Today on Blogcritics
Home » Ranking The Presidents

Ranking The Presidents

Please Share...Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

The United States of America has been in existence for over 231 years, yet only forty-two different men have had the honor to be called President. Our first President, George Washington, was inaugurated in 1789, thirteen years after Thomas Jefferson (our third President) authored the Declaration of Independence, and two years after the Constitution was adopted by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

We’ve come a long way since then, both for good and for ill. And the forty-two men who have headed the executive branch of government have made countless decisions that have helped shape our nation’s history.

It’s worth pointing out that all forty-two men were White Christians (and 41 were Protestant; only John F. Kennedy, who was President for less than three years, was a Catholic). In 2008, there exists the strong possibility that either a woman (Hillary Rodham Clinton), or a Hispanic (Bill Richardson), or a man with a Black, Muslim father (Barack Hussein Obama), or a Mormon (Mitt Romney), or another Catholic (Rudy Giuliani) will be elected President. But unless and until that happens, it is fair to say that the American Presidency has been monopolized by White, Protestant men.

Anyway, this piece is not about what may happen in the future; it is about judging the past. Some Presidents have been better than others, in terms of their accomplishments. Some of been historic leaders and reformers. Others have been corrupt, or simply incompetent. What follows are some recent rankings from surveys of historians and other experts. (We will exclude both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush from these rankings, because their terms are too recent for any truly objective analysis. Also, I must mention that although George W. Bush is known as our 43rd President, there have actually only been 42 different men who have held the office. That’s because Grover Cleveland held office on two separate occasions, and so is considered our 22nd and 24th President. The more you know…)

In 2005, the Wall Street Journal surveyed 85 scholars, and came up with these rankings:

GREAT

1 George Washington
2 Abraham Lincoln
3 Franklin Roosevelt

NEAR GREAT

4 Thomas Jefferson
5 Theodore Roosevelt
6 Ronald Reagan
7 Harry Truman
8 Dwight Eisenhower
9 James Polk
10 Andrew Jackson

ABOVE AVERAGE

11 Woodrow Wilson
12 Grover Cleveland
13 John Adams
14 William McKinley
15 John Kennedy
16 James Monroe

AVERAGE

17 James Madison
18 Lyndon Johnson
* (excluded)
20 William Taft
21 George H.W. Bush
* (excluded)
23 Calvin Coolidge
24 Rutherford Hayes

BELOW AVERAGE

25 John Quincy Adams
26 Chester Arthur
27 Martin Van Buren
28 Gerald Ford
29 Ulysses Grant
30 Benjamin Harrison
31 Herbert Hoover
32 Richard Nixon
33 Zachary Taylor
34 Jimmy Carter
35 John Tyler

FAILURE

36 Millard Fillmore
37 Andrew Johnson
38 Franklin Pierce
39 Warren Harding
40 James Buchanan

(James Garfield and William Henry Harrison were both left unranked because of their very brief terms in office.)

In 1999, C-SPAN took a survey of academic historians. Here are the results:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

4. Theodore Roosevelt
5. Harry S. Truman
6. Thomas Jefferson
7. Woodrow Wilson
8. Andrew Jackson
9. Dwight D. Eisenhower
10. James K. Polk
11. John F. Kennedy
12. Ronald Reagan
13. Lyndon Baines Johnson
14. William McKinley
15. John Adams
16. James Monroe
17. Grover Cleveland
18. James Madison
19. John Quincy Adams
20. George H. W. Bush
(excluded)
22. Gerald Ford
23. William Howard Taft
24. Jimmy Carter
25. Rutherford B. Hayes
26. Chester Arthur
27. Calvin Coolidge
28. Zachary Taylor
29. Benjamin Harrison
30. James Garfield
31. Martin Van Buren
32. Richard Nixon
33. Ulysses S. Grant
34. Millard Fillmore
35. John Tyler
36. Herbert Hoover
37. Warren G. Harding
38. William Henry Harrison
39. Andrew Johnson
40. Franklin Pierce
41. James Buchanan

Although I’m not a history or political science professor, I’ll add my own Top Ten and Bottom Five list:

Best
1 George Washington
2 Abraham Lincoln
3 Ronald Reagan
4 Franklin Roosevelt
5 Teddy Roosevelt
6 James K. Polk
7 Thomas Jefferson
8 Andrew Jackson
9 Dwight Eisenhower
10 Calvin Coolidge

Worst
1 James Buchanan
2 Warren Harding
3 Jimmy Carter
4 Rutherford B. Hayes
5 Richard Nixon

Please feel free to offer your own best/worst lists in the comments below!

Powered by

About RJ

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    While there are a variety of opinions concerning the various presidents and the relative success or failure of their respective tenures in office, I am always mystified by the reverence in which Ronald Reagan is held. For many conservatives, Ronny was tantamount to a god.

    Other than his having a truly improbable head of hair, I think of Reagan as a dottering, largely inept, all too often snoozing president and not very good has-been actor. The notion that Reagan had anything to do with the fall of the Berlin wall and the demise of the Soviet Union is baloney. Both events happened owing to the ultimate repeated failures of the Soviet system, the government collapsing of its own weight with no assistance from Mr. Reagan.

    The Reagan administration’s signing off on the odious “trickle down” economics was emblematic of right wing disdain for the masses.

    Again, I just don’t get it.

    Baritone

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Reagan made great speeches and provided leadership with confidence when the nation was feeling shaky. And while he may not have been all that great a hands-on leader, he surrounded himself with really talented people most of whom did an excellent job.

    As for ‘trickle down’ economics, it was a poor explanation for a complex concept which – whether you want to admit it or not – works extraordinarily well, especially for those in the middle and working class.

    What I always find intriguing on these lists is how low John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren get rated. Both of them made phenomenal contributions to the nation before and after their terms as president, but because their 4 years in office were unremarkalbe – in Van Buren’s case through no fault of his own – they get pushed down the list. Yet it could be argued that they were far more important and influential political figures outside of their presidencies than any of their contemporaries. They were both remarkable political visionaries and without the groundwork they laid Lincoln would never have been able to accomplish what he did.

    Dave

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    I think Garfield and Harrison get dissed all too often. Both died well. Harrison holds the record for boring, lugubrious inaugural speeches receiving the “Love to Hear Yourself Talk” trophy with the “While It’s Colder’n Snot” Citation and Cluster (posthumously, of course.)

    The Reagan years did have one particular effect upon my life: I rediscovered my dislike for jelly beans.

    B-tone

  • Zedd

    Ronald Reagan provided a poor explanation for just about everything. He just happened to have good delivery. For those who are moved by theatrics, folksiness and inconsequential ideals such as loving your country and cowboy sayings he seemed the best. Many thinkers were baffled by the excitement surrounding this President, who seemed to be someone who walked into the wrong stage and had to fudge his way so as not to be exposed. He was Bush II with a much better delivery and much better men surrounding him.

    There was a large population that wasn’t heard during the 60’s and 70’s. There was still a great deal of upset by those who didn’t buy into the hippie movement. There was a large population that was pushed into integrating. There was a frustration about the liberalization of programing on TV. That population ached for the good old days. Reagan represented those days when America didn’t feel guilty about anything. He brushed over the ugliness that needed to be addressed and deleted good programs for minorities that have devastated the inner cities (we can comfortably blame Reagan for gangster rap and the culture that comes with it).

    This country was doing the right thing by African Americans until Reagan. Then it became “in” to bash African Americans, 20 years after the right to vote (I know it’s ridiculous now isn’t it).

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Well said Zedd. There are always those who harken back to the supposed “good old days.” Such people are usually conservatives who, by definition abhor change, especially if the status quo is keeping their pockets full. There are Russians who still long for the “good old days” under Stalin.

    Of course, the fact is, there are no “good old days,” as you aptly point out. Reagan was just a huckster who looked good in a cowboy hat.

    B-tone

  • moonraven

    Best: probably FDR

    Worst: No contest: GW Bush

    The problem with the lists quoted in the article is they are largely based on who was the biggest sonofabitch iin regard to other countries–James Polk was a magalomaniac who wanted his legacy to be territory ripped off from Mexico–so he mongered war and invaded.

    Generally speaking the US government has ben a plague on the face of the planet–right from the getgo.

    And of course there are 300,000,000 little plaguelets running around, too.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    WHERE IS JOE SATRIANI ON THIS LIST…

    …wait, wrong article.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Reagan represented those days when America didn’t feel guilty about anything.

    As opposed to liberal Democrats, who want America to feel guilty about everything…

    He brushed over the ugliness that needed to be addressed and deleted good programs for minorities that have devastated the inner cities (we can comfortably blame Reagan for gangster rap and the culture that comes with it).

    Yes, it’s much easier for the Left to blame a dead White man for the actions of gangsta rappers and inner-city gang members than it is for them to blame the the gangsta rappers and inner-city gang members themselves…

    This country was doing the right thing by African Americans until Reagan. Then it became “in” to bash African Americans, 20 years after the right to vote (I know it’s ridiculous now isn’t it).

    The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified 111 years before Reagan took office…

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified 111 years before Reagan took office…

    RJ: this is indeed true.

    Two words for you to ponder, however:

    Poll tax.

  • Baronius

    I think Dave’s wrong to look at who each man was outside his presidency. The lists are intended to judge the Presidents, not the lives of the men who held the job. Which is why Jefferson and especially Adams seem ranked too high. Both were great men who made plenty of missteps.

    Truman in the top ten. That’s interesting. I’m going to have to think about that. I associate him so strongly with the loss of Eastern Europe that I probably underrate him.

    Baritone and Zedd show such strong feelings against Reagan, or at least against a caricature of Reagan. RJ is overestimating him. I think he’ll do well when judged from a distance.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Doc:

    Of course, that’s true. But the idea promoted by some that absolutely no Blacks had the right to vote anywhere, ever, prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, is simply untrue.

    Actually, ten Northern states allowed Blacks to vote prior to the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870. And Blacks certainly had the right to vote in the South during the Reconstruction period; in fact, there were over a dozen Blacks elected to the Congress from the South during this time. Only in 1877, when Reconstruction ended, did this change. (I should point out that the main reason I ranked Rutherford B. Hayes among the worst Presidents ever is due to the infamous Compromise of 1877, where he was awarded the Presidency after a disputed election in exchange for pulling out all federal troops from the South.)

    Even after 1877, however, Blacks were still able to vote in the North and the West, which comprised the majority of the country. And even in the South, there was some Black participation in elections, although this was obviously repressed. Poll taxes were one method used to discourage Blacks (and Native Americans, and poor Whites) from voting, but again, this was a practice pretty much exclusive to the South.

    Just trying to provide a somewhat more “nuanced” description of voting rights than was offered by Zedd…

  • Lumpy

    This talk of Reagan ending civil rights is just weird bigotry. Makes no sense at all. The Republican administrations which came after him did more for blacks in public service than all the democrats who preceded them especially that vicious segregationist FDR.

  • C. K. Justus

    My top ten president are:
    George Washington
    Abraham Linclon
    Thomas Jefferson
    Franklin Roosevelt
    Andrew Jackson
    Harry Truman
    James Polk
    James Monroe
    John Adams
    John Kennedy

    MY bottom five are:
    James Buchanan
    Ulysses Grant
    Andrew Johnson
    Warren Harding
    Millard Fillmore

  • Zedd

    RJ,

    You missed the point didn’t you or you are still in teen mode (argue over the silly points). There is no nuance in your statement kiddo.

    Very good article though.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Ok fine, here are my top and bottom picks.

    Top 10:
    George Washington
    Theodore Roosevelt
    James K. Polk
    Abraham Lincoln
    John Adams
    Thomas Jefferson
    Dwight Eisenhower
    John F. Kennedy
    Bill Clinton
    Andrew Jackson

    Bottom 5:
    Lyndon Johnson
    Woodrow Wilson
    Jimmy Carter
    Andrew Johnson
    John Tyler

  • alessandro

    Does Pete Rozelle count?

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Zedd:

    Thank you for the part that was a compliment. :-/

    Dave:

    Why would you put BJ Clinton in the top ten? I agree he wasn’t nearly as bad as Carter, but you really think he was better than Reagan? (Or Taft, or Coolidge, or…)

    Alessandro:

    LOL!

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Oops, sorry. I left Reagan off my list by some bizarre mishap. Stick him in there right above JFK for me and bump Jackson off the bottom.

    As for Clinton, yes he makes it in the bottom of the top 10, because he actually cut government spending, didn’t fuck anything up too horribly, and I don’t give a damn how many blowjobs he got while in office.

    Dave

  • Maurice

    Interesting how many comments there are about Reagan. Reagan created many successful events starting with the release of the Iranian hostages. The firing of the air traffic controllers solidified his standing as a man of his word. His ardent belief in Milton Friedman and trickle down economics repaired the damage done by Carter. His landslide re-election confirmed his popularity.

    I personally think Reagan was so popular because he did what he said he would do. You may not agree with him or his policies but you have to admire a politician that has principles and sticks to them no matter what the outside influences are.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Maurice,

    Apparently, you believe Reagan’s accomplishments you make note of were good. I don’t.

    His response to the air traffic controllers was uncalled for and over the top. It put people in jeapordy and damaged the air transportation industry for months. His teeing off against the controllers was disingenuine at best. Remember, Reagan was a union man himself – president of SAG for several years if memory serves.

    “Trickle down” economics was odious in its conception.

    To believe that Reagan had anything to do with the release of the Iranian hostages is just wrong. The hostages were released the very day of Reagan’s inauguration. The exact timing of the hostage release – 6 minutes after Reagan took the oath – was arranged simply to embarrass Carter. Neither Reagan nor his people had anything to do with it. The release was actually negotiated by then Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher and brokered by the Algerian government with the signing of the “Algiers Accords” the day before Reagan took office.

    B-tone

  • Lumpy

    To think that trickle down was a bad thing at this point with such overwhelming evidence suppprting its effectiveness is just retarded or some sort of weird leftist reality avoidance syndrome.

  • http://adreamersholiday.blogspot.com Lee Richards

    The Louisiana Purchase alone ought to give Jefferson a spot in the top 5 (and, of course, his leadership was significant before we even had a presidency.)

    Top 5: Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR, T. Roosevelt

    Bottom 5: Nixon, Grant, Fillmore, A. Johnson, Harding

  • Silver Surfer

    Washington and Jefferson were traitors to the Crown. Both should have been beheaded.

  • Silver Surfer

    Thrice, as you can see, and then they should have been quartered and their lifeless, headless bodies sent to the four corners of the colonies to show what happens when you play up too much.

    Just kidding …

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    #23 & #24

    There were two of them, so I guess it had to be said twice.

  • Silver Surfer

    Hey dudes … sorry for the skewed view of history, but it’s always good to have your perceptions challenged :)

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    Baritone (#20):

    As a person who thinks the Reagan presidency was an overall disaster, I find myself in the unfortunate position of defending him against one of your points:

    His response to the air traffic controllers was uncalled for and over the top.

    In fact, his response to the air traffic controllers was not only called for, it was his only option. Strikes by government employees was and is illegal, as was and is striking against the public safety.

    It put people in jeapordy and damaged the air transportation industry for months.

    There’s some truth to that…but Reagan did no more, and perhaps less, than PATCO to jeopardize people and damage the air transportation industry. Indeed, PATCO’s whole POINT in striking WAS to jeopardize airline passengers and damage the air transportation industry…thereby strong-arming the industry into conceding their demands. (Bear in mind that PATCO and the FAA had been in contract negotiations for months, even before Reagan came into office, and fell apart largely because PATCO refused any sort of compromise.)

    Reagan also gave them plenty of warning. It’s not as though he simply and suddenly called in troops to force people back to work, like the Presidents of the 19th Century used to do. He allotted them 48 hours. It was a high-stakes pissing contest; PATCO thought he was bluffing and that they had the leverage. He proved them wrong on both counts.

    That out of the way, your other pronouncements about Ronnie were dead on. Especially the part about the Iranian Hostage Crisis; it might be pointed out that under Reagan’s watch U.S. citizens found themselves in a hostage crisis in Beirut that lasted far longer than the one in Iran had.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Nothing happens in a vacuum. How much treachery and traitorous activity had gone before in England, France, Spain and wherever else you might mention? How much since? By what right (other than might) did England build its empire? By what right was ANY empire built?

    Silver may be offering his two cents partly in jest, but the truth is that England was no less rotten to its core than any other country in those and most other times for that matter. Countries and empires are built on the backs and the blood of countless thousands who largely had no idea what the fuck was going on.

    England earned no more loyalty from the American colonists than any of its other conquests. It’s too bad that Native Americans did not have the wherewithal to shove the Brits and others back into the ocean from the get go.

    The only small bit of justice Native Americans wrested from the early European settlers was their introducing the wonders of the tobacco plant to them.

    “Here, roll this up just like this. Okay, put it in your mouth, that’s it, that’s right. Good. Now set it on fire. No,no. Trust me. It’ll be great. You’ll like it. Not a cough in a carload.”

    B-tone

  • Silver Surfer

    Lol … nice one Baritone.

    But mate, no traitors in England.

    Actually, the whole lot of them – to a man – are the most devious, duplicitous, criminally-minded, machiavellian race on Earth.

    But you know, no bastard’s perfect.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Ahem…

  • Silver Surfer

    Oh, hello doctor … didn’t know you there old boy

  • Baronius

    One interesting thing about the air traffic controllers situation. Years later, after the fall of the USSR, former Soviet bureaucrats and negotiators were asked about Reagan. They said that they knew things were going to be different because of the air traffic controllers strike. Reagan came into office and immediately showed that he couldn’t be strong-armed.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    And once they realized that, it was all over but the shoutin’. The weak kneed Ruskies collapsed with visions of Ronnie’s hairline in their little commie brains.

    B-tone

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    They said that they knew things were going to be different because of the air traffic controllers strike. Reagan came into office and immediately showed that he couldn’t be strong-armed.

    If only they’d known he could simply be lulled to sleep during military briefings, and convinced that ruthless and corrupt world leaders were his buddies, they might not have worried about strong-arming him anyway.

  • Baronius

    Baritone, you’re normally a thoughtful guy, but you seem to shut down when Reagan’s name is mentioned. You fall back on the caricature of an actor eating jelly beans. What’s up with that? I mean, I don’t gush with respect for Clinton, but I know I’ve got to be objective to learn any lessons from his presidency.

    The stupid cowboy actor with his finger on the button. I remember the cliches well. It was the inability of some people to move past them that made Reagan intriguing to me. I remember him saying that the Soviet system would collapse if they were confronted with strength. He said that the economy would right itself if taxes were lower. Pretty much everything he said happened. Yet some people never reconsidered their negative impression of him. I figure that you’ve got to give someone a second look if what they say comes true.

  • http://adreamersholiday.blogspot.com Lee Richards

    Reagan certainly had his policy and personal negatives, some of which have been mentioned.

    Among his positives:

    He earned his way to success and so knew it could be done by others.
    He understood how to be an effective executive.
    He could project likeabilty, trustworthiness and read a speech well.
    He said what he believed and told you what he would do and then, nearly always, did it.
    He did political favors but wasn’t personally corruptible.
    He could compromise.
    He was strong on national defense.
    He was respected at home and abroad, and represented America well in the eyes of many.

    Other recent presidents would be lucky to be judged to have half these qualities.

  • Ninja

    Truman‘s political career started when he became associated with the corrupt Pendergast machine.

    Truman was an opportunist and a bribe-taker, and he couldn’t even spell – read his diaries.

    Truman didn’t have the good sense to not advance to the Yalu River in 1950 after China threatened to enter the war if it was done, As a result, tens of thousands of Americans died needlessly. It took Eisenhower to get an Armistice in 1953.

    Put Truman in the cellar.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    As I said, Reagan is “The Man” for most conservatives. It’s true, my having been an actor for a time, I find it unforgivable for anyone to have been a bad actor and still to have made big money doing it. Reagan certainly qualifies. But it’s a dirty job, and someone has to do it, I guess. Now we have Pauly Shore and Rob Schneider. Hopefully, neither one of them will aspire to the presidency.

    As to Reagan, we should not forget Iran-Contra or the fact that the firing of 13000 air traffic controllers was simply the first salvo against unions and blue collar America. Reagan characterized striking union workers as “greedy, lazy, uncaring and unpatriotic.”

    It was under Reagan that the great disparity between the very rich and the very poor began to widen.

    Reagan’s drastic cuts in domestic programs put thousands of people out of work. Cuts in medicare and medicaid, education and other social programs increased the numbers of people, especially children into hopeless poverty. Reagan was largely indifferent to the plight of the poor as witness his “catsup is a vegetable” comment regarding school lunch programs.

    It is also interesting to note that while Reagan boasted of reducing government, but in reality the federal government grew in numbers of civilian employees and in spending during his tenure.

    There’s more, but I’ve got to stop long enough to make a living. Suffice to say that Reagan was the quintessential conservative.

    B-tone

  • moonraven

    Reagan was moron who was astute enough to play the US voting public for suckers.

    He also ended freedom of the press in the US.

    In April of 1986.

    Check it out.

  • Les Slater

    My top would be Theodore Roosevelt.

  • Nancy

    I’m not sure where I’d put Nixon; he was a wannabe traitor & dictator, yet he was very strong on US foreign policy.

    As for Ronnie Ray-gun, HE didn’t do anything; Nancy did. Ol’ Ronnie was losing his marbles even while in the WH, & it was pretty common knowledge Nancy did the deciding for him. Actually, Reagun was the best argument for age limits on any presidential candidate: no one over the age of 75 while in office, term to be ended immediately on development of alzheimers or other such conditions.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Les, I’d love to read your explanation of why you, a Communist, would have Teddy at the top of your list…

    But he’s my pick too. He had his faults, of course (his dubious views on Native Americans and Charles Dickens, for two!) but he had a keener awareness of, and perspective on, the responsibilities and powers of the presidency than anyone else since Washington and Jefferson – and he loved being President as well, which helped.

  • Clavos

    Anyone with enough imagination to see San Juan Hill in a flight of basement stairs gets my vote, too.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Another thing that nettles me about Teddie was his characterization of one of my heros, Tom Paine, as “a filthy little atheist.” But, on the whole the Tedster was unique in a # of mostly positive ways, bringing a brand of swashbuckling enthusiasm to Washington and the presidency.

    I have serious problems with Wilson in that he was a blatant racist. He had a plus side, but his open hatred of blacks and other non-whites was virulent and viscious.

    B-tone

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    B-tone, you know that Teddy integrated the federal workforce in DC and then when Wilson came in he reinstituted segregation for federal workers. I think that says it all about the two of them.

    Dave

  • Les Slater

    “Les, I’d love to read your explanation of why you, a Communist, would have Teddy at the top of your list…”

    Most communists would consider the U.S. to have been progressive up through the radical reconstruction. After that period ended the capitalist U.S. had no further room to progress within its own boundaries. Much of the rest of the world was at a lower economic form, namely pre-capitalist.

    The Spanish-American war was not the first of the modern era of capitalist imperialism, but certainly the most important in it its rise.

    It was this that matured the proletariat in parts of the world in which we would see the first successful working class rovolution to take power in 1917.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    “the first successful working class rovolution [sic] to take power in 1917.”

    Yeah, ‘cuz that worked out so well…

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Anyone with enough imagination to see San Juan Hill in a flight of basement stairs gets my vote, too.

    “CHAAAARGE!!!!”

    :-)

  • Irene Wagner

    Nancy– No one over the age of 75?
    What if someone from blogcritics wants to cast his hat into the ring? There’s something to be said for the wisdom in a grey head.

  • Lumpy

    I doubt many on blogcritics are over 75.

  • alessandro

    #41 Nancy, have you read Reagan’s diaries? You’re kidding right?

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Another thing that nettles me about Teddie was his characterization of one of my heros, Tom Paine, as “a filthy little atheist.”

    However he may have meant it, Teddy was at least partially on the button. Paine was, apparently, known for not being all that well acquainted with soap…

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    RJ:
    Congratulations on an interesting and thoughtful and relatively spin-free article. Too bad you had to mar it by reverting to your usual frat-house liberal-bashing in the comments section.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Doc,

    On that, you may be correct. I once performed in a musical called, well, what dya know? – Tom Paine. During the rehearsal process we were encouraged to do some research about the man and his times. He was a bit of a stinker – literally according to some sources noted by cast members.

    Paine came perilously close to the guillotine while imprisoned in France. All prisoners who were to be beheaded the following morning had a mark placed at the top of their cell doors. Paine’s door was marked. However, the dolt who marked it did so while it was open. Subsequently, the door was closed and the mark went unseen when they came to roust out the next luckless group of the doomed. Shortly after, I believe Jefferson and/or Lafayette interceded on Paine’s behalf and he was rescued. That’s “cutting” it a bit too close.

    B-tone

  • Maurice

    Once again I have to comment on the vitriolic comments in reference to Reagan. There is no denying Reagan was a great President. Those that deny it are certainly in the minority – caustic and bitter but few.

    This is an interesting comparison of liberal and conservative rankings of Presidents.

  • schuhbox4

    Reagan is overrated and should have been impeached for lying about the Iran-contra arms deals. All those saying other presidents could learn from Reagan about saying what they mean and being honest with the people should remember all the lies he told about not knowing anything about those arms deals. Secondly, Reagan kept telling the American people he would not negotiate with terrorists but did exactly that. The CIA, with Reagan’s approval, sold HAWK and TOW missiles to Iran in exchange for the hostages. With the profits, Oliver North gave money to the contras, an act specifically forbidden by Congress. What was the result? Terrorists learned America would deal with terrorists and more Americans were taken hostage in the streets of Beirut and other parts of the Middle East. Reagan also sent American Marines into a situation we absolutely did not understand in Beirut and hundreds of Americans lost their lives because of it.
    I don’t know how anybody can claim Trickle Down Economics was a documented success. It wasn’t. Reagan (like Bush) cut taxes at the same time he increased spending. Great in the short run, but crippling to the future. The fact is that during Reagan’s admin. the national debt doubled. That’s right, he amassed a debt equal to all the presidents who came before him. Don’t take my word for it- look it up. Reagan’s economic genius is liek living off a credit card. Sooner or later someone has to pay the bill.
    Ronnie did not defeat communism. The Soviet Union was dying from within long before Reagan started falling asleep during meetings. Economically, the Russians couldn’t compete with capitalism. Socially, the repessive measures used to keep order and the government’s paranoia over secrecy belied socialist ideology. (Quote from Khruschev “What kind of socialism is this? What kind of shit is this when you have to keep people in chains?”)
    One area where Reagan definitely deserves praise is that he restored the pride of the armed forces. They were in a terrible state after Vietnam and Reagan brought the military back from the dead.

    Also, Truman wasn’t actually responsible for the Chinese entering the Korean War. It’s clear that MacArthur disobeyed Truman’s orders, and is most at blame for escalating the war.

  • alessandro

    While it can be said that much is overstated about Reagan, under stating him is just as (if not more) ridiculous.

  • schuhbox4

    So what would you say are his great accomplishments?

  • Maurice

    schuhbox4

    check out my link. There are myriad polls listed by both liberals and conservatives placed side by side. Reagan is consistently listed in the top ten by both sides.

    You are in the passionate minority.

  • schuhbox4

    I realize that I am in the minority. I am a historian and political scientist myself. I don’t mean that to say “So I know more than you do.” What I mean is that I am looking at how he will be viewed in another 20 years. It is typically about 40 years after a presidency is over that the juiciest details are declassified and start coming out. It’s my bet that RR’s rating will slide some at that point. I think there are a few parallels between Reagan and Kennedy. Supporters of both men point to their popularity and how their leadership inspired confidence in the American people. Kennedy had youth and energy, Reagan obviously had charisma as well. That said, historians have been coming down harder on JFK in the last 10 years. His charm and personality is wearing off, I guess, and now the historians are judging more on accomplishments and the legacy of his decisions. I believe Reagan will go through the same process. My biggest gripe with Reagan is the deficit he left us. The lack of criticism on this issue really surprises me. The idea of increasing spending while cutting taxes just bothers me. It is just not responsible. Perhaps I am making this a bigger issue than it really is, I am not an economist. Yet, I have to believe that ultimately a trillion dollar deficit has not been a blessing. I also believe that it will become even more apparrent that Reagan and GHW Bush knwew all about Iran-contra. (Just read a history of the CIA- Legacy of Ashes -that covers this) This is an issue that I don’t believe will bother most people, but may tarnish his image with historians. Personally, it bothers me that he got away with lying to the American people.
    Other issues that I believe may hurt Reagan are his indifference to AIDS and the spread of drugs and gangs during the 80’s. Not his fault obviously but it happened on his watch and he didn’t do enough to stop it. Maybe he should get credit for the great music of the 80’s? 8-)
    I, again, give RR great credit for rescuing the military. I’ve talked to guys who were in the service in the late 70’s and to a man they say morale was terrible. Reagan changed that. I’m also not sure it is wise to discount the effect of a president’s personality/attitude on the times. FDR, JFK and Reagan, even if their policies didn’t really do what they are credited with (ending the Depression, confronting the Soviets, ending the Cold War) did inspire confidence in the people and at times that is invaluable. We’ll see how this plays out, but maybe not anytime soon. Anyway, I enjoy the talk. Too often politics is all argument and no debate. Shouting heads instead of talking heads. Apparently the way to respond to criticism of your party/candidate is to make a counter accusation without actually discussing anything. Anyway, cheers.

  • schuhbox4

    I’d be interested to hear what a Reagan supporter has to say about him lying about Iran-contra or his huge budget deficit. What’s your view and what do you consider his accomplishments?

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Reagan is overrated and should have been impeached for lying about the Iran-contra arms deals.

    You forget the principle of plausible deniability. If Reagan said to Ollie North: figure out a way to get arms to the Contras without going through normal channels – or more likely had GHW Bush do it for him – and then didn’t ask for the details, he’s insulated from responsibility. Golly gee, he never expected Ollie would do it all by illegal means oh my.

    Plus, history is very forgiving to those who do the right thing even if their methods were questionable, and that cuts heavily in Reagan’s favor.

    All those saying other presidents could learn from Reagan about saying what they mean and being honest with the people should remember all the lies he told about not knowing anything about those arms deals.

    Except that there’s no proof of those lies, so what they learned is to make sure that no one can prove you’re lying.

    I don’t know how anybody can claim Trickle Down Economics was a documented success. It wasn’t. Reagan (like Bush) cut taxes at the same time he increased spending. Great in the short run, but crippling to the future.

    Except that in fact it was NOT crippling in the future. The economic growth created by tax cuts led to the surpluses of the Clinton era to some degree balancing out the Reagan deficits.

    As a percentage of GDP the largest period of debt growth in the US was during the Roosevelt administration when the debt increased from 18% of GDP to 120% of GDP. That’s a 7x increase. In comparison Reagan increased the debt much less, from 38% of GDP to 67% of GDP. That’s less than a 2x increase.

    The fact is that during Reagan’s admin. the national debt doubled. That’s right, he amassed a debt equal to all the presidents who came before him. Don’t take my word for it- look it up.

    I did. You clearly missed some of the historical context. Reagan may have doubled the debt, but Roosevelt increased it more than 5 times. That’s 5 times all the debt accumulated by 150 years of presidents before him. Woodrow Wilston more than tripled the debt. Nixon/Ford doubled the debt. Even Clinton, with all of his surpluses and the benefits of the tech boom still increased the debt by more than 50%.

    Reagan’s economic genius is liek living off a credit card. Sooner or later someone has to pay the bill.

    In actuality it’s like almost every president since 1900.

    Ronnie did not defeat communism. The Soviet Union was dying from within long before Reagan started falling asleep during meetings. Economically, the Russians couldn’t compete with capitalism. Socially, the repessive measures used to keep order and the government’s paranoia over secrecy belied socialist ideology.

    True, but Reagan’s continual pressuring of them certainly helped make sure that things fell apart quickly.

    Dave

  • schuhbox4

    It’s sounds more than a little like you are saying it is OK if you don’t get caught. I’d like to see our leaders held to higher standard. Second, there are accounts out there (and probably more on the way) that show Reagan knew what was happening so even plausible deniability is lost.
    Your point about FDR is surely well made, but speaking of historical context, I’m guessing a little thing called World War II MAY have had something to do with that increase in spending. I don’t know, I’m just guessing. At any rate my point stands. Even if FDR did increase it 5X, Reagan doubled that amount, plus every other administration’s debt. It’s all hard to argue considering the value of the dollar and state of the economy. I’ll never claim to be an economic genius but I still contend that cutting taxes (and talking about tax and spend Democrats) while increasing spending is fiscally irresponsible. I understand Keynesian economics and FDR used it to some effect in the Depression. I just think that the Trickle Down Theory relied too heavily on a small percent of the population to have any impact. Studies have shown that a significant portion of the upper class the theory targeted did not re-invest the money but instead saved the money. Having grown up in the Midwest during the 80’s it is hard for me to look back on that period and see an economic success story. For me, and certainly this carries a great deal of personal bias, reality trumps theory. Lastly, at least for economics, it is worth remembering that Clinton did actually submit a balanced budget.
    I’m not trying to make RR out to be an absolute failure, but I just think his legacy is largely myth. So many people still think he brought home the hostages (perhaps the same group that still thinks Iraq was responsible for 9-11) and the truth about that has been covered by others on this board. RR certainly deserves some credit for standing up to the Soviets, but some people think “He won the Cold War.”
    I also don’t agree with the popular image of him as tough. He negotiated with terrorists when he said he wouldn’t. Republicans like to say that Clinton pulling the troops out of Somalia after the fight in Mogadishu inspired terrorists because they saw that America was afraid to take casualties. Clinton ran, he’s a coward. What lesson do you suppose terrorists took from watching the Marines leave Lebanon? It just seems to me that the guy was Teflon, nothing stuck to him. Clinton WAS slippery, but most people knew it. It seems like Reagan didn’t even have to try and blame bounced off him.
    As I’ve said, I think we still need more time to really assess his time in office. It’s all just talk I guess, but I’m glad to join in a discussion that doesn’t break down into name calling and cliches.

  • schuhbox4

    So, to move on to another topic, what do you all think the odds are of GW Bush being the next Harry Truman? By that, I mean Truman left office with a very low approval rating and for years was considered a poor president, but his image has been greatly enhanced and he is now widely seen as an above average president. (One of the odd things about this is 50 years ago, everyone agreed with dropping the bomb, today it’s controversial) Bush has actually compared himself to Truman and expects a similar historical vindication. I expect this to be a divisive issue, as most Bush topics are. Certainly how Iraq plays out will have a great deal to do with his legacy and we can’t know that outcome, but what are your thoughts? Is it possible that issues like N. Korea, Iran, China or the resurgent Russia will carry more weight in 40 years?

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    It’s sounds more than a little like you are saying it is OK if you don’t get caught.

    I forgot to mention that I’m a historian too. And yes, historically speaking, it’s usually okay if you don’t get caught. History is much kinder than your contemporaries.

    I’d like to see our leaders held to higher standard. Second, there are accounts out there (and probably more on the way) that show Reagan knew what was happening so even plausible deniability is lost.

    Once the image is established it takes a LOT to shake it. Plus there are plenty who believe that the ends justify the means, especially when looked at 20 or 30 years later. I doubt any sudden revelation will reflect badly on Reagan. The determination that he was more hands-on will probably enhance his image in the eyes of as many as not. He does suffer somewhat from the assumption that he was dottering and everything was actually done by subordinates.

    Your point about FDR is surely well made, but speaking of historical context, I’m guessing a little thing called World War II MAY have had something to do with that increase in spending. I don’t know, I’m just guessing. At any rate my point stands. Even if FDR did increase it 5X, Reagan doubled that amount, plus every other administration’s debt. It’s all hard to argue considering the value of the dollar and state of the economy.

    Do you want me to index those dollar values for inflation? I didn’t bother to do it – GDP percentage is a better comparison – but I suspect that if you take FDR’s highest debt and index it to 1988 dollars you’re going to find that what reagan doubled wasn’t nearly as much as you think. And in fact, adjusted for inflation, in 1988 dollars, the 1945 debt is 1.6 trillion dollars as opposed to the 2.6 trillion when reagan left office. So almost 50 years of presidents after FDR didn’t manage to double his debt in real value.

    I’ll never claim to be an economic genius but I still contend that cutting taxes (and talking about tax and spend Democrats) while increasing spending is fiscally irresponsible.

    I’d put it this way. It’s less fiscally irresponsible than increasing spending and not cutting taxes. Cutting taxes to drive the economy and thus raise revenues is inherently better than raising those same revenues by increasing taxes which is the only other way to do it.

    I understand Keynesian economics and FDR used it to some effect in the Depression. I just think that the Trickle Down Theory relied too heavily on a small percent of the population to have any impact. Studies have shown that a significant portion of the upper class the theory targeted did not re-invest the money but instead saved the money.

    This is where most people fail to understand the entire concept. You see, saving money – unless it’s just putting that money in the mattress – IS spending money. If you spend the money on stocks that helps expand businesses, create jobs and ultimately benefit everyone in the economy. Only if the money is literally taken out of the economy does it not benefit everyone in the economy. In fact, dollars invested probably benefit the general working population more than dollars spent directly on consumer goods, because they benefit employers and then those employers inevitably spend them so you get a double impact.

    Having grown up in the Midwest during the 80’s it is hard for me to look back on that period and see an economic success story. For me, and certainly this carries a great deal of personal bias, reality trumps theory.

    Midwesterners often have a skewed view of this era because their part of the country benefitted least and unless they relocated they didn’t catch the wave of the changing economy and new types of employment which benefitted most of the rest of the country.

    I’m not trying to make RR out to be an absolute failure, but I just think his legacy is largely myth.

    And you say you’re a historian. Surely you know that myth looms far bigger than reality.

    Dave

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Had to take the kids to school.

    I agree in general about Reagan not being hard on terrorists. It clearly wasn’t a priority for him and as a result we’re paying some of the price for his inattention to the emerging problem.

    It just seems to me that the guy was Teflon, nothing stuck to him.

    IMO that’s a very valuable quality in a president.

    Clinton WAS slippery, but most people knew it. It seems like Reagan didn’t even have to try and blame bounced off him.

    I think the end result for Clinton will be much the same as for Reagan. He’ll get credit for the good and the silly intern business will get brushed off.

    So, to move on to another topic, what do you all think the odds are of GW Bush being the next Harry Truman? By that, I mean Truman left office with a very low approval rating and for years was considered a poor president, but his image has been greatly enhanced and he is now widely seen as an above average president. (One of the odd things about this is 50 years ago, everyone agreed with dropping the bomb, today it’s controversial)

    Truman has been allowed to get away with a lot by historians and his rehabilitation ignores some of his really serious failings. The fact that it was Truman who singlehandedly launched the red scare of the 1950s which ultimately got credited to Joe McCarthy is largely forgotten. Truman originated the blacklists and loyalty oaths and purges in the late 1940s and IMO that’s inexcusable.

    Bush has actually compared himself to Truman and expects a similar historical vindication. I expect this to be a divisive issue, as most Bush topics are. Certainly how Iraq plays out will have a great deal to do with his legacy and we can’t know that outcome, but what are your thoughts? Is it possible that issues like N. Korea, Iran, China or the resurgent Russia will carry more weight in 40 years?

    Bush believes that when the full historical record of what was really going on behind the scenes with Iraq and with terrorism gets its exposure his actions will be vindicated. I think that he’s probably right, but that there are also people who will never forgive him.

    He’s right that he’s in very much the same situation as Truman. The communist threat may have been very real and much worse than people at the time were aware, but that still doesn’t excuse Truman’s excesses in fighting it and some will never forgive him. I’m about as anti-communist as you can get and I still think Truman went too far.

    Terrorism is to Bush as communism was to Truman. Bush believes he has a better understanding of the real threat than contemporaries have and that history will see it more clearly. Bush isn’t as dumb as people make him out to be and apparently he’s a kind of self-educated scholar on presidential history. I think he sees his situation pretty clearly in the historical context.

    It helps that I’ve been following some of the facts about the war on terror which the media and those with a political agenda tend to overlook or blow off. The current accepted wisdom that there were no WMDs and no connections between Iraq and al Qaeda are convenient, but history is likely to show that there was an awful lot more going on behind the scenes than people today are willing to accept and that the threats to the US were much more serious than we realized.

    Dave

  • alessandro

    #58: Clearly you are looking at it from one perspective. I am Canadian and tend to, naturally, look at this with some level of objectivity. To suggest Reagan was without some accomplishment is not only wanton desire to deny his due for partisan reasons but simply historically without merit.

    He was not perfect but he was no idiot, as people on this thread, suggest either. Far from it.

  • Baronius

    Ooh, I’m glad this thread is still going. It’s one of the more interesting topics we’ve had.

    Schuhbox, you made a comment about drugs and gangs, that while Reagan wasn’t responsible for them, they happened on his watch and he didn’t do anything to stop them. I think of the 1980’s deficits in the same way. Reagan wanted to cut taxes and battle the Soviets. He got his tax stuff through in the first couple of years, then basically gave up on domestic policy. If you read his autobiography An American Life, the last third of the book is about Russia. (Of course, that could do with his health at the time the book was being written. The last third relies on official communication more than on personal reflections.)

    So Reagan’s tax cuts were economically sound. He didn’t follow through with enforcing the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit caps. He lost control of the budget in his second term, just as he settled for a bad immigration policy. He may have been shortsighted on the budget or on terrorism, but he accomplished his two big goals.

    I’ve got a question for you as a historian. One thing that has always struck me about Reagan was his nurturing of political talent. Am I wrong about this? It seems like Bush Sr. kept and promoted a lot of Reagan’s best people, but never had a chance to cultivate his own. Clinton and Bush Jr. have done nothing to breed new leaders, in my opinion. I don’t see a crop of future governors and presidential candidates coming out of the last two administrations. (Maybe I’m underestimating guys like Reich and Richardson.)

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    This is an interesting discussion, and I don’t want to drag it into unpleasant places where other threads have gone, but really, I can’t let this one pass:

    “It helps that I’ve been following some of the facts about the war on terror which the media and those with a political agenda tend to overlook or blow off. The current accepted wisdom that there were no WMDs and no connections between Iraq and al Qaeda are convenient, but history is likely to show that there was an awful lot more going on behind the scenes than people today are willing to accept and that the threats to the US were much more serious than we realized.”
    — from Dave Nalle’s secret knowledge, part 127 or so and counting

    I believe there are also things “behind the scenes” that militarists and rightists “overlook or blow off.” The nature of Islamic extremism has been distorted and misrepresented by many politicians and journalists – and certainly not all of them are on the left.

    The “awful lot behind the scenes” could just as easily prove Bush’s approach to have been wrongheaded and destructive.

    If 25 or 50 years from now, people look back and see there was never another big terrorist attack inside the US [if it’s clear then that there never was going to be one], or alternatively, if they see attacks that were a direct result of miscalculations in Iraq, then the militaristic Bush response to terror, with its relegation of civil rights and world opinion to secondary status, could look like grand folly.

    Our era also may be looked back at as a low point in how the US was viewed by the rest of the world, especially if better presidents manage to correct some of that very deep damage.

  • Martin Lav

    Yeah Dave you and the administration keep telling yourselves that although everyone in the free world thinks you’re all whack, History will judge you differently.

    Bull shit.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    HG, your perspective on this issue is certainly a popular one and it’s the one promoted right now by the media, but I can’t help remembering all the little bits of evidence which I’ve seen mentioned and then ignored over the last 5 years, and it seems inevitable that they add up to something.

    As for Bush’s grand folly, i think the foolish elements of his policies are foolish whether the Islamist threat is more real and more substantial than many of us acknowledge. Even in the face of the worst scenarios, sacrificing the rights of individual Americans for dubious security is unacceptable. But when the blame for that gets apportioned out, it’s going to be laid fairly heavily on the shoulders of the legislators from both parties who supported obscenities like the PATRIOT Acts and Real ID.

    dave

  • Martin Lav

    “– from Dave Nalle’s secret knowledge, part 127 or so and counting” – HG

    “HG, your perspective on this issue is certainly a popular one” – Dave Nalle

    Not only popular, but damn accurate and funny to boot! – Martin Lav

    “little bits of evidence” – Nalle

    Seems to be the opposite to me.
    The little bits of evidence, constantly sound-bited to the media, churning up a frenzy and call to arms.
    The problem is that little bits of evidence is NOT intelligence, unless you are George Bush who has little bits of brain matter, which you mistake for intelligence.
    Little bits of evidence, buried by the MSM so nobody could really use this GOOD STUFF to make a case for war. Seems to me that Colin Powell presented all this little bits of evidence to the UN and it didn’t amount to a hill of beans.

    What a farce!

    Someday, all these little bits of evidence will be scraped together and equal a big pile of shit!

  • Martin Lav

    Not as well as some BC’rs

  • STM

    “Paine came perilously close to the guillotine while imprisoned in France … Jefferson and/or Lafayette interceded on Paine’s behalf and he was rescued.”

    All three fall into the category either of traitors to the Crown or duplicituous, bouffant-headed, perfumed nancy-boy Frenchman.

    For those reasons alone, all three should have lost their heads or at least been imprisoned in the Tower of London, never to be heard from again.

  • schuhbox4

    alessandro – At NO point did I say the Reagan Administration had no accomplishments so please stop implying that I did. What I asked, is what you think the accomplishments were.

    Baronius – Very few presidents have had a successful second term so what happened with Reagan is no surprise. Returning presidents get no “honeymoon” period with Congress, or the American people for that matter. Many presidents have been able to accomplish more in the first year to a year and a half of their first term than the rest of their time in office. The relationship with Congress starts out on a “We’ll see” basis during which time they are generally on good terms. Inevitably, a divisive issue comes along to poison the relationship and the political fighting starts. In a second term, the atmosphere is already political. Additionally, with the campaign season starting earlier and earlier, the president’s own party members are ready to break with him much sooner, especially if the president’s ratings are low.
    As for grooming future leaders, I think it’s hard to say what impact the last administrations will have. I think, certainly, looking at Bush, the age of many of his key players prohibits much of a future. Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz actually all date back to the Ford Administration. Not much future left there. Powell was really damaged by the faulty intelligence foisted on him by the CIA in the speech to the UN, but he’ll bounce back sooner or later. But, again, he’s really a holdover from earlier. Rice seems the obvious choice to make an impact in the future. Bush’s youth and inexperience necessitated an experienced staff, given his base of support. But I think GW’s personality had just as much to do with his choices. I just don’t think he feels comfortable with people he doesn’t know. Powell, who didn’t have a previous relationship with Bush, always felt he was an outsider dealing with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. So I guess I’m arguing Bush didn’t make much of an attempt to cultivate new talent, but it’s far too early to be sure what legacy Bush will have.
    Clinton, of course, had a younger team, but few have made their mark to this point. Stephanopoulos, despite being a TV guy now, may still have a political career if he chooses that route. Though I’m not sure he will. One guy I liked was Richard Holbrooke. I thought he did a good job in a bad situation in Bosnia. But I’ve read he is particularly despised by Republicans so he may not have a great future either. Off the top of my head, I can’t really add any other names to the ones you’ve mentioned, though I guess you’d have to add Hillary to the list. There were a lot of young aides and advisors that may yet make their names known in the next 10 or 15 years.
    I often make analogies to sports when I’m teaching, and I’ll use one here. I think there is a similarity between politicians and NFL coaches. Great NFL coaches often have a number of assistants rise to the rank of head coach. Why? First of all, the association with a winner is a plus. Secondly, a wise assistant learns form those around him and great NFL coaches don’t hire fools, so learning is taking place all the time. These assistants can see what works and take it and adapt it to their personality/style. The same is true for political aides. Few guys played up their relationship with Richard Nixon, and for good reason. (I mean, despite the fact so many of those guys spent time in prison) Is either Clinton or Bush strong enough a figure to have “coattail effect?” Your answer should tell you what kind of legacy to expect. I know there are plenty of exceptions to be made- i.e. Ford, but I would guess it is a strong indicator.
    In another football analogy, I don’t know that administrations place a high priority on leaving behind a cadre of political followers. Certainly no one looks to avoid that fate, but like the NFL, politics is a win now game. Controlling policy today is a higher priority than preparing guys to control policy tomorrow.

  • Baronius

    Schuhbox – All valid points.

    My question about legacies is a toughie. It’s hard enough to assess recent history; I’m virtually trying to predict the future. But I think that nurturing talent can be a deliberate task, and it’s one I haven’t seen recent presidents bother with.

    This actually ties into your second term comments. In most presidents’ first term, they have a team of close friends and hand-picked advisors. Some will shine, most will be loyal, and a few will end up in prison. But those are the ones who will get something done. (Not the prison guys. The first term guys.)

    By the second term, you’ve got institutional people taking over departments. They have no connection to the administration, through loyalty or through shared beliefs. Agencies breathe a sigh of relief that one of their own is in charge. And the Washington press corps refers to the new person as “well-respected”. That’s the death-knell of reform, or even of control.

    Washington isn’t sure how to handle an ideologue. They don’t suckle on the teat of power, so they’re not easily manipulated. I think of Califano, under Carter, as the worst of both worlds. He was an establishment guy with no loyalty to his president, and he was a true believer. He was arguably the worst appointment in recent history.

  • schuhbox

    I find it ironic that so many of the presidents at the great/near great level probably would never get elected today. FDR – dead in the water due to polio. Face it, we are still not advanced enough to put a wheelchair bound man in the White House. Lincoln- almost certainly eliminated from consideration due to his own bouts with depression, if not for his wife’s instability. Truman – ties to a corrupt political machine in his early days would probably hurt him. JFK – poor medical history, womanizing would destroy him. FDR’s affairs wouldn’t help him either. Wilson would get creamed by the right as an academic/intellectual/liberal. On the other hand, Jackson and Eisenhower may have had difficulty due to their lack of formal education, though their war hero status would still play well. Adams would have gotten baited into blowing up during his first debate and been labeled too hotheaded for office. I won’t even consider the slavery issue in regard to the early presidents.

    I sometimes worry we will never see another great president because we have become so focused on finding flaws in the character of a politician. Essentially, the best candidates in the modern era are not those with great strengths, but those with the least damaging weakness. I don’t think this system has produced or will produce many good presidents. I just don’t see an impressive candidate emerging for ’08.

    My take on Bush’s legacy is that there isn’t a very good chance his image will be rehabilitated. Iraq will decide his fate. If things stabilize significantly, even in the next ten years, there is a chance he will get the credit. Also, Bush has the advantage that if there is no terrorist attack on America in the near future, he will claim his war on terror is the reason. Conversely, if there is an attack, he will use it as proof the war was justified.

    However, I don’t think the region will stabilize anytime soon and Bush will be held accountable. First, I think historians will view Afghanistan as a legitimate measure but be much more skeptical about the rationale for invading Iraq. Secondly, his “Reverse Domino theory” idea that Iraq would become a secular democracy that would propel surrounding countries to adopt a democratic form of government showed an incredible ignorance of the history and culture of Iraq and the Middle East in general. It was a pipe dream. Well intentioned but totally impractical. In my opinion that was far less likely to succeed than Wilson’s League or 14 Points and Wilson often gets criticized as an idealist who ignored reality.

    My biggest criticism of Bush regarding the war is his failure to plan adequately for Iraq’s future. In the lead up to the war, I told anyone who would listen that the problem wasn’t winning the war, despite all the crap the administration put out about how challenging a foe the Iraqi army would be. The problem was winning the peace. Victory in the war was a forgone conclusion but keeping things in order after the war was not. I was literally dumbfounded when the administration said they did not bother planning for the post war because they couldn’t know what Iraq would look like after the war. That is just asinine. In my opinion, what was missing was a Marshall Plan for Iraq. We should have been ready to rebuild the country immediately, especially to provide basic things like water and electricity. With a decent economy and status of living, there was a chance for a steady government, though not of our choosing. When a guy has a good job, money in his pocket and a happy family he is not a likely terrorist recruit. I really worry that we had one shot to get it right, and we missed. I have no idea how to put things in order now. Maybe another Marshall Plan could still have a positive effect, but I have my doubts. I think the comparisons to Vietnam are inevitable, no matter how much some people don’t want to hear them. In the end, I think we will see a Shi’ite dominated Iraqi government with close ties to Iran. Not exactly what George had in mind and not good for his political legacy.

    Jamie

  • STM

    Bush’s real problem is that while he’s a good American politician, and knows the local issues from a conservative point of view, like a lot of American politicians – sadly – he doesn’t a) know much about the rest of the world and b) what he does know is skewed by advisers in Washington. Indeed, many US presidents have relied totally on these advisers when making their decisions, with some notable exceptions.

    Problem there is that if you’ve appointed them in the first place, a lot of them are only going to tell the Prez what he wants to hear or push their own barrows in the implicit knowledge that the Prez doesn’t really know what’s going on.

    Bush would be hard-pushed knowing all the main issues of the day on any given day, I’d wager, which for the leader of the free world is not good.

    In the case of Iraq, the advice he got was appalling. In this case of Afghanistan (and it’s telling that a lot more countries have joined the fight there), less so but I believe that’s been more a matter of luck than good management.

    The whole thing was poorly planned and beyond the first assault stage, very poorly executed. It remains so.

    The US is hampered in this case by a military with its own agenda. The classic example would be the failure by many in the pentagon to recognise the role to be played by larger units of proper special forces (not the Green Beret type, but the Delta or SAS type). The type that gives you more bang for less buck, and isn’t always having to apologise for “collateral damage”. If you have to fight these kinds of wars, and sometimes you do, armed social work is a lot better than plain armed. Or in this case, way over-armed and equipped with little knowledge of the sensitivities involved.

    The US was way behind in the establishment of these kinds of operations because for years, the generals in the pentagon saw no need for them. The Vietnam debacle was one area where use of such real counter-insurgency operations could have borne some fruit, but has anyone learned?

    It’s well known that Charlie Beckwith, the founder of Delta, somehow managed to drum up some funding for it after spending a year with the SAS, and wanted something similar for the US Army.

    He kept running up against the top brass, who thought it was a Brit thing and wasn’t needed. History now shows it’s not a Brit thing, and that it was needed. What’s the use of having the world’s largest military if it can’t deal with a few insurgents planting improvised roadside bombs? Why spend all the money on a huge airforce with nothing to do, or have all those ships rusting away in San Diego when the only real enemy is a few lunatics with tea-towels on their heads?

    Meanwhile, too many Americans struggle to pay their health bills and exist on mimimum wages while billions are spent on obscene amounts of military hardware.

    The Iraq thing, though, went really pear-shaped when some genius sent a bunch of reservist correctional officers from small-town America, many of whom had never been out of the county they grew up in, to Abu Ghraib and tasked them with one of the most sensitive jobs in Iraq.

    That they stuffed up so royally is testmant to really bad planning, and really poor management – not something you’d generally associate with Americans, but the buck stops at the top: at Bush and Co, and their really poor understanding of the history of the region and the hornet’s nest they were sticking their fingers into.

    For that reason alone, Bush goes down in my book as a president who sits at the bottom of this list and who has failed to grasp the reality of America’s position in the world and the role it should play.

    Perhaps the whole track of it could be avoided by having American kids learn geography and the nature and role of other world cultures – from the level of grade school onwards.

    Seriously, it might help. The US needs to look at the world from the world’s point of view, rather than from the American if it really to fulfil the role in which it sees itself.

  • Clavos

    For the record, Dwight D. Eisenhower was a graduate of West Point.

  • STM

    The greatest US president, IMO, by a country mile: FDR.

    The leader of the greatest American generation, and a true leader on the world stage.

    He makes some of the others look pretty piss poor by comparison. Yes, history dealt him a hand, but the cards weren’t all good.

    Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Sad for George that he couldn’t follow suit in equally demanding times.

  • schuhbox

    STM’s last comments bring to mind the old debate – do great men make history or does history make great men? Your thoughts?

  • STM

    A bit of both, and it depends on the situations they are in at the time. I would say in the case of FDR, facing the isolationists at home and having to hedge his bets until the all the cards were on the table courtesy of imperial Japan, mainly the latter. In the case of Winston Churchill, forced to act in defence of shared freedoms, our common beliefs and way of life by standing up alone to a bully and his murderous and brutal ideology, mainly the former.

    And lo and behold, the two fit together like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Together, they saved the world from absolute tyranny. Alone, it remains questionable as to what the outcomes might have been.

    And given the sacrifice involved, it’s a bit sad that the legacy hasn’t continued in the way they might have hoped. Both men would be turning in their graves right now, I suspect.

    Food for thought, though.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle


    I sometimes worry we will never see another great president because we have become so focused on finding flaws in the character of a politician.

    Look at the candidates we have now. Do you see any small aura of greatness around any of them? Do you think there’s one among them who could rise to a challenge like 9/11 or WW2 and become great as a result? I see a bunch of Wilsons who would crumble under pressure and Hoovers who wouldn’t know what to do in response to a crisis.

    Maybe we could expect more from Giuliani based on his performance after 9/11, but that raises the question of whether he’d be a good president WITHOUT a crisis or if, god forbid, he’d have to create a crisis just to prove how great he is.

    Dave

  • http://absent-mind.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    To put it bluntly, a president is the guy that was likable and believable enough to get elected. His performance at the job depends ENTIRELY on how smart his advisors are-the ones who really do the thinking for him.

    The problem with Bush is that they’ve been letting him think for himself lately…

  • schuhbox

    STM I’m a great fan of Churchill myself. I have incredible respect for what he and the British people faced during WW 2. It seems that today the argument is that either the Soviets were the most important of the Allies because they lost so many men and killed so many Germans, or that the US was the most important because of its manufacturing power and prominent role against both the Germans and Japanese. Yet, had Britain not stood alone against the Nazis for a year and a half, history would have been very different. Had the Brits made a treaty with Hitler and surrendered the Fleet, which Hitler surely would have required, Germany would have been a threat to this hemisphere. With Britain out of the war the Soviets would have faced a larger German army and the Germans would have had access to the Suez and oil in the Middle East, as well as the ability to drive at the Caucasus from the south. Frightening scenario. Thank God for Churchill.

    Regarding FDR, you also have to remember that he led the country through the Depression. Did he end the Depression? No. But he got us through. FDR is often criticized for acting a little, or a lot, like a dictator and greatly increasing presidential power. The Court packing scheme was ugly, to be sure. Yet, FDR may have had the chance to become a real dictator and turned it down. In the early 1930’s some of the countries that appeared to be battling the Depression best were run by dictators, including Germany and Italy under Hitler and Mussolini. There were many people in the US who believed that America needed a similar strong man at the head who could act more forcefully without waiting for Congressional backing. Among those advocating what would essentially amount to an American dictatorship was one of the most distinguished and respected journalists in our history, Walter Lippman; who actually wrote to the President suggesting he form a private army composed of disgruntled WW I veterans. In the end, FDR had the good sense to ignore that suggestion.

    As Dave mentioned, Hoover basically sat by and watched the country fall apart, trusting that business would right itself. He also did nothing to allay the fears and anger of the American people. FDR was far from perfect in his judgments, but the people knew he was trying and that was something. One issue characterizes the difference between FDR and Hoover. The Bonus Army was a group of WW I veterans who marched on Washington hoping to collect the bonuses they had been promised for service during the war. Hoover sent out the real army, interestingly enough led by MacArthur and Patton, to forcibly remove them. A few years later, when the Bonus Army again camped out in DC, FDR sent Eleanor to hand out cookies. Did that solve their problems? No. But the Depression was real in more than the economic sense. Suicide rates increased because people had lost so much and saw no hope. At minimum, FDR gave them hope.

    I would say, more often that not, history makes great men. But sometimes history has to wait for the right man to come along. From the time of the Missouri Compromise in 1820, if not from the very beginning of our country, it was clear that the slavery issue had to be resolved. All of the presidents from JQ Adams to Buchanan, including the highly regarded Jackson, were unable and generally unwilling to put an end to the issue. Any of them could have been Lincoln, but none of them were. Now, some may argue that South Carolina decided for Lincoln that the moment of truth had arrived, but Lincoln’s character certainly forced the issue. I’ve already discussed Hoover and FDR. Considering his track record in Vietnam, would LBJ have stood up to the military advisors who were basically demanding an invasion of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis? One of the things I like about history is pondering these “What Ifs?”

    As far as the current crop of candidates, I don’t see a true leader in the bunch. I have always respected people who are willing to do the right thing even when it is unpopular. Decisions like Truman desegregating the army or Ike standing up in Little Rock come to mind. The current drop all look like poll watchers. Giuliani is a little interesting to me because he has stood by his convictions regarding gun control, gay rights and abortion which go against the grain of his party. Now, I don’t agree with all those issues, but he’s showing me something. If the election were today, I guess he’d get my vote. I used to think McCain was a guy willing to buck the party line of he thought it was wrong, but now I have my doubts. Regardless of who wins the nomination I’ll likely vote for one of those guys. Interestingly, most people would call me a Dem, though I like to think I’m Independent. I just find it ridiculous to believe that in every election, the guy from your party is a better candidate than the guy from the other party. Do people honestly believe there is not a single Dem/Rep worth electing? Similarly, I have a hard time believing that anyone who completely follows a party platform is doing much thinking for themselves.

  • Wayne Brady

    im wayne brady bitch!

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    Having thought long and hard about this (which is why I’m coming back to it months later), I’m having a hard time understanding why Andrew Jackson is so highly ranked?

    His economic policy was a disaster, creating a severe depression that took years to resolve and an instability of currency supply that wasn’t really resolved until the creation of the Federal Reserve 80 years later.

    He greatly enhanced the spoils system of office appointment that we’ve never really gotten away from.

    He labeled the abolitionists as “monsters” and pushed the Gag Rule in Congress that prevented them from discussing the slavery issue.

    He appointed as Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the man behind the Dred Scott decision.

    And, of course, he forcibly removed the Cherokee from Georgia, in direct and blatant violation of the Supreme Court and the Constitution, effectively initiating genocide against the Cherokee, which stands alongside Watergate as arguably the most serious ground for presidential impeachment in U.S. history.

    So why his high historical ranking?

  • bliffle

    I agree: Jackson was overrated. IMO some people rank him high merely because he was so noisy and aggressive. He did sensational things and made big messes. But there are a lot of people who like such things, so they rate them highly, almost as if politics was merely an adjunct of Show Business. Jackson was a celebrity politician. Sort of a political Britney Spears.

  • Joe

    I think John Adams was a great president. He did things against his own party thoughts but stood firm in what he beleived was right for the USA. Example, not going to war with France, he took alot of political heat from Congress and his Federalist Party but saved many lives! At a time when the country was still young and growing he decided against war.

  • Ben

    You people need to get a life….

  • Ben

    Stop touching yourself in that tone of voice