Ranking the Presidents. A Different Paradigm
While I'm not one to dwell on presidents, I found this by Jeff Hummel a little interesting...thought you all might too. I'm sure we've all seen rankings of the presidents. The usual suspects are always near the top: Lincoln, FDR, Washington, Wilson and maybe JFK. They say it takes crises to make a great president. Uneventful times, by this logic, tend to hurt a President's stature in the eyes of historians and political scientists who look to assess a value on the men who served in the White House. The times make the man in this sense. As Hummel puts it:
Conventional historians and political scientists suffer from a nationalist bias that makes them appreciate a strong executive who lastingly contributes to the growth of central authority. They thus have a particular weakness for wartime presidents. Unless the commander-in-chief turns out to be utterly inept, war allows him to show off forceful, dynamic leadership, which is what impresses these authorities.
I'd say you don't have to be a libertarian or have libertarian leanings to appreciate that comment. It's true. If you look at who gets the best "grades" from those who make these judgments in academia, Hummel's assessment is pretty accurate. Depending on your POV, you may indeed think this conventional way of seeing the Presidency is the right one and that crisis presidents are indeed the top ones. I personally don't think it's so cut and dry one way or the other. But if your interested in an alternate take from a decidedly anti-statist viewpoint, Hummel's rankings are worthy a look. Personally, I don't totally agree with his rankings even though I agree with the spirit of what he's doing. But what Hummel does is actually similar to what those "other historians" and political scientists do. While they take crises as a near necessary component to being a great president, Hummel almost seems to discount any President caught in a major crisis. Perhaps he would say that the reason is that some of presidents he's kinder to avoided making a historic crisis by tempering the urge to do too much. I dunno. But, crisis or not, he's clearly ranking them on some basis where those who left the office with as little new power and authority as possible get the top grades. See the link for his full list but here's the worst and best:
Most Horrible U.S. Presidents (starting at worst): 1. Abraham Lincoln 2. Woodrow Wilson 3. Harry Truman 4. Franklin D. Roosevelt 5. Lyndon Johnson 6. George W. Bush 7. Theodore Roosevelt 8. George H. W. Bush 9. Herbert Hoover 10. John Adams
Hmmm. I see his logic. War is clearly a non-starter for Hummel. hehehe However, I must stick up for two on that list. Adams and HW Bush shouldn't be in the worst 10 IMO. If the HBO mini-series "John Adams" is accurate at all, I think Adams gets a bum rap over the Alien and Sedition Acts in that that over-shadows some good non-events...like avoiding war with France. Adams may get a bad rap but I think it's overdone. He should be in the middle of the pack....not among the worst. Same goes for HW Bush. He's average...not among the worst 10. I'm not saying I totally agree with the rest...though I think he's get many of them right. Here's his best:
Least Bad U.S. Presidents (starting at best): 1. Martin Van Buren 2. Grover Cleveland 3. Calvin Coolidge 4. Warren G. Harding 5. Thomas Jefferson 6. Andrew Jackson 7. Gerald Ford 8. James Monroe 9. Zachary Taylor 10. James Garfield
Hehehe. There are several on there that are hardly household names. Clearly less is more to Mr. Hummel. BTW, Reagan and Clinton both made the better list with Reagan at 11th and Clinton at 14th. I'd probably put both a bit higher and maybe even Clinton ahead of Reagan...depending on my mood.