Full Disclosure: I broke my own rule. I read lots of other folks’ lists and culled some nominations from them. From those nine I am choosing the four last, with discussion included.
I hesitated to choose from the 30 years of my own adulthood, figuring that the long term effects might not be yet visible. Both Jimmy Carter and John Walker are relatively recent, but I think we do have some sense of what their effects have been. In a single four-year term, Carter was able to increase both unemployment and inflation to levels seldom seen in the American economy, a double-whammy made worse when you consider that a President isn’t responsible for the economy the day after he is elected, but only gradually becomes the dominant influence after being inaugurated. My usual delay estimate is that a president can not be fully blamed nor credited for the economy for 18-24 months after his election. Counting that in, the Carter Economy runs from late 1978-late 1982, and looks even worse. Additionally, he gave a tremendous boost to both Islamofascism and Communism with his Talk Loudly And Carry A Small Stick foreign policy. After forcible retirement, he devoted occasional time to providing cover for dictators with a fondness for torture, giving them time to eliminate their opposition. Carter undermined the few promising foreign policy initiatives of Bill Clinton, especially in North Korea. For a president who was supposed to be among the smartest ever, he also wrote books of amazing vacuity, and has been the most vicious and one-sided critic of subsequent presidents in the history of the nation. On the plus side, some people think he meant well, and he built houses.
Within the narrow area of protecting American secrets, John Walker’s effect was simply devastating, worst among a bad lot of American traitors.
I had forgotten about Sir Jeffrey Amherst and the smallpox blankets given to Indians. As the act occurred before 1776, I am not sure it technically qualifies as “American,” and that single act didn’t kill many people. But as the precedent was followed in some subsequent dealing with Native Americans, and Amherst was acting cruelly in an official, rather than personal capacity, it’s hard to ignore.
Joe Kennedy, Sr and Aaron Burr both get high marks for narcissism and complete disregard for the interests of others, but both fail to make the final cut because they only came close to irreparably damaging the republic. They would have if they could have, but they didn’t.
Nathan Bedford Forrest certainly deserves close consideration. Like Al Capone, others may have been worse individuals, but Forrest brought considerable skill to his evil, turning the little KKK into both a political force and a shadow army. Southerners try to retain a fondness for him because he was a helluva general for the Confederacy. The rest of us hardly consider that a positive.
The Soviet Union received no better cover from respectable sources in the West than it received from Walter Duranty, though vice-president Henry A. Wallace approached it briefly. Wallace eventually had the stones to recant and apologize for his support of Stalin. Duranty never did. Duranty lied, millions (millions!) of Ukranians died.
Few could hope to approach Margaret Sanger for meanness of spirit and contempt for those she found inferior. She is Exhibit A of the historical reminders that even though eugenics is not an automatic consequence of abortion, it sure show up often at its cocktail parties. We are fortunate that most of what she wished for the world has not come to pass, and for all that she gets a pass under my system of measuring results rather than intent. She founded Planned Parenthood, an organization staffed mostly by people who mean well and try to help. But that counts for nothing, remember? If you were to identify one person responsible for elevating the prestige of abortion beyond the level of tragic necessity and into the realm of admirable, liberating act, it would be Sanger. But I am not sure that her advocacy was what changed our attitudes.
The previous six are here
The final list, in no particular order:
Lee Harvey Oswald
Nathan Bedford Forrest