Nonsequitur: Ranking Presidents
February 20, 2017
In celebration of Presidents’ Day, C-Span has released a survey of historians (academics), journalists and lawyers who ranked Presidents from best to worst. It was pretty much how you’d expect historians (academics), journalists and lawyers to rank Presidents. (See chart below.) But it does raise some interesting questions.
The Top 10 looks reasonable to me, as does the Bottom 10. However, I see some discrepancies.
Was JFK really a better president that Ronald Reagan? Perhaps he might have been had he not been assassinated in his first term. While JFK did have the legacies of the Space Program and large tax cuts (I bet the academics “forgot” about that), he also oversaw the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy escalated the Cold War to the edge of nuclear war. President Reagan (who also had a successful Space Program and large tax cuts) successfully brought about the end of the Cold War.
Was Calvin Coolidge really not as good a president at Jimmy Carter? And only slightly better than Richard Nixon? Calvin Coolidge balanced the federal budget while reforming the tax code to the result of 98% of tax payers paying fewer taxes. He also eliminated 25% of the federal debt. Coolidge was an active and public proponent of civil rights, speaking out against violence toward minorities, and making lynching a federal offence. He passed legislation protecting and expanding the rights of Native Americans. Coolidge was the first president to use technology (radio) to speak directly to the nation at large. He also approved the Mount Rushmore National Monument. (He didn’t give us double-digit inflation or have to resign in disgrace.)
Barack Obama is number 12? Really? I’m not sure that a month out of office is enough time for historians to evaluate his place in history. He was our first African-American president, and that is certainly noteworthy. But in terms of accomplishments, I’m not sure he did better than Madison, Monroe, Coolidge (see above), Cleveland or the first President Bush. I’m not sure that he did as well as President Clinton. (Which is worse, Lewinsky or Benghazi?) As the years go by, I expect him to sink much lower in historians’ ranking. Especially if the changes President Trump is making have positive results for the country.
Who took this survey anyway? Of the 91 participants, 65 are affiliated with colleges or universities. Eight (8) are journalists. The remainder are members of think tanks or former government officials. Any bias? I’ll let you decide. Here is the list of participants.
Full Disclosure: President Franklin Pierce (ranked 41) was an ancestor of mine. Does he deserve his rank? Probably.