In my American Presidency class, every Monday we discuss this fine show hosted by Matt Lauer on the Discovery Channel called The Greatest American. I started after the top 100, so I'm not really sure what it was like before, but this last week it was narrowed down to 25 candidates. Each week they have a debate over the candidates and then they open the phone lines (just like on American Idol) to America to vote. This week they narrowed the choices down to five. The five candidates are: Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin.
In this week's debate Harold Holzer was arguing for Lincoln. That made the Lincoln argument VERY strong. But then the three judges, Ann Coulter, Dennis Miller, and Randy Jackson (don't ask me why those three) weighed in. Jackson has a tie going with Dr. King and Lincoln. Miller says Washington. Ann Coulter says Washington as well, but she also called Iran-Contra "brilliant."
Is that not crazy??? In the top 100 I voted for Ray Charles, top 25 I voted for Rosa Parks, and now...well let me explain my rules. From the get-go I set up some rules for myself. I decided I couldn't vote for a president. Here's the problem: I have a Kennedy bias. BUT...how can you vote Kennedy ahead of FDR, or FDR ahead of Lincoln, and Lincoln ahead of Jefferson and Washington? So...NO presidents. That left some odd choices in the top 25 for me. Rosa Parks beat Dr. King, Lance Armstrong, Thomas Edison, Neil Armstrong (who I LOVED as a child), and Oprah. And in the first round I had it narrowed down to Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, and Ray Charles.
If I held myself to these rules before the top 5, I have to continue. So I guess I will either choose Benjamin Franklin or Martin Luther King. How do you choose civil rights and "I Have a Dream" over the kite, newspapers, and bifocals?? But...given my last votes, I'm thinking it will be another black person with civil rights ties.
Here's what I think...Americans aren't smart enough to vote on things like this. We collectively don't know enough about American history. If the averageAmerican knows only what they learned in high school history, how will they judge Franklin with the likes of Washington and Lincoln? I think the system is flawed and the criteria for the greatest American is too broad. But that's just me...