Political History

Ranking the Presidents

Just in time for Presidents Day, C-SPAN has an updated survey of 91 historians that ranks the presidents from best to worst.

Here are the top 10:

  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. George Washington
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  4. Theodore Roosevelt
  5. Dwight D. Eisenhower
  6. Harry S Truman
  7. Thomas Jefferson
  8. John F. Kennedy
  9. Ronald Reagan
  10. Lyndon Johnson

Of our most recent presidents, Barack Obama is currently ranked 12th, Bill Clinton is 15th, George H. W. Bush is 20th, Jimmy Carter is 26th and George W. Bush is 33rd.

The Biggest Liar In Presidential History

Los Angeles Times: “Presidents of all stripes and both major political parties have bent, massaged or shaded the truth, elided uncomfortable facts or otherwise misled the public — unwittingly or, sometimes, very purposefully.”

“But White House scholars and other students of government agree there has never been a president like Donald Trump, whose volume of falsehoods, misstatements and serial exaggerations — on matters large and wincingly small — place him ‘in a class by himself.'”

The Book Bannon Wants the White House to Read

“Over the past three months, Steve Bannon has been reading David Halberstam’s book, The Best and the Brightest. (A NYT reporter spotted him with the book in an airport in December.),” Axios reports.

“It’s a devastating account of self-regard, delusion, and the tragic series of miscalculations that led America into Vietnam. The book shaped Bannon’s thinking during the transition, and he recommended it to associates, including Jared Kushner and Anthony Scaramucci, as a warning against hubris.”

Donald Trump vs. Andrew Jackson

Jon Meacham: “The biggest distinction is experience. Jackson came to the presidency as a former judge, general, senator and presidential candidate. Despite his rabble-rousing image — opponents worried Jackson would become an ‘American Bonaparte’ — Jackson was in fact at home in the precincts of power because he’d been around the capital a good deal before becoming president.”

“The other key difference is that Jackson knew how to manage his own weaknesses. He wasn’t always successful at it, but a Jacksonian temper tantrum or threat was often calculated, not unhinged. We don’t yet know whether Trump can pull off the same feat of compensating for — and even leveraging — his hypersensitivity, for instance, and his weakness for hyperbole and chaos. I hope he can do what Jackson did and turn these vices into means for virtuous ends. To me, that’s perhaps the greatest question about Trump and temperament.”

Meacham’s book, American Lion: Andrew Jackon in the White House, is highly recommended.

Liberal Disappointment with Obama Will Fade

James Hohmann notes that every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt “has left behind a swath of disillusioned lefties when he left office – only to see his image markedly improve among the base after a Republican subsequently took office.”

Bill Clinton is now remembered fondly by Democrats for presiding over a pre-9/11 period of peace and prosperity, but so many liberals were despondent during his tenure about everything from throwing Zoe Baird under the bus at the beginning to pardoning Marc Rich at the end – as well as shepherding through NAFTA, jacking up mandatory minimums, embracing welfare reform and elevating Dick Morris in between.

Jimmy Carter is remembered now for his post-presidency embrace of humanitarian causes. But he almost got defeated by Ted Kennedy, running at him from the left, in the 1980 Democratic primaries. He never pushed comprehensive health care reform, but he did cut capital gains taxes and deregulate the airline and trucking industries.

Obama was often compared negatively by liberals during the last few years to Lyndon Johnson, a wheeler-dealer who successfully cajoled a Congress dominated by segregationists to pass civil rights and voting rights acts. Most seem to forget that he dropped out of contention for the Democratic nomination in 1968 after liberal opposition, driven mainly by Vietnam, metastasized. He also hardly got anything done in his final two years because of Republican gains in the 1966 midterms.

Harry Truman, now venerated as a liberal fighter who gave ‘em hell, watched as more than a million progressives defected to Henry Wallace in 1948 because they were mad about his record on labor and his failure to expand the New Deal.

It’s Really Hard to Block a Cabinet Nominee

Nathaniel Rakich: “From 1977 to 2013, the last six incoming presidents — Jimmy Carter through Barack Obama — made 109 appointments to Cabinet-level positions. Just six failed: Five nominees withdrew, and one was voted down by the Senate. The Senate confirmed 103 during the same span, 93 of whom were unanimously approved or not seriously contested. Ten were confirmed in contested votes. (I’m defining “contested” as more than six nay votes — admittedly a somewhat arbitrary cutoff.) Including the one rejection, that means that, whenever there was genuine dissent over a floor vote, the nominee was confirmed anyway 10 times out of 11.”

The New Nixon

James Hohmann: “Trump is not just the most emotionally fragile president since Nixon: He’s literally planning to hang a framed letter from R.N. in the Oval Office. He modeled his RNC speech last summer off Nixon’s from 48 years earlier. Repudiating Reaganism, which won the Cold War, he’s embracing Nixon’s ‘madman theory’ of foreign policy. He’s consulting with the disgraced former president’s advisers. He’s stocking his West Wing with his protégés – including one whom he has decided to stand by despite egregious plagiarism that no other White House would tolerate.”

When Grudges Weren’t Settled by Tweets

Tom Eblen: “When politicians want to settle scores these days, they often pick up their phones and tweet insults at each other. Things were more dangerous in Henry Clay’s time.”

“The Lexington resident, who was one of America’s most prominent statesmen in the early 19th century, fought two duels with pistols against political opponents, and he suffered a wound that left him with a slight limp for the rest of his life.”