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What Makes A Good President? Maybe, Not What You Think!

I mentioned that my approach to matching Presidents against each other in competition would be somewhat radical. This is, in part, because I mean to challenge the common assumptions made, and for that I must begin with the criteria which is so often used in comparing Presidents.

I did some looking around, and I found the following six words used the most often to describe an effective President:

Honesty
Integrity
Intelligence
Leadership
Judgment
Patriotism

These are all good, desirable qualities, but there is a glaring problem with any of them. They are all subjective values, determined by how the grader feels. That's a big red flag for me, and one reason why time often changes the position which Presidents occupy. And it gets no better when you look at professional historians. A site called "History News Network" examined President George W. Bush, mainly in terms of whether or not he is the "worst President ever" or merely just a "failure". The article is no better than a smear job, obvious when one notes that the qualities of famous failures are subdued in favor of slamming the current Commander-in-Chief. The historians were every bit as biased and subjective as popular polls have been, with the exception that the worthy folks at George Mason University attempted to present their tilt as an objective finding. But that is neither here nor there, for our purposes. It means for us to consider, carefully, how we shall avoid the same blunder in measuring these men. The historians used a largely negative yardstick, measuring all Presidents in such categories as "economic damage", "imperialism", "dishonesty", and "arrogance". All words which can be, and are, liberally applied to paint a selected target in foul colors. Such a circular argument is useless on its face.

I also eschew the complex examination. That is, if great detail matters, one should endeavor to read some of the many fine biographies of Presidents, but the sheer volume of information would be unwieldy in the extreme here. So, I have determined to walk through five basic qualities of Presidential responsibility, and to try to set out some standards for certain levels in each skill. These five areas are determined by the needs of the United States through its Presidential History (since 1789, that is). They are:

[] Responsible Attention to Military Threats and Needs
[] Responsible Attention to the Economy
[] Responsible Attention to the Balance of Branch Authority
[] Responsible Attention to the U.S. Constitution
[] Responsible Attention to Advancing/Protecting American Interests

With apologies to Mr. Gore, I am afraid that "green" activism is not a mark of a responsible President of the United States. With apologies to Ms. Clinton, I must contend that advancing Socialism is not in the best interests of the Nation. With apologies to Rev. Sharpton, I observe that the President of the United States is not obliged to show preferential treatment towards a racial minority, and is in fact obliged to rather oppose racial, gender, or cultural bias in his performance and decisions. The careful reader will observe that the responsibilities of the President of the United States are, in some ways, much different than the responsibilities of the Congress of the United States and of the Judiciary of the United States, to say nothing of the state, county, and local levels of government. There is, admittedly, still a risk of subjectivity in even these more-clearly defined areas of duty, but at least we can establish certain benchmarks for these categories before we assign values to individual Presidents. And as I mentioned earlier, each of these areas will differ in their weight of significance according to different conditions and times.

Next, defining the benchmarks


Comments (35)

HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM Lets see, ... (Below threshold)
Jeff:

HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM Lets see, republican presidents all get 10's and demorcatic presidents get 0's. Spare us your bullshit "defining benchmarks". "There is, admittedly, still a risk of subjectivity in even these more-clearly defined areas of duty, but at least we can establish certain benchmarks for these categories before we assign values to individual Presidents". Still a risk of subjectivity, eh? I can't imagine.

You know, Jeff, no one is <... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

You know, Jeff, no one is making you even read these columns, so if you cannot even begin to consider that this is an honest attempt to explore the office without falling into the predictable ruts and feuds, maybe you should go look for what suits your taste. Assuming results in advance of the examination, much less whining about them, is rather like going into a Burger King and exclaiming how shocked - shocked! - you are that they sell hamburgers there.

Believe me or not as you wish, but I am trying to sort out a way to compare Presidents on something like an even playing field. Not everyone's cup of tea, and it will be boring to many here. But I honestly believe we can deduce who, in either party, would be good for the country for some better reason than they belong to the 'correct' party or they fit the 'proper' demographic.

With apologies to Mr. Go... (Below threshold)
sean nyc/aa:

With apologies to Mr. Gore, I am afraid that "green" activism is not a mark of a responsible President of the United States.
DJ Drummond

Responsible Attention to Advancing/Protecting American Interests
DJ Drummond

Some might say, these go hand in hand. Aren't keeping our waterways and air less polluted protecting American interests?

Also, DJ misses a rather large "benchmark" or whatever you want to call it; namely, leadership in a time of crisis and/or war. Katrina was the most devastating natural disaster in US history and Bush's performance during that crisis was certainly sub-par (this is not to defend Blanco or Nagin). To properly be able to judge a president, there must be some way to account for these events, and DJ's current list does not include a parameter that does.

By the second set of standa... (Below threshold)
blackcat77:

By the second set of standards, GW Bush is an even greater failure than the first.

[] Responsible Attention to Military Threats and Needs
He invaded a country which was irrelevant to the threat of terrorism, did so without a viable military plan and then refused to change strategy -- if there ever was one to begin with -- even when it was obvious to all that it was an utter failure.

[] Responsible Attention to the Economy
He went from the greatest surplus in history to the greatest deficit during his time in office. It's unheard-of to conduct a war and lower taxes at the same time and our great-great grandchildren will still be paying for his irresponsibility.

[] Responsible Attention to the Balance of Branch Authority
He's made it clear in all respects that he believes the executive branch is superior to the others.

[] Responsible Attention to the U.S. Constitution
He's shredded our individual liberties in the name of "security." At long last, even the congressional Republicans are acknowledging that federal agencies are trampling the rights of citizens.

[] Responsible Attention to Advancing/Protecting American Interests
The main problem with Bush in this respect is that he defines "American" interests in a very limited way -- primarily stuff like petroleum and his perception of American culture. The result is a single-minded focus on the mideast even when the terrorist threat extends far beyond the places which happen to be rich in oil reserves. And then there are things like his defunding of medical clinics unless they march to the religious philosophies which define the Republican party line. Such things are losing us friends all over the world right when we need them the most.

Sorry Sean, but I am trying... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Sorry Sean, but I am trying to avoid the purely subjective, and boy howdy the way people describe someone's "Leadership" is smack in the middle of that minefield.

You do realize, blac... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

You do realize, blackcat, that every step of your argument can be - and has been - turned about and used to support or defame other specific Presidents, solely because the writer liked ot hated them?

Seriously, how is anyone supposed to get Democrats to consider a Republican as a possibly effective leader, or a Republican to consider a Democrat the same?

Same-old, same-old is a popular routine, but I am suggesting that you should challenge assumptions and and abandon the purely rhetorical attacks.

Intelligence, for instance. Many times, when someone is aware that it's useless to call a President "evil" or "criminal", they fall back on slightly less offensive but equally invalid accusations like "stupid" and "foolish". This is, to any clear-eyed review, nothing but an attempt to vent emotions and avoid having to consider why a President makes a certain decision. I contend that every President has qualities which made him qualified for the office, certainly ahead of other choices. Even the nine men who became President because their predecessor died or resigned, were in place to be President because they held the requisite attributes. No, I am not saying the Presidents are all equal in their performance or ability, but the denigration of entire groups of men solely because they belonged to a certain party, or the venomous hatred against selected individuals well beyond the bounds of rational criticism, is not going to get play here.

We can do better than character assassination, don't you think? If your answer is 'no' to even that basic expectation of civility, then don't expect me to take you seriously.

You forgot to mention the P... (Below threshold)
Kevin:

You forgot to mention the President is reasonable for boarder protection... I think all candidates would fail this one.

Kevin

Sorry Sean, but I am try... (Below threshold)
sean nyc/aa:

Sorry Sean, but I am trying to avoid the purely subjective, and boy howdy the way people describe someone's "Leadership" is smack in the middle of that minefield.
DJ Drummond

I understand that, but you're essentially loading the dice to get a desired outcome (ie constructing the test criteria in your own subjective way) if you ignore a huge and vital part of a president's performance.

I don't care if you call it "leadership" or "effectiveness" or "action items accomplished" or just "did he get off his ass?", but your measure of "what makes a good president?" will definitely be lacking if events like Katrina or other natural disasters cannot be accounted for.

I'm curious, Sean. Why do ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

I'm curious, Sean. Why do you say that? I arrived at these five responsibilities by examining the history of Presidents. For example, the role and use of military force has always been a significant responsibility which bears directly on the President. The President is the sole authority for initial deployment of troops, and as such is responsible for that decision. In your example of Katrina, on the other hand, an extant network of officials and agencies exists, and in the case of Katrina, I do not agree that the President directly bears responsibility for the response. In any sense, since response to Katrina 2005 was faster and more comprehensive than the response to Andrew 1995, Bush would actually gain points relative to Clinton, or relative to McKinley for the response to the 1900 hurricane which destroyed Galveston, or relative to Kennedy for the response to Carla 1961, if we judged by the time to respond, the amount of aid made available, or the preparation for anticipated effects. I left that out, for the simple fact that disaster response is a Federal task, but not primarily a Presidential duty.

A President can be credited or blamed for a number of things, some of which he does not have any control for, but I am focusing on the actual job description.

sean nyc said:B... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

sean nyc said:

Bush's performance during that crisis [Hurricane Katrina] was certainly sub-par...

Care to back up that gratuitous assertion? Or is this just assumed conventional wisdom based on your biases? Remember to compare with the performance of previous presidents in similar circumstances.

HMMM.Didn't Katrina ... (Below threshold)
SicSemperTyrannus:

HMMM.
Didn't Katrina also slam Florida about 3 or 4 days prior to hitting the Gulf Coast?
And, if I recall correctly, Katrina slammed Mississippi and Alabama. In fact Mississippi received the brunt of the storm surge and wind damage.
New Orleans was flooded because the levees breached, which occured because the Corps of Engineer funds intended for levee reinforcement ended up used as casino subsidies.
Let's see Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama: Republican governors who did their fricking jobs pre- and post-hurricane. Self-relkiant productive citizens.
New Orleans, Louisiana: Known nationwide as one of the most corrupt municipalites in one the most corrupt states in the country. Democrat mayor, Democrat Governor. Dependent, parasitic, non-productive citizens.

Let's leave off Katrina, pl... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Let's leave off Katrina, please. It truly is off-topic.

[ self-indulgent petulant w... (Below threshold)
Brian:

[ self-indulgent petulant whine, edited to remove all off-topic responses and attempts to derail the discussion ]

Mr. Drummond writes:... (Below threshold)
DaveD:

Mr. Drummond writes:
"The careful reader will observe that the responsibilities of the President of the United States are, in some ways, much different than the responsibilities of the Congress of the United States and of the Judiciary of the United States, to say nothing of the state, county, and local levels of government."

And I would have to agree. Along that line I wonder if the second of the 5 areas you have outlined should read: Responsible INattention to the economy.

I believe that your list describes closely what the founders envisioned as the responsibilities of the chief executive. I might be wrong and naive but I am not sure the founders would be comfortable often hearing statements from Congress such as (and I paraphrase) 'we are waiting for the President to send us his proposals on....' It seems we are in a time where the Congress (both the recent Republican Congress and the current Democratic-lead version)are content to wait for Bush to, basically, write the legislation and then do what he should be doing and enforce the law if they decide to even pass it. But we are not exactly in the era of Clay and Webster, Fulbright or Dirkson or Gingrich.....anymore.

[ Edited to remove insults ... (Below threshold)
nogo postal:

[ Edited to remove insults and derision. Please address the topic, do not make attacls on persons ]

[ Katrina is off-topic. No... (Below threshold)
sean nyc/aa:

[ Katrina is off-topic. No further comments on that point will be allowed to stand here, on either side ]

Good points Dave. I can't ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Good points Dave. I can't help but wonder, though, how the Founding Fathers might have responded to the underlying premises behind Keynesism and Monetarism.

[ personal attacks removed ... (Below threshold)
blackcat77:

[ personal attacks removed ]

Apparently, I was not clear... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Apparently, I was not clear enough before.

This is not the "I Hate Bush" or "I Hate Clinton" or "I Hate ____" thread.

This is a thread for discussing the requisite features of an effective President of the United States. The intent is not to promote or denigrate an ideology, an individual, or to see if we can lose civility faster than Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump at the same buffet bar.

Off-topic remarks and attempts to start fights will be removed. By anyone, on any side.

If you must descend to the sewer, there are plenty available. Elsewhere.

I'd add: Responsible attent... (Below threshold)
Socratease:

I'd add: Responsible attention to enforcement of US laws and defense of citizen's rights.

Actually, you're missing on... (Below threshold)

Actually, you're missing one other important thing. I got a chance to see David McCullough speak a few years back, and he said one essential for any president was a sense of humor. Is it as important, as, say, guarding the Constitution? Not really, no, but still not to be overlooked.

I'm curious, Sean. Why d... (Below threshold)
sean nyc/aa:

I'm curious, Sean. Why do you say that?

DJ, if you ask me a question, you should allow me to respond and keep my answer posted.

[ The rules were and are clear, Sean. ]

blackcat, I've found DJ to ... (Below threshold)
John Irving:

blackcat, I've found DJ to be very reasonable, even when I disagree with him, so it is likely that what you consider to be relevant criticism is likely more of the same ol' same ol'.

[] Responsible Attention to Military Threats and Needs
Bush gets a Good for this one. Excellent would require that he have done more from the beginning, probably involving ramming a blockade of all terror-supporting nations through the U.N. within days or weeks of 9/11.
[] Responsible Attention to the Economy
Also a Good rating. Tax cuts during an economic crisis proved to be the best plan, as both the economy and tax revenues rose. Standard in-the-box thinking would have entailed raising taxes to provide federal aid, which would have in turn further damaged a depressed economy coming off the double whammy of the DotCom bust and 9/11.
[] Responsible Attention to the Balance of Branch Authority
Bush gets an Average here, bordering on Poor. He has allowed the legislature to infringe on executive authority far too often, while not giving the courts enough credence when warranted.
[] Responsible Attention to the U.S. Constitution
Bush gets an Average, he has good and bad points here.
[] Responsible Attention to Advancing/Protecting American Interests

Bush gets an Average, same as before.

My $.02

Since I've been accused of ... (Below threshold)
blackcat77:

Since I've been accused of making this thread too personal, I'll list who I believe to be the best and worst presidents in each of the criteria. Hopefully that will be objective enough to keep everyone happy.

[] Responsible Attention to Military Threats and Needs
Best - Monroe, Worst - Wilson

[] Responsible Attention to the Economy
Best - FDR, Worst - Hoover

[] Responsible Attention to the Balance of Branch Authority
Best - Jefferson, Worst - GW Bush (and I'm sorry if you think that's personal, but the record speaks for itself, IMHO)

[] Responsible Attention to the U.S. Constitution
Best - Jefferson, Worst - Nixon

[] Responsible Attention to Advancing/Protecting American Interests
Best - Lincoln (who overcame the ultimate threat to our nation), Worst - Honestly, this is a tough call. It's hard to compare what our interests were across the years. Wilson waited too long to confront tyranny, and so did FDR. GW Bush exploited a threat to our nation with an attack on a nation who was no threat to us at all. Back at the turn of the 20th century, several presidents engaged in imperialist practices, which is hardly the proper way to promote our interests.

John Irving, if I might res... (Below threshold)
blackcat77:

John Irving, if I might respond to one of your points, I'd say that Bush Sr had the best response to threats of this nature when he formed a worldwide coalition to deal with the threat of Iraq. If we could have built on the foundation he created, Iran would be relatively easy to deal with, but when we went unilateral on Iraq, we alienated the very nations we need to keep a cap on both rogue states and terrorism.

This is not the "I Hate ... (Below threshold)
Taltos:

This is not the "I Hate Bush" or "I Hate Clinton" or "I Hate ____" thread.

But I do so hate those damnable underscores!

Anyway you've got your work cut out for you on this one. The ability to allow rational thought to override baser partisan impulses is in serious decline of late.

On economic policy:<p... (Below threshold)
Robert the original:

On economic policy:

The '70s were as bad economically as the '50s were good.

In the last 70 years I would give Reagan first, Kennedy second followed by Eisenhower, and then Clinton, the Bushes, and Truman on economic matters.

Carter, Nixon, Johnson and Ford would go to the bottom.

FDR is a special case that is hard to categorize. His social security was a huge success but many of the other depression era programs were socialist and not very effective. The war did more than anything else to continue the growth out of the depression, mostly due to war spending and the efficiency and productivity gains from women entering the workforce.

FDR surely belongs in the top group of Presidents, but not due to his, at times, somewhat shaky economic policy.

Anyone can pay attention to... (Below threshold)
Blue Neponset:

Anyone can pay attention to something. When you are in charge, however, the only thing that matters is results. If you want to claim any President or leader is successful then you need to be proactive about it and point to his/her achievements.

I was actually thinking abo... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

I was actually thinking about concrete examples of the qualitiesd described, but oh well.

Flipping the calendar to the future, what positive qualities are displayed by the 2008 hopefuls?

Here's something to think a... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

Here's something to think about; President's who've done arguably great things have also done things that are pretty bad.

John Adams, and the alien and sedition acts.
Lincoln, and violations of habeas corpus.
FDR packing the supreme court and imprisoning Japanese.

Question: do we subtract points for these things? How should it affect ratings?

I really don't have an opinion; I'm just curious if anyone has some interesting thoughts about this...

John, I think I'd flip two ... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

John, I think I'd flip two of your ratings. On Responsible Attention to the Economy, I'd have to give W only an Average, despite the tax cuts. This is because he has largely failed to check the growth in the size and cost of government, which I claim is a primary economic issue today. On the other hand I'd have to give him a Good in Advancing American Interests. Clearly, he has resisted becoming entangled in international deals with people whose intent is to do America harm. He abrogated the ABM treaty so that America could proceed with its missile defense, and he hasn't fallen into any Agreed Framework traps.

I say all this with the caveat that I think it is impossible to judge a President against his peers while he remains in office. I claim that we are only now getting the distance that we need to properly judge Clinton, Bush Sr., and Reagan.

For a concrete example of t... (Below threshold)
kim:

For a concrete example of the desired qualities, I'm pretty sure you can't top Alice Cooper; I doubt he'd take it on, though.
===================================

Blackcat77"[] R... (Below threshold)
Chris G:

Blackcat77

"[] Responsible Attention to Military Threats and Needs
He invaded a country which was irrelevant to the threat of terrorism, did so without a viable military plan and then refused to change strategy -- if there ever was one to begin with -- even when it was obvious to all that it was an utter failure."

Kind of like fighting block by block, farm by farm across Europe to fight the Germans, after the Japenese bombed Pearl Harbor. And even as the US suffered heavy casualties, the only viable strategy was to just fight. Yeah, that's a deplorabe strategy.


[] Responsible Attention to the Economy
He went from the greatest surplus in history to the greatest deficit during his time in office. It's unheard-of to conduct

Wow, only took 8 years to go from the hand-wringing of Reagan's spend my grandkids into the poor house deficit spending to the largest surplus in history? Maybe if the next Dem president cuts military spending, and increases the taxes back to 39% and tax capital gains, the deficit will disappear in 6-8 years?

Also, budget surplus is what everyday folks call a profit. I didn't know the government was running a for profit operation. Say, how would you react if you went into a store and gave thhe clerk a $100.00 bill for items that cost $60.00. Instead of giving you back your change, he yells "Budget Surplus". What will you say? Give me back my damn change you crook? That's exactly what I said when I heard the term budget surplus.

[] Responsible Attention to the Balance of Branch Authority
He's made it clear in all respects that he believes the executive branch is superior to the others.

No, he just runs his shop like it is his shop. The Executive brach is equal to others. Congress does not provide oversite of the Executive branch. I could care less about 8 fired US attorneys. I want to know how scores of Congressman can stand up and say Sadaam had WMD's one day/we need to go to war/we are tough on terrorism and evolve to Bush is a liar/we were misslead/Bush's war (that we voted for) failed. In addition to things like finding 90K in cash in one congressman's office, another congressperson submitting minimum wage legislation that omits the largest company in her district, or the House Intel chair saying we need more troops, then making an opposite statement when the president says he will send more troops.

In other words, the Exectuive branch gets raked over the coals daily. The Legislative branch gets a passm especially now that the Dems run it

[] Responsible Attention to the U.S. Constitution
He's shredded our individual liberties in the name of "security." At long last, even the congressional Republicans are acknowledging that federal agencies are trampling the rights of citizens.

Typical liberal whine. From 6am to 12am, liberals from Lauer to Rosie to Katie to Jon Stewart to Letterman to Maher state Bush is eroding their rights. I don't remember seeing one of them with a jack boot sticking out of their asses, or getting audited by the IRS (Is it a coinicidence one of the top people in the IRS was a Clinton appointee and friend and many Clinton critics getting audited), or getting their show yanked.

You can't whine Bush let 9/11 happen then whine about your "civil rights" being trampled upon. To prevent another 9/11, he has to follow money trails, listen to phone calls COMING INTO THE STATES FROM OVERSEAS, and track suspicious behavior. In other wrods, he has to act in the affirmative, even if the legislative branch stands around making excuses/posturing

[] Responsible Attention to Advancing/Protecting American Interests
The main problem with Bush in this respect is that he defines "American" interests in a very limited way -- primarily stuff like petroleum and his perception of American culture. The result is a single-minded focus on the mideast even when the terrorist threat extends far beyond the places which happen to be rich in oil reserves. And then there are things like his defunding of medical clinics unless they march to the religious philosophies which define the Republican party line. Such things are losing us friends all over the world right when we need them the most.

??? American intersts are what they are.That's why Clinton bribed the Indian government with $20 million of US tax dollars so that Enron could build a plant there and that 4 days before the deal was approved, Enron donated 100K to the Clinton administration. Also, the UnoCal initiative (highhlighted in Michael Moore's 9/11 spoof) started under Clinton.

Also, when you say medical clinics do you mean abortion clinics? They should be defunded. A woamn's right to choose should not be subsidized by your grandchildren. If you are talking about stem cell research, the government funds adult stem cell research, not fetus stem cell research.

Most importantly, if 3,000 of my people has to die in the streets to get the world's sympathy, forget it. And the US has less friends than leeches. We are the adults in the house, almost everyone else acts like a petulant child until they need their parents to clean up their messes or protect them from some evil

THANK YOU ! CHRIS G.... (Below threshold)
Rob LA Ca.:

THANK YOU ! CHRIS G.

I'll see your Halliburton a... (Below threshold)
kim:

I'll see your Halliburton and raise you a Perini.
=============================




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