Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Rowe's Ranking of the U.S. Presidents

As I am beginning Dr. Adler's political science class on The Presidency, I have decided to rank the presidents and at the end of his class I shall compare my rankings after I have learned about the executive office and the individual presidents. For the moment I contend that Lincoln was the best wartime president, Nixon or Johnson the worst wartime presidents, FDR the best social reform president, Hoover the worst social reform president (maybe next to Taft), I can't really place a #1 on any one man for best overall president, but can certainly place a #1 on the overall worst president--Warren G. Harding.

First I will rank the presidents, not by number, but by greatness and then I will copy and paste a poll by Murray/Blessing (1994) and you can compare my rankings versus the rankings of the presidential experts.
Tara Rowe's
Rankings of the Presidents

Great-- Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR
Near Great-- Monroe, Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman
Above Average-- Reagan, Adams (John Quincy and John Adams), Polk, Madison, Kennedy, Clinton, McKinley
Average-- Lyndon Johnson, Hayes, Carter, Ford, Benjamin Harrison, Arthur, Garfield, Cleveland, George H.W. Bush
Below Average-- Coolidge, Eisenhower, **William Henry Harrison, Fillmore, Tyler, Hoover, *Bush
Failures-- Nixon, Grant, Buchannan, Pierce, Taylor, Harding, A. Johnson, Taft

*I would rather not rank George W. Bush until his term is over, but for the moment this is where, based on his policies, I would rank him.

**William Henry Harrison did not serve long enough in office to officially rank his administration (he caught pneumonia at his inaugural address and died shortly after). Because of his party and the time in which he served, I would prematurely rank him with no evidence with his contemporaries.

Murray/Blessing Poll
Presidential Experts Rank the Presidents

Great-- Lincoln, FDR, Washington, Jefferson
Near Great-- Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, Jackson, Truman
Above Average-- Adams (both John Quincy and John Adams), L. Johnson, Eisenhower, Polk, Kennedy, Monroe, Madison, Cleveland
Average-- McKinley, Taft, Van Buren, Hoover, Hayes, Arthur, Ford, Carter, Benjamin Harrison
Below Average-- Taylor, Tyler, Reagan, Fillmore, Coolidge, Pierce
Failures-- Harding, Grant, Nixon, A. Johnson, Buchannan

*This poll does not include George H.W. Bush, Clinton, or George W. Bush.

Of the Murray/Blessing Poll I was most surprised by where they placed Reagan and Eisenhower. I was kind to Eisenhower (he was an amazing general, I'll give him that, but his executive administrative powers were lacking) and I really do feel that Reagen is one of greater conservative presidents this country has seen. I am also always surprised by the ranking of Lyndon B. Johnson. He had the potential...his Great Society mirrored the ideals and ambitions of FDR's New Deal, but his social/domestic reforms were severely defeated by the ongoing war in Vietnam. His ranking is negatively impacted by Vietnam just as Nixon's ranking is negatively reflected in Watergate.

Of my own rankings I think I prematurely ranked a few of the presidents, I can't know everything about every president! Those whom I know less about and admire the least have a lower ranking. Taylor, Tyler, and Pierce fall into that category...those whom I know the least about. Nixon, Harding, Hoover, and Taft...those I like the least.

After this class I hope to have learned the significance of the formation of the executive office and the development of the office over time and through the world wars. Maybe with a greater understanding of the office I will gain an appreciation for the men (and hopefully eventually the women) who have held and will hold that office. We'll see what my rankings reflect after the 23rd of June.


Nick Speth said...

Obviously a conservative such as myself would rank Ronaldus Magnus maybe a step higher, and Clinton possibly lower (what significant thing, pray tell, did he do that wasn't forced on him by a Republican congress). But it's hard to rank Presidents because each faced different challenges.

How would Clinton have handled 9/11 (for the record, and though it pains me to say it, I think he would have handled it fine)? How would FDR have faired had he inherited the Vietnam war? What if Kennedy were president in the lead-up to WWII, would he have acted differently than Roosevelt?

I think it's clear that in order to be considered "great" you have to be faced with a major crisis. Usually the "great" presidents are considered Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. Obviously you see crises in all three presidencies (founding the nation, the civil war, WWII). So who knows, maybe Bill Clinton would have been great had he had a crisis instead of 8 years of relative peace and economic good times.

I will say this: 9/11 ended George W Bush's chances of being average. He'll either be great, near great, or a failure in the eyes of history. You can't be an average President in extraordinary times.

Tara A. Rowe said...

It is difficult to rank the presidents because of their individual triumphs and challenges. I would agree that the greats are greats because they faced national tragedy, difficulty, etc. This I think reflects the nation's interest and fascination with war. Why do we not rank Clinton higher (excluding the impeachment and Monica Lewinski) based on the peace and prosperity of his administration?

I often wonder why we rank Kennedy so high given he had just over 1000 days in office and his accomplishments are fewer (the Peace Corps, Civil Rights, and the Space Race to name the few) than those of Taft, Hoover, etc.

Yes, indeed my rankings slightly reflect my liberalism, but I ranked Reagan higher than the Murray/Blessing poll.

In regard to George W. Bush. Because of 9/11 he will not be ranked average and I hadn't thought about that. The problem is this, how do we rank a president, with only one ranking, based on two very different criteria, i.e. the social side and the foreign policy side. Because of 9/11 I would rank Bush just on that one event in the near greats (as I would any president had he been in those circumstances), but based on Bush's war in Iraq and the domestic policies I would rank him in the below average or even failure category. This stems from the nomination/filibister situation, the Patriot Act, and Social Security.