Sunday, January 18, 2009

Rating the Presidents

I recently had the chance to particitate in C-SPAN's new poll of historians to rate the Presidents, the "2009 Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership." The overall group's results will be released around Presidents Day 2009.

Here's the list I submitted, with my cumulative raw score for each. (Ratings were based on ten elements: economic management, crisis leadership, vision, international relations, so on.) It's certainly full of my own prejudice and bias, with many arguable points. George W. Bush appears only as 41st out of 43. I ranked two as worse: Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan. I gave the top spot to George Washington, narrowly edging out Abe Lincoln (downgraded for treatment of wartime dissent and choosing a lousy successor) and FDR (some of whose New Deal programs didn't work very well).

Free free to disagree or haggle with any of it. All the best. --KenA

1. George Washington 90
2. Abraham Lincoln 88
3. F.D. Roosevelt 87
4. T. Roosevelt 76
5. Thomas Jefferson 70

6. Andrew Jackson 66
7. Dwight Eisenhower 63
8. James Monroe 62
9. Harry Truman 62
10. Gerald Ford 61

11. Ronald Reagan 61
12. George H.W. Bush 60
13. Bill Clinton 60
14. James Polk 60
15. Wm. McKinley 59

16. Woordow Wilson 59
17. J.F. Kennedy 58
18. James Garfield 57
19. Lyndon B. Johnson 56
20. Calvin Coolidge 56

21. James Madison 55
22/23. Grover Cleveland 53
24. Chester A. Arthur 53
25. John Quincy Adams 53

26. Benjamin Harrison 53
27. Ulysses Grant 52
28. Jimmy Carter 50
29. Zachary Taylor 51
30. Wm. Henry Harrison 51

31. John Adams 50
32. Rutherford Hayes 49
33. John Tyler 48
34. Wm.Howard Taft 48
35. Herbert Hoover 46

36. Martin Van Buren 45
37. Richard M. Nixon 44
38. Millard Fillmore 43
39. Warren G. Harding 42
40. Franklin Pierce 42

41. George W. Bush 40
42. James Buchanan 40
43. Andrew Johnson 36


David said...

Whoa, big fella! James Garfield ahead of Lyndon Johnson and both Adamses? We're dishing out some home-cooking here.

Remind us again, what did Garfield do as president?

Ken Ackerman said...

James Garfield vs. Lyndon Johnson and the Adamses? You must be joking.

Let's start with LBJ. We can start and end the conversation with Vietnam? I don't exactly recall James Garfield starting a full-scale land war half-way around the world based on bad intelligence and bad advice, then misleading the country as tens of thousands of Americans died, then allowing the war to spin out of control and destroy his domestic agenda, causing the country then to react by electing an even worse leader in Richard Nixon.

Had it not been for his landmark civil rights Acts, Vietnam easily would have sunk LBJ to the lower half of the list.

The Adamses? Let's start with John. And no, I cannot get past the Alien and Seditions Acts. I do not recall James Garfield ever pushing Congress to pass a law allowing him to throw dozens of newspaper editors in jail for opposing his foreign policy, as well as locking up immigrants on trumped up claims of disloyalty -- as did Adams. Then, after losing reelection, Adams showed his poor temperament again by refusing to act civilly toward Thomas Jefferson, the person who beat him, at his inauguration. He may have been a sterling patriot and fine man during other times in his life, but his presidency was not a pretty picture.

John Quincy Adams? Aa president, he accomplished what exactly? From the moment he entered office, his opponents branded his Administyration the product of a "corrupt bargin," and for four years he wore the albatross, fair or not.

What did James Garfield do? He served with intelligence and integrity and w/o scandal when this was rare. He faced down the most demogagic political Boss of his day, NY's Roscoe Conkling, to halt (at least temporarily) the abusive system of patronage peddling that had paralyzed national government. His lasting legacy was a Civil Service system that became a global model of good government.

I rank Garfield slightly above middle at number 18. Had he lived longer, I think he would have build a record deserving more. I'm very comfortable with where I've placed Garfield, notwithstanding LBJ and the Adamses.

Anonymous said...

Ken, great stuff here. I don't see much I disagree with at all. Question: Dubya seems to be counting on a Truman-like ascent years after he leaves office. Do you think it likely that this kind of assessment ten or twenty years from now would put GWB much higher? I say this with the mindset (today, at least) that he was one of the worst prez's we've ever had. Again, great ratings!

David L. Durkin said...

How did Gerald Ford break into the top 10? You're not a "great President" simply for not repeating the abuse of power that led to your immediate predecessor's eventual ouster.

Anonymous said...

Except for the Alien and Sedition acts, John Adams was a great president, certainly not in the bottom half of your list. If it weren't for the underhanded methods of Jefferson and Madison and bad-timing, he would have been re-elected. He kept us out of a war we never would have won(with France and perhaps England).
Thomas Jefferson just got lucky, by obtaining the Louisiana Purchase, he was a cad and a hypocrite (he held slaves to the day he died). So what if he wrote the Declaration of Independence, that would not happened if it wasn't for Adams. We would have no country if not for Adams. Adams never did for Adams, unlike Jefferson. Jefferson is rated WAY too highly as is Adams being WAY to lowly.
There are numerous other strange choices, but these two put your whole rating opinion in question.

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