Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ranking Presidents and a Hero

What a beautiful image. During his first day in office, Obama issued orders freezing pay for his staff but far more importantly, limiting lobbyists from practices so obviously corrupt that Washington should be embarrassed that such activities weren't banned years ago. Obama also tossed the George W. Bush rule that all men in the Oval Office MUST be wearing their suit coats. Remember the images of JFK and RFK during the Cuban Missile crisis? Ties loose around sweat soaked collars and sleeves rolled up as men struggled to save the planet? I speculate that men who naturally command respect by virtue of who they are have less inclination to demand dress codes. For the first time in my life, I think I might actually admire our President. I certainly supported Bill Clinton, and yes, respected him, but admiration? Not exactly.

Displaying a proactive approach against potential disputes from those who do not know the Constitution, President Obama repeated the oath taking ceremony this evening, having Justice Roberts proceed slowly and without error. As I said yesterday, by virtue of the election, the President-elect becomes President at exactly noon, oath or no oath. In his very first day, President Obama issued two executive orders and three Presidential memoranda. I think I have a hero. That lobbying nonsense goes deep.

Until shown otherwise, I think we are witnessing history of extraordinary proportions, not just the first African American President, but one who may become one of the best in history, a figure of Lincoln and Washington proportions. Only time will tell, but so far, fantastic, which led me to consider the ranking of US Presidents from best to worst according to highly educated historians, political science professors, and other scholars. So, using an algorithm I won't take the time to describe, except to say that it aggregates numerous rankings from many sources, and I mean MANY sources, I obtained these results:

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

If you don’t like the ranking, find your own. There are lots of them. Naturally, Lincoln emerges as the best, a finding consistent with my view, but several results surprised me. Again, I am not the scholar here. First, I expected Clinton to rank higher and Reagan to rank lower, and Theodore Roosevelt’s ranking seems too high. What made Teddy so good? I'm also not clear that Harding was actually worse than Buchanan. Who could be worse than Buchanan? Well, we have an answer to that, too.

The list only includes 42 people as a result of Grover Cleveland’s serving as both the 22nd and the 24th President.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the United States' emergence as a world power, founded the first eighteen National Monuments (including the Grand Canyon), negotiated and end to the Russo-Japanese War and received and Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts (the first American to be recognized by the Nobel Committee), got the Panama Canal built after the French had failed, named the Executive Mansion the White House...I could go on and on.

If you think he should be in line behind Jefferson (who was a poor leader even as governor of Virginia) you should read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.

1/21/2009 9:41 PM  
Anonymous Dustin said...

I had always thought that van buren would at least make the bottom 5.

1/22/2009 5:25 AM  
Blogger Harris said...

Why do bloggers always write about topics outside of their expertise? History gets enough abuse without amateurs jumping into the discussion.

1/22/2009 9:05 AM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

Harris,
You completely fail to grasp x4mr's post because you are probably new to this blog. First of all, while not a historian, x4mr has a PhD in quantitative analysis for history, sociology, education, etc. so you can bet his algorithm is good. I take no offense at his producing such a ranking and it's probably as good or better than any other out there.

Can you cite a better ranking of the presidents?

Still, and he can correct me if I am wrong, x4mr's main point is WHO IS LAST ON THE LIST!! He is praising Obama and blasting Bush, not trying to educate us on presidential rankings.

1/22/2009 9:42 AM  
Blogger Harris said...

In creating the algorithm was the assumption made that all of the "highly educated historians, political science professors, and other scholars" spent enough time studying each president (and his time period) at the manuscript level to create an accurate ranking? I doubt it's possible. That means that the algorithm only created a shorthanded history of an already shorthanded history. And the problem with that is that while it makes people feel good to see Lincoln at number one, he actually set a precedent for suspending civil liberties that was repeatedly used by George Bush to fight the "War on Terror." It pays to know the whole story.

1/22/2009 10:44 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Nav,
You are spot on, although I have a couple months before the PhD is official. The main point of the post is Bush's ranking as the worst president in US history.

Harris,
Lighten up a little. This place causes no harm. Your position seems to argue that no list should ever be produced. Who has the "whole" story? Most readers here are well aware of Lincoln's actions, over which he agonized. There is no comparison between Lincoln and the arrogant fiasco.

I would dispute that Lincoln enabled Bush. Bush probably hasn't heard of Lincoln let alone have any grasp of the man's thinking or actions. Bush takes direction from his own private Idaho and the slime (Cheney, Rove..) that live there.

1/22/2009 11:28 AM  
Blogger Harris said...

Like Obama, Bush claims Lincoln as his favorite president. He also drew parallels between his situation and Lincoln's on numerous occasions (it was a joke on The Daily Show last week) and several books about Lincoln appeared on his reading list.

The problem isn't the lists. The problem is that most Americans have little interest in their own history, or how their government works, beyond the symbolism that the lists embody. I live in Washington so I get to see how functionally illiterate we are when it comes to being citizens of a democracy. Bush exploited that weakness. I'm hoping that people will take up Obama's challenge and start doing the hard, boring work that's necessary to right this ship. Our responsibility doesn't end once we've cast our vote.

1/22/2009 5:45 PM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

NOW I think I understand what Harris is getting at, and I completely agree with the notion that sloppy history is problematic, and that various figures pick and choose historical tidbits to further their arguments when the "whole story" paints a different picture.

Good point, Harris.

Regarding this blog, I've been reading for over a year, and I don't recall a time when it twisted an interpretation or forwarded nonsense based on a myopic view.

It must be something to actually live in DC.

1/22/2009 8:44 PM  
Anonymous Observer said...

I could not agree more strongly with Harris remarks about the ignorance of the American public and what some have called the "low information voter."

The cornerstone of a strong democracy is an educated and informed electorate. America keeps its population ignorant at its peril. We're so ignorant we can (Palin) forward ignorance as a value.

The time has come to value and esteem the intelligent and highly educated. We've had enough stupid and clueless to last a century.

1/22/2009 10:44 PM  

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