View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Best - and Worst - Presidents

A group of British experts at The Times have ranked the U.S. Presidents.

Fans of Bush (junior) and Clinton will likely not be happy.

George W. ranked 37th - tied with Nixon.

Hey, at least he wasn't ranked the worst. That dishonor belongs to number 42, James Buchanan.

And to be honest, I rank Bush II down near the bottom myself. I don't think the passage of time will vindicate him.

As for only the second President ever impeached, Clinton came out in the middle at 23rd - just ahead of the only other President impeached, Andrew Johnson.

I have never been a big fan of Clinton, so his ranking does not surprise me. He was a middling President.

George H. W. Bush, by the way, came in at 20th.

The top 10 according to this Times group are:

1. Lincoln
2. Washington
3. Franklin Roosevelt
4. Jefferson
5. Theodore Roosevelt
6. Eisenhower
7. Truman
8. Reagan
9. Polk
10. Wilson.

Hmm. I am a big fan of Lincoln, so I am pleased at their ranking him at the best President. I always thought people underestimated Eisenhower, so I'm also pleased to see him high up. I always put both Roosevelts high on my list. As a history teacher, I understand Polk's ranking. I have no major arguments against Washington, Jefferson, Truman or Wilson making the top 10.

Reagan? Sigh. Personally, I am not a fan of his and some of his policies. But objectively, I can see him on this list - though I would have ranked him in the second tier with folks like Kennedy (11 - too high?), John Adams (13), Lyndon Johnson (12) or Andrew Jackson (14).

Again, to be honest, I would have bumped Jackson, Johnson or maybe even Adams above Reagan into the top 10.

The bottom boys are Buchanan (42), Pierce (41), Van Buren (40), William Harrison (39) Nixon and George W. Bush (37), Hoover (36), Harding and Garfield in a tie (34), and Fillmore at 33.
I have no major arguments with these bottom listings - though I have tended to rank Nixon - much as I loathed his actions - a bit higher. But Watergate and some of his actions in Vietnam certainly undermined much of what he did accomplish.

Their rankings of President during my lifetime (I'm going to date myself!) are:

Eisenhower (6)
Reagan (8)
Kennedy (11)
Johnson (12)
Bush I (20)
Clinton (23)
Ford (25)
Carter (32)
Nixon/Bush II (37)

I'd rank this crew thusly:

Eisenhower
Johnson
Reagan
Kennedy
Bush I
Ford - Clinton - tie
Carter
Nixon
Bush II

Since this Times list is not a U.S. ranking, and is presumably a bit more objective and less political, it is interesting. It gives us an idea of what "outsiders" think of our Presidents - though I don't know the credentials of the rankers. Still, their rankings seem reasonable.

Check out your favorites at The Times.

Let's see, where's Benjamin Harrison, the last bearded President ...

5 Comments:

Blogger Barb, sfo said...

Hmm, I wonder if there is an American ranking of Presidents. Of course, that would differ widely depending on what end of the political spectrum is doing the ranking. Interesting!

11:45 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I teach history. I've seen a number of "American" studies done by historians - plus any number of polls (which are really just popularity contests).

The historians tend to be a bit more objective, and generally Lincoln, Washington and FDR are the top 3 - sometimes rotating positions a little. Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt are frequently listed 4th and 5th.

Others often making the "Top 10" are Madison, Jackson, Wilson, Truman and Eisenhower. Reagan has made a few list, but genrally gets ranked just outside the Top 10. That's also the case with Polk.

Buchanan is consistently at the bottom of the lists.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Debbie said...

I feel uneducated when I read lists like this because I just don't know much about some of our presidents. But the list is fascinating.

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi i just wanted to know why everone is ranking Abe lincoln #1. Maybe t is because so many americans think he is because they think he freed the slaves. Which what people think that the civil war was about.when it was really about states' rights. SAbout if a state could suceed from the union. Lincoln quoted that if he could end the war without freeing the slaves he would have done that. He only did because the north was losing to the south.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Anon - you are right - the Civil War was more than about Slavery. Frfom the Southern perspective, it was about state's rights (Lee, probably the best general in the war, did not like slavery himslef. He fought for Virginia.)

So what made Lincoln so great?

His goal was to preserve the Union. If that menat keeping slavery, even though he did not like slavbery, he would have. But when the war began, he recognized in a shrewd political move that if he could turn it into a war about slavery, he could keep other nations - especially the English - out. The Emancipation Proclamation accomplished that.

He also recognized that if the Union was to succeed, he needed to draw in as many opposing forces into his government - and the cause - as he could. He appointed many of his opponents to office, making them part of the effort, and thus helping to stave off opposition.

He recognized the need for a better general, one who could take advantage of the North's resources. He found that man in Grant, and appointed him even though some people thought he was foolish to do so.

He had a broad vision of the nation and its ideals, and of human beings. His calls for a fair peace if he had been able to carry it out (and not be assassinated), might have gone a long way toward easing the paisn of the South and promoting healing (as happened in South Africa with Mandela). His speeches rank among the best in the nation's history.

I could go on.

There are many reasons for him to be ranked number one. I could also argue for Franklin Roosevelt, or Washington.

10:47 AM  

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