I agree with this, and I would also propose something like “no president in office in the last 25 years.” First because they descend into political debates, and it is difficult to measure something so recent and compare it to how someone longer ago affected history.
But of the historical list following my rules: Eisenhower and Kennedy are too high. Reagan is a touch too high. Wilson is far too law–yes, he was a racist, so if that’s the case, then Washington and Jefferson should be bumped down.
Adams too high with the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Federalists wanting to act like quasi-monarchs. Could have destroyed the country before it started. Polk too low. Grant way too high. Great general but was terrible at running his administration.
Jackson far too law–against not a racism contest. Carter too high. Great man–awful president.
No question about this. Before the invasion, Bush went around giving speeches strongly implying thet Iraq/Saddam were responsible for 9/11. But when asked point blank, would admit that they’d had nothing to do with it.
Same with nukes. Again, the Bushies did their best to make people think Saddam had or would soon have nukes, without directly saying it.
The whole lot of them - Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith certainly, and probably others as well - should be in prison for life for crimes against humanity. With Rumsfeld’s rotting corpse to keep them company. They went to war basically because they wanted a war. Millions of people paid the price, and millions are still paying it.
The data is still there, so if you want to manually remove presidents from the rankings until 25 years after their term of office expired, you’re free to do so. While I agree that there’s definitely recency bias there, it’s also interesting knowing how that bias changes from year to year as modern presidents move up and down in the rankings, perhaps with a more objective assessment.
And there is a significant early bias as well, as anyone who could be considered a Founder seems to get bonus points (John Adams high ranking was previously mentioned). Once the Founders are out, then the Presidents up to the Civil War all take a hit for not solving the problem the Founders created and stopping the Civil War from happening.
I know it’s heretical, but we could blame the Founders, too, though. The presidents thereafter inherited a nation that had two very different regional identities which were inevitably going to clash at some point. The South was never going to tolerate having its slave-based economy driven into extinction. What makes Lincoln the best president in American history bar none is the fact that he was the only president - Framers included - who was willing to gamble the entire nation’s unity in confronting this evil. And it wouldn’t be until Lyndon B Johnson that we’d have another president willing to go to the mat to enforce the spirit of the post-civil war Amendments. It’s just too bad that LBJ’s dick measuring tendencies ended up getting us irrevocably into the quicksand that was the Vietnam War.
The weird thing is nothing in LBJ’s life before his Presidency showed that he ever spent a ton of time worrying about “international communism” or Cold War adventurism, I’ve always had the impression that while he was an expert at domestic politics and the mechanics of the legislature, he was just way out of his depth on military and foreign affairs and that he kinda just listened to the many hawks in the top military brass and State Department of that era.
I agree with you - out of his depth indeed. Worse, his ego wouldn’t allow him to admit it to himself. LBJ had some Nixonian tendencies of his own, including an almost delusional desire to compete with others in proving his anti-communist, tough guy bona fides.
My own barstool hunch is that the American presidency, with its awesome Constitutional powers to use the military and the equally awesome prowess that our military has possessed over the years, regularly proves to be a dangerous temptation for American presidents. The military is just ‘there’ to use, like email or an intercom button. It’s not surprising that American presidents frequently find themselves in a few Charlie Foxtrots from time to time, and I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t happen more often - especially since Congress hardly has the spine to stand up to a president anymore.
I’d like to see more than one category for rankings.
JFK is the most popular President in my experience. The beautiful family was Camelot in the White House. He said people should exercise by walking and immediately people were walking all over town. He was publicly self deprecating and funny. I still have the Vaughn Meader vinyls. But, he was Presidential when handling the civil rights issues and especially the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Was he a top third percentile President. I’m not sure but he didn’t do too bad for a rich guy with the morals of an alley cat.
Absolutely. And I think Johnson would have agreed with this (assuming he was willing to admit to any weakness). He saw domestic policy as the centerpiece of his presidency. Foreign affairs were just a distraction away from that.
I don’t think the Vietnam debacle was entirely due to Johnson listening to the generals. I feel that Johnson thought that abandoning Vietnam to the communists would hurt him; it would open him up to charges that he was “soft on communism”. He essentially fought the war to avoid those accusations.
Kennedy and Johnson had run on a platform excoriating Eisenhower for being “soft on communism” and weak on defense. One of their most effective campaign attacks was that the United States had a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union – which they knew to be fictitious. So LBJ was well aware of how politically damaging it could be to be seen as weak on defense.
I read Ted Sorensen’s biography of Kennedy and one of the surprising things contained was discussion of what an inveterate cold warrior Kennedy was (or, at least, presented himself to be in public).
To be fair, Eisenhower and Nixon had done the same thing against Truman and Stevenson in 1952 and 1956.
Yes, I feel people have rewritten Kennedy’s record in this regard. During his lifetime, he was pretty consistently a “hawk”. But a lot of people have projected later post-Vietnam anti-war feelings back on to Kennedy.
The reality was that Johnson was pretty much following the course Kennedy had set out on in Vietnam before his death. If Kennedy had lived and been re-elected in 1964, he most likely would have escalated the war just like Johnson did.
Well, now we know who didn’t pay attention in history class.
Without the compromise on slavery, the new nation NEVER would have gotten off the ground in any meaningful way. We wouldn’t be having this discussion, because the only presidents to rank would have served under the Articles of Confederation.
No, I get it - that’s completely correct history and never said otherwise. However, regardless of these historical facts, regardless of the reasons and rationalizations for not confronting slavery earlier, the reality is that nobody confronted slavery until Lincoln. James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce certainly deserve their share of blame, but I don’t see why we can’t blame Thomas Jefferson, either. The solution to slavery was compromise, over and over again. Until Lincoln.
What I have read is that the Founders thought that slavery would become increasingly economically untenable and would die out of its own accord, or at least become easier to get rid of. And that this is sort of what happened in the northern states, and might have happened in the south if it were not for the invention of the cotton gin.
Another factor is that early generations had a different view of the presidency than we do. They expected Congress to be the main active body with the President being a prestigious but relatively weak role. They had, after all, been living under the British system where the King reigned but Parliament ran the country.
You had exceptions, like Jackson and Polk, but most Presidents between Washington and Lincoln saw their role mainly as to carry out the directions of Congress.
Strongly disagree about Grant – his legacy was wrongly impugned afterwards in the same way and time that the Lost Cause myth was created. Not a perfect presidency, but he was right on almost every major policy decision he made, especially regarding Reconstruction and Civil Rights (very unusually for his time). He deserves very special recognition for this.