean timid or lacking in confidence, but rather a leader who cares about the goal, rather than his ego, and whose character is selfless in action. Arrogance, in this context, does not apply to bold action, even when pursuing a political goal one might object to, but the person who puts himself ahead of the country, and whose ego requires constant puffing up.

Note that a president may be arrogant yet effective, or humble and ineffective. I am considering this quality as it pertains to the man, not as a metric of his job performance.

Here's my starting list of the most humble and most arrogant Presidents of the United States:


Gerald Ford
John Adams
George W Bush
Ronald Reagan
Abraham Lincoln
Dwight Eisenhower
Millard Fillmore
John Quincy Adams


Barack Obama
Andrew Johnson
Richard Nixon
Lyndon Johnson
Franklin Roosevelt
James Madison
Andrew Jackson
James K Polk

I thought this might start a good conversation on the men who have served as Presidents.


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Comments (51)

I thought the republican pr... (Below threshold)

I thought the republican president, JFK, was rather arrogant. You know, the one that cut taxes, said pay any price, bear any burden, that republican president.

Barry is in a categorie all... (Below threshold)
Nine Fourteen:

Barry is in a categorie all by himself.

I see the chip on your shou... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

I see the chip on your shoulder there, J. Pretty big one too, you must be proud of it.

That said, though, I'd sure be impressed if you could address the topic. Show a little reading comprehension?


I see J is taking this seri... (Below threshold)

I see J is taking this seriously ...

They didn't call him Silent... (Below threshold)

They didn't call him Silent Cal for nothing. Coolidge needs to be high up on the humble list.

More categorie's are needed... (Below threshold)
Nine Fourteen:

More categorie's are needed.


Slick Willie

Uninspiring and downright boring

Mr. Peanut
Gerald Ford

Worstest evah

Mr. Peanut

J is also confusing rhetori... (Below threshold)

J is also confusing rhetoric for results.

DJ says "To be clear, when ... (Below threshold)
Edward Sisson:

DJ says "To be clear, when I say 'humble' I do not mean timid or lacking in confidence, but rather a leader who cares about the goal, rather than his ego, and whose character is selfless in action."

Under this definition, the most humble President is George Washington. He served as general without pay, resigned his commission and went back to private life when the war was won, did not lobby for or engineer the Constitutional Convention, rejected all high titles for the President such has "his highness" and other similar habits and established the simple "Mr. President," and left office after two terms when he could easily have been elected to a third, etc. He cared about the goal of self-government and freedom for the people, which is the mark of a real statesman, not about his own exaltation, which is juvenile. The people honored him again and again because his character won their feelings, not because he sought those honors.

I think Coolidge would qual... (Below threshold)

I think Coolidge would qualify as a humble president. He certainly wasn't a power-monger. John Adams (as you say) and George Washington seem like good candidates to me also.

Most arrogant of all must be Abraham Lincoln! FDR must be mentioned as well, and you did. It's unsettling to face the facts, but Obama clearly has similar ambitions. Let's pray to God he is not so successful as either of those.

[points up at Edward's comm... (Below threshold)

[points up at Edward's comment]


I nominate George Washingto... (Below threshold)

I nominate George Washington, who could have been king. The story of his spectacles after his Newburgh address (1783) moves me still:

Following his address Washington studied the faces of his audience. He could see that they were still confused, uncertain, not quite appreciating or comprehending what he had tried to impart in his speech. With a sigh, he removed from his pocket a letter and announced it was from a member of Congress, and that he now wished to read it to them. He produced the letter, gazed upon it, manipulated it without speaking. What was wrong, some of the men wondered. Why did he delay? Washington now reached into a pocket and brought out a pair of new reading glasses. Only those nearest to him knew he lately required them, and he had never worn them in public. Then he spoke: "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country." This simple act and statement by their venerated commander, coupled with remembrances of battles and privations shared together with him, and their sense of shame at their present approach to the threshold of treason, was more effective than the most eloquent oratory. As he read the letter to their unlistening ears, many were in tears from the recollections and emotions which flooded their memories. As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, put it in his journal, " There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye."


Polk arrogant? "Serve my o... (Below threshold)

Polk arrogant? "Serve my one term, get a bunch of stuff done, then go home?"

Nonjudgmentally curious about your inclusion of Fillmore. A man who knew his limitations or the accidental nature of his position? Wouldn't mind some elaboration.

Add George Washington to hu... (Below threshold)

Add George Washington to humble and Woodrow Wilson to arrogant.

Good morning, Irascibli. R... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Good morning, Irascibli. Re Mr. Polk, he was bold in action but insufferable in person at times. I can do no better than to recommend "James K Polk", by John Sigenthaler, for your review.

Now about Mr. Fillmore; first off, this guy was self-made but never rich. Married his first girlfriend, built the home he lived in by himself, got elected to Congress on his reputation for honesty and hard work, he opposed slavery and his opposition to admitting Texas as a slave state cost him the chance to be governor of New York (long story). In 1848, he was nominated to be VP at the convention to resolve infighting between supporters of Zachary Taylor and Henry Clay, because he as known as a peacemaker who kept promises. He kept the Whig Party from imploding, created a treaty with Mexico which averted a new war over Texas, worked out a compromise which prevented the Civil War starting 10 years early (read Webster's commentary on that for details), and resolved military crises with England, Spain, and France. His habit of sharing credit prevented Fillmore from being able to claim the party nomination in 1852, but outrage over the way he was treated by political insiders helped complete the dissolution of the Whig Party.

Fair enough, DJ. I learn s... (Below threshold)

Fair enough, DJ. I learn something every day.

Fillmore stuff is especially illuminating.

I knew JKP had a rep for not suffering fools gladly but not the extent.

Well, Clinton IMO was prett... (Below threshold)

Well, Clinton IMO was pretty arrogant. The finger wagging... the smoking yet not inhaling, etc.

The comment about Abraham L... (Below threshold)

The comment about Abraham Lincoln being in the arrogant column does not quite "compute". Since my knowledge of him is very limited, I would just point to the Gettysburg Address. The attitude shown in that piece seems to indicate humbleness but an intense desire to do the best and honor those who actually paid the price of freedom.

[ troll spewage, removed ]<... (Below threshold)

[ troll spewage, removed ]

So where do you put Teddy R... (Below threshold)

So where do you put Teddy Roosevelt in the mix, personally arrogant but driven to do the right thing by the country? mpw

Under "Arrogant", you forgo... (Below threshold)

Under "Arrogant", you forgot Bill Clinton.

You don't know squat about ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

You don't know squat about "honest discussion", Jim. And I don't plan to waste time on your bile and spittle-in-print.

Obama simply does not know ... (Below threshold)

Obama simply does not know how to be a president. He lacks the experience and skillset to govern decisively. He does embrace very well the trappings of the office. Flying all over on a whim. Sending his wife to Spain on our dime while the oil spill ravages the South. He is arrogant in that he believes he is the end all and be all. His statement starters like "Let me be clear" or "Make no mistake" etc., show his inability to address anything with substance. This does tie into yesterday's thread about faith. When someone possesses faith, they believe there is something greater then themselves which will bring about humility. Obama is smug. He sat at the feet of Rev. Wright for 20 years not talking about humility and service to God, but about who he should hate and distrust. We have the end results of that teaching. ww

[ more troll spewage ]... (Below threshold)

[ more troll spewage ]

[ still more spewage from a... (Below threshold)

[ still more spewage from a more-clueless-than-average troll ]

Carter, hiding in the Rose ... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

Carter, hiding in the Rose Garden during the hostage crisis, was the very image of a humble(d) President.

Don't you thinks such comme... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

Don't you thinks such comments as "your either with us or against us" and "bring em on"(referring to terrorists) puts George W Bush in the arrogant camp?

[ the troll still thinks it... (Below threshold)
Jim X the troll:

[ the troll still thinks it's all about him ]

No, Tina. Especially given... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

No, Tina. Especially given the context. As I said, confidence is different from arrogance. I defy you, for example, to show where W made those comments to bolster his ego, in, say, the way President Obama tried to shut down GOP opposition by saying "I won".

Come to that, just compare how many times certain leaders have said "I" or "me". Its quite telling.

I am in full agreement with... (Below threshold)
just me:

I am in full agreement with regard to Obama lacking humility. I find him to be very arrogant. As for presidents-I will still with the ones from my lifetime that I remember.

I think Reagan, Bush the younger and Carter were pretty humble men.

I think Obama is arrogant. At times Bush senior.

Clinton doesn't strike me as being strongly one or the other-I think he was arrogant in his power-in the sense that he had that "I am untouchable and can do what pleases me" attitude, but he had some moments of humility.

Tina S-"... (Below threshold)
Nine Fourteen:

Tina S-

"Don't you thinks such comments as "your either with us or against us" and "bring em on"(referring to terrorists) puts George W Bush in the arrogant camp?"

Sorry Tina. After terrorists muder 3,000 of your fellow citizens, that is not arrogance. That is I would hope the normal response.

Arrogance would be endorsin... (Below threshold)
Nine Fourteen:

Arrogance would be endorsing the building of a mosque where the wreckage from the murders landed.

[ TALK ABOUT ME, demanded t... (Below threshold)

[ TALK ABOUT ME, demanded the troll ]

[ Waaaaaaaaaaaah, said the ... (Below threshold)

[ Waaaaaaaaaaaah, said the troll ]

[ the other twolls all agwe... (Below threshold)

[ the other twolls all agwee with me, why won't you? ]

Are you talking about the s... (Below threshold)

Are you talking about the same humble George W. Bush who declared a mandate when he got less than 50% of the popular vote?

Personally, I'd like to tha... (Below threshold)
Sky Captain:

Personally, I'd like to thank whomever is cleaning up the troll spewage. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it. :-)

Rance, I do believe Bill CLinton got less than 50% of the popular vote at some point.
What does that have to do with the arrogance or humility of Presidents?

Tina S. please do not rewri... (Below threshold)

Tina S. please do not rewrite what is written. GW Bush said you are either with us or with the Terrorists. Quite difference. ww

Washington certainly belong... (Below threshold)

Washington certainly belongs in first position on the humble list. He was literally given ABSOLUTE POWER by the Continental Congress and most humbly returned the honor to them after the war. Can you imagine Hussein returning absolute authority to the congress/people and then proceeding to return to his first love--farming and his home in Virginia????

DJ, I've written a couple o... (Below threshold)

DJ, I've written a couple of articles about presidents and their use -- or non-use -- of self-deprecating humor. I see a lot of overlap here...


Sky Captain,Would ... (Below threshold)

Sky Captain,

Would a truly humble president declare that he has a mandate when he was elected by a minority of the voters?

Rance, The only time Barry ... (Below threshold)
Nine Fourteen:

Rance, The only time Barry will be humble is in November when he has to scarf down some humble pie.

My impression of GWB was th... (Below threshold)

My impression of GWB was that of a humble public servant who took his duties as the leader of this great nation very seriously. Think of all the times he refused to dignify/respond to his attackers from the left (Hurricane Katrina), even at his own political expense. A man absorbed in his own greatness would be hard pressed to remain silent against such assaults. (As we are currently witnessing)

If there was a portrait of ... (Below threshold)

If there was a portrait of arrogance in the dictionary it would be the arch racist, self-appointed improver of the Constituion and all-round Progressive tool, Woodrow Wilson.

914,First, I was q... (Below threshold)


First, I was questioning the listing of GWB as being humble, not defending Obama's listing.

Second, if didn't think you can do a better job of running the country than anyone else, you wouldn't running for president. I don't think anyone, ever, who has been president could be classified as being truly humble.

No, Tina. Especially giv... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

No, Tina. Especially given the context. As I said, confidence is different from arrogance. I defy you, for example, to show where W made those comments to bolster his ego, in, say, the way President Obama tried to shut down GOP opposition by saying "I won".


I don't know of Bush making a similar comment but Cheney did. Shortly after the 2002 elections, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was arguing against the latest round of tax cuts, saying they would bust the budget. Cheneys response was, "We won the midterms. It's our due." Do you agree that Cheney is arrogant?

Tina S. please do not re... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

Tina S. please do not rewrite what is written. GW Bush said you are Tina S. please do not rewrite what is written. GW Bush said you are either with us or with the Terrorists. Quite difference. . Quite difference.


Bush has said it both ways. Google the following for verification.

"You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror."

If arrogance is defined as ... (Below threshold)

If arrogance is defined as exhibition of unwarranted pride then James Madison was not an arrogant President.

He earned his sense of pride in the years prior, particularly with his achievements at the Constitutional convention.

Of the entries in your list... (Below threshold)

Of the entries in your list, I will say:


1) Barack Obama
2) Andrew Jackson
3) Franklin Roosevelt

-As a footnote to Roosevelt, as much as his kingly manner shone in his social engineering projects, he was a terrific wartime President during the worst, technologically brutal, and most dangerous war ever fought in modern history. He had no choice but to exude confidence, firm control in dealing with a coalition who all had a bit of self-interest in the winning of the war, and asking the American people to sacrifice for the good of the nation.

Some of his arrogance could be mistaken for confidence needed to maintain firm, positive leadership.


1) John Adams
2) George W. Bush
3) Gerald Ford

-John Adams assumed the Presidency after George Washington. That's a hard act to follow. Washington knew all of his own actions would be a template for others to follow. His main reason for leaving after 2 terms was his weariness of the task.

Adams, in his youth, was not a "humble" person, but his drive to excel often was mistaken as arrogance.

That he was able to ensure a peaceful Presidential transition after Washington, and maintained a workable government to be left for Jefferson, during a fervor for war against France, was a testament to his character.

The negative campaigning that was directed toward him by the press and the then "Republicans" of the day, was as bitter and vile as it was in any part of our history.

He never, during his Presidency, or during the race for a second term, publicly acknowledged or took part in the pit of party politics.

Between his Presidency and his often unsung heroism during the Revolution, humble is not a strong enough word to describe his selfless actions.


Do you agree that Cheney... (Below threshold)
just me:

Do you agree that Cheney is arrogant?

Cheney wasn't president, but I do think he was rather arrogant and I would add that he was often biting in words he chose to use-not quite the foot in mouth disease, but just not always choosing the most tactful way to say something.

Tina S,For some re... (Below threshold)

Tina S,

For some reason, liberals like yourself have an innate necessity to interject issues into a subject where they just do not belong.

Your riff, rant, and comments regarding Cheney, by their very nature have no place in this conversation.

However, your disdain for the man will not allow you to just stay on a very simple topic, comment on the choices given, and stick within the parameters of the author's non-combative intent.

It is too bad that you so often do this type of intellectual wondering. You do, however infrequent it may be, allow for pertinent points during discussion to be shown the light of day, and contribute more to actual thoughtful discussion than others of liberal zealotry who choose to do nothing but ignite and fan the flames of an "us-vs-them" level, where that need not be the course of discussion.

Just page up and read the original intent of DJ's piece.



Shawn, who's ranting?... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

Shawn, who's ranting?

DJ challenged me to find an example of a when Bush made a quote similar to one Obama made. Because Bush's VP made a nearly identical comment, I see no problem in mentioning it without being accused of going off topic. Before accusing me of being habitual at going off topic, I suggest you review my history of responses. I always make a conscious effort to stay on topic.






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