Unelectable Past Presidents (revised)

by Jonathan Hobratsch

Unelectable Past Presidents part 1, part 2, and part 3 were originally published by The Huffington Post on 6/14/2011, 6/21/2011, and 6/28/2011 respectively. I have opted to post a mildly revised (and condensed) version of these posts, since bloggers with The Huffington Post retain rights to their work.

There has been some appearance-based superficiality to the presidential process since even before the era of television. For instance, Republicans favored Warren G. Harding partially for “looking like a president.” However, despite a presidential appearance, he promptly gambled away the White House china and admitted that he was not “fit for this office” of president. His greatest accomplishment was dying in office.

Another man that died in office was a far superior but unsightly president. An elderly woman upon making eye contact with Honest Abe said, “I do believe you are the ugliest man I ever saw.” Lincoln replied, “Madam, you are probably right, but I can’t help it!” “No,” said she, “you can’t help it, but you might stay at home!” This homely president may be our greatest president; however, on looks alone, Harding might get the nod over Lincoln in a 21st century primary.

Franklin Pierce, generally considered one of the most attractive presidents, was also among the five worst presidents. Pierce was a Northern, pro-Southern expansionist in a sensitive ideological war of Free States and the Slave States. He was reviled in the North when it was found out that he was trying to buy Cuba (ripe for slavery) from Spain and when he signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This bill, which allowed settlers to determine if Kansas would be a Free State or Slave State, led to 200 politically motivated deaths.

Harry Truman, a great president with desk-clerk looks and no college degree, said of Pierce, “He’s got the best picture in the White House, Franklin Pierce, but being President involves a little bit more than just winning a beauty contest, and he was another one that was a complete fizzle… Pierce didn’t know what was going on, and even if he had, he wouldn’t of known what to do about it.” Nevertheless, the 21st century is likely to embrace its Pierces and exclude its Trumans.

The following are 27 American presidents that would not be electable today, assuming they refused to adapt to our image-conscious times. For the sake of humor we shall say that they are fixed in their ways:

George Washington (1st President)
The “father of our country” was sterile, missing all but one tooth, refused to give long speeches, flaunted his wealth, and he could not hear ordinary conversation.
John Adams (2nd President)
Short, squat and aristocratic (“his rotundity“), short-tempered, blunt, bald and individualistic. He also refused to replace his missing teeth with false ones.
Thomas Jefferson (3rd President)
Shy, tongue-tied, moody, high-pitched voiced, a spend-thrift, combined with an atrocious fashion sense.
James Madison (4th President)
Minuscule (5’4″ 100 lbs), had the self-esteem of a pimply-faced high-school student, lacked social skills and was nervous around women.
John Quincy Adams (6th President)
A pudgy, bald, pseudo-mutton-chopped, intellectual elitist, blunt, exhibitionist (swam naked in the Potomac).
Andrew Jackson (7th President)
Violent (the hair-trigger variety), smelled of sour mash, openly racist and sexist, and may have thought the world was flat (hmm, could get nominated anyway).
Martin Van Buren (8th President)
Short, bald, alcoholic, and looks like the Wizard of Oz or a Caucasian Jimmy McMillan.
John Tyler (10th President)
Too many kids (15), too independent (paradox?), thinner than a starving seahorse, and hated by his own party. *Note: never elected as president*
James K. Polk (11th President)
Wore a mullet, made no “campaign promises” (i.e. man of action), and pledged to serve only one term. On the surface, aside from the hairstyle, this may seem ideal. However, I find it unlikely that any political party today would support someone who vows to serve only one term and who will only mention campaign promises he was determined to keep.
Zachary Taylor (12th President)
Looked like a catcher’s mitt and didn’t know which political party he belonged to until he ran for president. Furthermore, he didn’t even vote for himself. Additionally, his involvement in the Mexican-American War would not win the Hispanic vote today. The media of the day depicted him on a throne of Mexican skulls.
Millard Fillmore (13th President)
No, this is not Mr. Trump sporting a new coiffure. This is Mr. Fillmore — the human version of the Giant Ground Sloth; yet, bewilderingly a non-entity. Also a member of the anti-immigration and anti-Catholic Know-Nothing party. In all, an aptly named party for Fillmore. *He was never elected president in his own time.*
James Buchanan (15th President)
Decrepit, had lopsided eyes, talked with his head cocked sideways, a bachelor. From the age of 7 until high school I thought he was killed by a rheumatic goat. Turned out it was rheumatic gout. However, judging from his devout non-interventionist attitude he would have allowed himself to be killed by a rheumatic goat had such a meeting taken place.
Abraham Lincoln (16th President)
Ugly by his own admission (called “the gorilla” or “the missing link” by others). He had a shrill country twang and no college degree.
Andrew Johnson (17th President)
Openly drunk and combative even at political engagements, not PC, and often ignored. Also, there is the false, but often believed, rumor that his wife taught him how to read and write. *never elected in his own time*
Ulysses S. Grant (18th President)
Short, fat, stooped when he walked, quiet, shy, very phobic, gullible, and alcoholic.
Rutherford B. Hayes (19th President)
Homeless man beard (looks like Old Man Marley from Home Alone).
James Garfield (20th President)
Garfield would be considered aloof and out of touch with the common citizen — Socratic beard, wrote with both hands simultaneously in Greek and Latin, and discovered a proof for the Pythagorean theorem.
Chester A. Arthur (21st President)
Worked only six hours a day, partied hard, mutton-chopped and possibly Canadian. *never elected in his own time*
Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th President)
“Non-Consecutive Term Man” looked like a walrus and fathered a child out of wedlock. Additionally, he was a bachelor when he went into office. Eventually, he married a twenty-one year old woman during his 1st-term.
Benjamin Harrison (23rd President)
Looked like one of the seven dwarfs (a bearded 5’6″), frigid personality (referred to as “the human iceberg”), high-pitched voice.
Theodore Roosevelt (26th President)
Mustached, odd glasses, killed elephants. Also, it appears he has only molars for teeth.
Howard Taft (27th President)
More walrus than Cleveland. Jokes abounded about his obesity. He would get stuck in theatre seats and in bathtubs. Teddy Roosevelt even suggested he give up horseback riding because it was “cruelty to the horse.” A judge once said, “Taft is the politest man in Washington; the other day he gave up his seat in a street-car to three ladies.”
Woodrow Wilson (28th President)
Frail, wore glasses in public, white supremacist, PhD. Also, look at these teeth!
Calvin Coolidge (30th President)
Probably the weirdest president. Didn’t speak, required about 15 hours of sleep, liked to have his head rubbed with petroleum jelly, rode a mechanical horse for exercise, owned a pygmy hippo, and had the charisma of a wet napkin. There are many humorous stories about Coolidge.
Franklin Roosevelt (32nd President)
He used a wheelchair and ten-pound leg braces. He hid his disability from the public, and the media was surprising accommodating during his entire presidency. Would the media be so kind today?
Harry S. Truman (33rd President)
Not overtly charismatic. He also wore thick glasses, and he had no college education.
Gerald Ford (38th President)
Balding and bumbling. *never elected anyway; even as vice-president!*

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Academic Poet says:

    Insightful. I especially like the comments about Abe and the depth of historical research synthesized into modern political analysis is fascinating. Looking forward to reading more.


  2. This is so hilarious! I could definitely be on this list. I’m totally unelectable:) –Paul


  3. Alfred Corn says:

    Tons of information new to me. And told with just a shade of humor that ever becomes slapstick.


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