Monday, February 20, 2017

Just in time for Presidents’ Day

Every few years, C-SPAN conducts a survey of historians, asking them to rate all past presidents. Here’s the methodology:

C-SPAN's academic advisors devised a survey in which participants used a one ("not effective") to ten ("very effective") scale to rate each president on ten qualities of presidential leadership: "Public Persuasion," "Crisis Leadership," "Economic Management," "Moral Authority," "International Relations," "Administrative Skills," "Relations with Congress," "Vision/Setting An Agenda," "Pursued Equal Justice for All," and "Performance Within the Context of His Times." Surveys were distributed to historians, biographers, and other professional observers of the presidency, drawn from a database of C-SPAN's programming, augmented by suggestions from the academic advisors. (Source: C-SPAN)

Before I get into the results – every bit as exciting as Adele vs. Beyoncé at the Grammies, or whether LaLa Land will sweep the Oscars – I’m actually wondering where they found 91 people (even in this vast country) who are actually capable of rating all 44 presidents on each of those categories. Come on, William Henry Harrison was only in office for 31 days before he died of pneumonia. And you’re telling me that there are 91 historians who can rate him on “Crisis Leadership” and “Relations with Congress?” And are there really 91 historians who can tell the difference between John Tyler and Zachary Taylor? Apparently, they were able to discern enough differences to rank Zachary Taylor 31, and John Tyler 39.

Here, from Politico, are the full rankings:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
4. Teddy Roosevelt
5. Dwight Eisenhower
6. Harry Truman
7. Thomas Jefferson
8. John F. Kennedy
9. Ronald Reagan
10. Lyndon Johnson
11. Woodrow Wilson
12. Barack Obama
13. James Monroe
14. James Polk
15. Bill Clinton
16. William McKinley
17. James Madison
18. Andrew Jackson
19. John Adams
20. George H.W. Bush
21. John Q. Adams
22. Ulysses Grant
23. Grover Cleveland
24. William Taft
25. Gerald Ford
26. Jimmy Carter
27. Calvin Coolidge
28. Richard Nixon
29. James Garfield
30. Benjamin Harrison
31. Zachary Taylor
32. Rutherford Hayes
33. George W. Bush
34. Martin Van Buren
35. Chester Arthur
36. Herbert Hoover
37. Millard Fillmore
38. William Harrison
39. John Tyler
40. Warren Harding
41. Franklin Pierce
42. Andrew Johnson
43. James Buchanan

(Note that there have been 44 presidencies, making the incumbent #45, but Grover Cleveland had two separate terms, so he nabbed two numbers, but is only ranked once.)

The Big Three (as historian Douglas Brinkley calls them) are no surprise. Lincoln and FDR are my two personal favorites, which is kind of like saying that my favorite movies are Casablanca and The Godfather.

Obama had a pretty good showing, all things considered. He lost most of his ground (ranked 39th) because of his relations with a fractious Congress, and got his highest marks for Public Persuasion (ranked 10th), Economic Management (8th), Moral Authority (7th), and Pursuit of Equal Justice for All (3rd). On that final point, Obama was bested only by Lincoln (1st) and LBJ (2nd). (Here’s the link to the the full, category by category, rankings.)

Of all the presidents of my lifetime, Obama is definitely my favorite, but he’s not in the same league as The Big Three.

And then there’s the bottom of the barrel, James Buchanan, who was rated dead last in most categories, and achieved his highest ranking – 41st – for Administrative Skills.

Off the top of my head, I would have said Warren Harding (40th) was the worst. Or Andrew Johnson (42nd). Either of these gentlemen would have gotten my nod only because the incumbent is not yet in the mix. But James Buchanan? I know absolutely nothing about him,other than that he was the president before Lincoln. So I googled, and found that he apparently earned his reputation by pooh-poohing the importance of arguments over territorial slavery and may, in fact, have done some SCOTUS tampering around the Dred Scott decision.

Buchanan has been ranked among the three worst presidents in every poll and survey conducted since 1948 and in the past decade, and replaced Harding as the usual last-place finisher in these studies. (Source: National Constitution Center)

Looks like C-SPAN does their rankings whenever there’s a change in office. They’ve done three so far. Who knows, they may be conducting their next one any day now. I’d say that Buchanan supporters have reason for cautious optimism.

Anyway, Happy Presidents’ Day.

1 comment:

Rick T. said...

Shouldn't FDR get some demerits for locking up over 100,000 Americans, accused of no crimes whatsoever, but with a Japanese background, for many years?