The Ten Worst Senators In American History, And Seven Other Candidates! :)

I have had the question asked of me, after giving my ranking of the best Senators in American History, as to who would make the list of the WORST Senators ever in our history.

This is much more difficult and complex a challenge, but let me begin by stating that there are, unfortunately, many mediocre senators on the list of nearly 1800 who have served since 1789. However, a small number particularly deserve condemnation, and I base who to condemn not on the fact that some are corrupt in their personal life or in financial endeavors, but rather on if they promoted prejudice, discrimination, narrow mindedness, or suppression of basic freedoms. In other words, their negative attitude toward civil rights and or civil liberties qualifies them for this despicable list.

I cannot easily rank them from one to ten, as the differences are so minor, but what I will do is discuss nine of them, and then finish with who I think is CLEARLY Number One. Then I will add seven more potential candidates.

I wish it was not so, but the majority of the list comes from the Old Confederacy, because of the issue of civil rights, as well as civil liberties. This is a sad reality that cannot be blamed on Northern prejudice. The Civil War may have resolved the issue of slavery, but it did not settle the issue of race, and there were a long list of senators who really fueled hate and prejudice, and justified extreme violence and mistreatment against African Americans, but also Jews, Catholics and immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

So here goes in no special order except being in the top ten.

Benjamin Tillman, Democrat of South Carolina, who served from 1895-1918, had the nickname “Pitchfork”, and promoted racism and segregation in a voluble manner, and condemned Theodore Roosevelt for his White House invitation to the African American educator, Booker T. Washington, in 1902.

James K. Vardaman served as a Democratic Senator from Mississippi from 1913-1919, and gained a reputation for using the N word effortlessly, and advocating violence and the Klan to keep African Americans in their place.

Theodore Bilbo was Democratic Senator from Mississippi from 1935-1947, and was infamous for his orations against African Americans, and was simply an embarrassment to the Senate he served in.

Harry F. Byrd, Sr. of Virginia served as a Democratic Senator from 1933 to 1965, and led the fight against the school integration decision of the Supreme Court in 1954, advocating “massive resistance”, promoting the closing of public schools in the Commonwealth. His being in the Senate for a very long time made him more damaging just by its duration.

Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina served as a Senator for the second longest term ever, nearly 48 years, first as a Democrat from 1954 to 1964, and then switched parties to the Republican side and served from 1964 to 2002. Thurmond had, while Governor of his state, been a third party candidate for President as a “Dixiecrat” in 1948, and promoted the reversal of President Truman’s executive orders integrating the armed forces and Washington, DC. He went on to be an activist against the entire civil rights movement, including calling Martin Luther King a “communist’, and only reluctantly, backed away slightly from his vehement stands in his later terms, partially to win reelection with a growing African American participation in voting in the Palmetto state.

Jesse Helms served as Republican Senator from North Carolina from 1973-2003, and gained a reputation of being the most implacable foe of civil rights, using the race card on a regular basis to win close races in his state. He was seen as the image of the Old South revived even in modern times. A lot of people, including some colleagues, were simply scared of him! ๐Ÿ™‚

The seventh and last southern senator on this undistinguished list would be Phil Gramm of Texas, who first served in the House of Representatives as a Democrat, switched to the Republican party, and served as a Republican Senator from 1985-2002. While by the time that he served, the race issue was not emphasized anymore in an open way, Gramm proved to be very insensitive to the poor and deprived, emphasized a balanced budget over all else, and gained an image of being linked to powerful corporations. To top it off, after he left office, and when the Great Recession we are suffering through emerged, Gramm was judged as one of the ten on the list of villains on a CNN investigation, that helped by their actions and connections to have caused the collapse in the mortgage industry, and the general financial meltdown. He was also an embarrassment to Senator John McCain during the Presidential campaign of 2008, when he was one of his economic advisers, and complained that America was a “nation of whiners”.

So sadly, seven of the top ten worst senators come from the South, with two from Mississippi, two from South Carolina, one from Virginia, one from North Carolina, and one from Texas.

The other three on this unfortunate list come from the “heartland”, two from the Midwest and one from the Far West.

Senator Roman Hruska served from Nebraska as a Republican from 1954-1976, and could be called the true measure of a mediocre Senator, who is most infamous for his assertion during the Senate debate over the nomination of G. Harold Carswell of Florida by President Nixon in 1971 to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, that indeed Carswell was a mediocre judge, but after all, a lot of Americans are mediocre, and they are entitled to one person on the Supreme Court who represents them! I think that is enough said about Hruska! ๐Ÿ™‚

Then there is Senator Patrick McCarran, Democrat of Nevada from 1933-1954, who became infamous for being an active participant in promoting violation of civil liberties, most notably as part of the Second Red Scare in the years after World War II and into the mid 1950s. He was vicious in his pursuit of the destruction of many people’s reputations and livelihoods without justification.

Ok, now we are ready for the tenth and last, but actually the person who would easily be placed at the top of this list of the worst senators in US History. Many learned people may already have guessed who I am going to name. ๐Ÿ™‚

Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who served from 1947-1957, became infamous for the “witch hunt”, the Second Red Scare, and the creation of a new “ism”, McCarthyism, which means unjustified attacks on and destruction of people for a purely political and ideological agenda. McCarthy had no limits in his tirade on people from all walks of life that the labeled very freely as “Communists”, and yet no one he ever attacked was ever convicted of any such charges. He undermined Americans’ faith in their own government and their Presidents at the time, Truman and Eisenhower, and too many of his colleagues in the US Senate were either supporting him for political ends or unwilling to stick their neck out and denounce him. Of course, there were those who were courageous in and out of the Senate and condemned him, but it took five long years before he was finally brought down by a censure vote after his accusations that the military services were rife with Communists. His demagogic actions, unfortunately, gained many supporters, many of whom, or their descendants, still defend this despicable man, the worst Senator ever, even today, and aim to divide us.

I welcome discussion and debate on this list, but I also wish to add seven more candidates to this list, who might be considered to make a longer list. ๐Ÿ™‚

The other seven would be, in no special order or ranking as follows:

S. I. Hayakawa, Republican of California, 1977-1983, who became most noticed for opposing the Panama Canal treaty by stating that “we stole the canal fair and square, and should not give it back!”

Rick Santorum, Republican from Pennsylvania, who served from 1994-2006, and was probably most noticed for opposing gay equality, and worried publicly that the next step would be dogs and humans marrying!

Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, serving from 1998–2010, unable to get along with anyone in his own party, let alone the other party, and often saying inane things, and serving as an embarrassment to his fellow home state senator and Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell. Ironically, Bunning had had a distingished career as a baseball pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies from 1955-1971, had pitched a perfect game in 1964, and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. That distinguished career, unfortunately, did not translate into the Senate, and he has recently been noted for working to prevent access to Presidential records in the National Archives by preventing the bill from being considered, what is called “legislative privilege” to put a hold on a bill by one individual senator. When he retires next year, he will NOT be missed! ๐Ÿ™‚

John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, serving from 2002 to the present, having been a Supreme Court judge in Texas before being elected to the Senate. However, it has been hard to watch Senator Cornyn and not be embarrassed by his statements and actions. ๐Ÿ™‚

Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, serving since 2005, and a medical doctor. But like Cornyn, it has been hard not to wince when observing his statements and actions in office.

We cannot end this entry without adding Coburn’s fellow Republican Senator, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has served since 1994. He is best known for being the leading fighter against former Vice President Al Gore’s global warming initiatives, but beyond that, it is just hard to watch and listen to him on any subject! ๐Ÿ™‚

One other newcomer who seems to be going down this road to be on this list is Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who has served since 2005, and has recently been railing about “socialism”, and saying health care is not a right, but a privilege.

So I now open up to commentary by any readers on this subject! ๐Ÿ™‚

10 comments on “The Ten Worst Senators In American History, And Seven Other Candidates! :)

  1. Tate August 30, 2009 2:19 pm

    Well, it seems like this would be the next logical progression in this thread so here it is….

    Who is the worst president ever? I found an interesting article which I have posted below and have also provided the link:

    A question that seems to be on everybody’s mind these days turns out to be: Is George Bush the worst President in American history?

    Is John Tyler, our tenth President, a candidate for worst President? Some people who have never heard of this guy have heard of the campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Well, Tippecanoe (William Henry Harrison) lasted about a month in office before he died of a cold contracted while making his inaugural address, and the rest is non-history. Tyler is best remembered, if he is remembered at all, as the President whose entire Cabinet, save one, quit on him. Please do not confuse him with Zachary Taylor, the twelfth President, easily Tyler’s equal in forgettability.

    Is the most forgettable also the worst? Men like Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Benjamin Harrison (Tippecanoe’s grandson) were more politically brain-dead than really bad. But not so with James Buchanan, No. 15, who was President from 1857 to 1861. Aside from being a dull, unimaginative, dray horse of a politician, he was the President whose cowardice in handling the South and slavery ended the remotest possibility that the United States would be spared the horrors of the Civil War.

    The consequences of Buchanan’s political poltroonery were long-lasting and dire, as contrasted with those of Warren Harding. Harding (No. 29) has won many Worst President contests because he had three or four truly stinky crooks in his administration to go along with an otherwise outstanding Cabinet. He was a slob with a drinking problem, and he was also afflicted with Bill Clinton’s zipper disease. Since booze was illegal when he was President (1921-23), getting smashed in the White House made him a not-so-great role model–not that much of the country was paying attention since all the other adults in America were doing the same thing at the local speakeasy.

    There is a great story about Harding in the closet making boom-boom with his girlfriend, and of his wife being restrained by the Secret Service guys from rushing in and exposing the President in the flagrantest of delictos. But worst President? Not so much.

    Others proposed for the worst list include Herbert Hoover, James Madison, Ulysses Grant and Richard Nixon.

    Hoover, Democratic propaganda to the contrary, did not cause the Great Depression nor was he indifferent to his people’s sufferings. A brilliant, decent man, he was absolutely the unluckiest President.

    Madison, the fourth President, justly called the Father of the Constitution, fits anyone’s description of a great man, but he loused up the presidency by going to war against England in 1812 with no Army and not much more of a Navy. His foreign policies were so hated in New England that the young federal republic he had done so much to start almost blew apart. Worse was to come. Madison could do nothing when the Brits occupied Washington, DC, and burned down the White House. But in the long run the consequences of his mistakes were minor, so he cannot have the “worst prexy” horse collar put around his neck.

    Grant was too noble a man to be the worst anything. He had some crooks in his administration, but, like Harding, he had nothing to do with their corruption. On the plus side, he was the last President until Lyndon Johnson who would go to bat for black people.

    As for Nixon, it’s still too early to tell. Too many people still living hate him or love him. The decision on that strange, baggy-faced man belongs to Gen X and beyond.

    Which brings us to Bush II. It’s also too early to tell, but if first signs mean anything, he has got a lot to answer for. We know he is responsible for the death of a lot of people who never hurt him or us. We wonder if he has so disturbed the entire Middle East quadrant of the globe that years and years may pass while the people there and the people here suffer for what he has done. Will we get habeas corpus back? Will the thumb screw become standard operating procedure, or will it be returned to the Middle Ages whence George Bush found it?

    One of the criteria for being worst is how much lasting damage the President did. Buchanan, for instance, did more than words can convey. With Bush II the reckoning is yet to be made.

  2. Ronald August 30, 2009 4:08 pm

    Thanks, Tate, for this article. This has been much discussed and I commented in mid February about the C Span poll on ranking the Presidents, and gave my critique of the judgment of the group of scholars who were polled, strongly disagreeing on some of the ratings.
    Since you have brought up the subject of the TEN WORST Presidents, I will produce an entry shortly that will detail what you want–how I see the worst of the Oval Office! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. David Glauber August 31, 2009 11:17 pm

    I am glad that you finally recognized that most of the worst Senators in U.S. history were Democrats. I think that you forgot to add JFK and Obama to the list of worst Senators.

  4. Ronald September 1, 2009 12:06 am

    David, of course most of the worst senators are Democrats because they are Southerners! But also conservative Republicans join them on the list! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. R. Bloyce August 3, 2010 4:28 pm

    It takes a courage for a professional historian to make such a listing, and I for one found it about as good as it could be. In reading through it, I feared that you might fail to include the two incumbent Senators of Oklahoma, but there they were. That two such demagogic spokesmen for the ultra-rich represent the same state concurrently is an indictment of the Oklahoma media, which has been co-opted by the major oil companies.

  6. Nelson January 19, 2012 5:15 am

    Lauch Faircloth R-NC, hog farmer. Whitewater hearings curmudgeon. Sent back to the hog farm after 1 term.

  7. Phillip Cole June 21, 2012 4:31 pm

    How about Ted Kennedy? Killing a woman is ok because he favored reducing the nuclear arsenal and universal healthcare.
    Certainly if racism is you primary criteria there was Thomas Hart Benton in the mid-1800s.
    How about the man who argued against the popular election of senators by describing in detail how he paid for his seat in the senate?

  8. cborgia May 11, 2013 10:14 pm

    He wasn’t stupid by any means, but for mean narrow-mindedness I think John C Calhoun deserves a mention. His actions proved very destructive.

  9. neoconned July 11, 2015 12:40 pm

    I’m amazed that John C. Calhoun didn’t make the list. Not only was he a racist, but he promoted nullification of federal laws and secession. His nullification pose is still emulated by would-be “great” men today.

  10. Ronald July 11, 2015 2:24 pm

    Calhoun could be put on the list, but compared to these other Southerners on the list, I think he was somewhat “more civilized”–said with sarcasm, of course!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.