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How To Judge?

Betsy Newmark has touched on one of my favorite topics, ranking the U.S. Presidents. Like me, she laughs at the arrogance of elitist partisans judging George W. Bush as one of the worst Presidents, on what amounts to no more than purely subjective criteria. Unlike me, she thinks we must wait 20-25 years before we can properly assess a President's work. Not that I am opposed to noting that time changes perspective on a President, but certain things should be obvious about a President, sometimes even while he is still in office. And, since any ranking is unofficial in terms of its validity, I see no reason why a list should not be put together whenever the compiler chooses. With, of course, the caveat that any list may be criticized, and in some cases heckled, if that list should lack effective support for its contentions.

The question that keeps coming back is simple, but difficult: What objective standard can be used to define an effective or ineffective President? Some Presidents are almost universally respected and some almost universally derided, yet we cannot always find a clear objective explanation for their success or failure. As always, I have my own ideas but want to hear from you.

By the way, it's fiction time again on my personal site. If you like that sort of thing, have a look and let me know your thoughts there, as well.


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Comments (5)

The Best: William Henry Har... (Below threshold)

The Best: William Henry Harrison
The Reason: He died one month after taking office. You don't get to be more effective than that. And by effective, I mean not screwing up the country.

I get the feeling in 10-15 ... (Below threshold)
Chris G:

I get the feeling in 10-15 years, Bush will be comparable to Truman. I think he will end up better than average.

Carter is universally respected for his humanitarian efforts... and as a critic of Bush. But as a president, even liberals won't touch him with a 10 foot pole.

Clinton was a decent president.. he just won't STFU.

I don't know. I think most did "okay', and a few were really great or really inept. But I think as a whole, most would be within the same range of competency, with the exceptions way out on either end of the competency scale

DJ - AH, you've posted on a... (Below threshold)

DJ - AH, you've posted on a subject near-and-dear to my brain.

I don't like ranking presidents from "best" to "worst" because it's a useless way to look at them. No president ever faced the same set of circumstances, so we really don't know what each person would have done given the same set of circumstances. For example, Lincoln might have made a terrible peace-time president, and Benjamin Harrison might have made a great wartime president. We just don't know.

Rather, (these are the criteria I use) I like to look at each president in the context of his time, and determine how each man met the challenges of his era and how. Was he successful? Was he unsuccessful? More importantly, WHY? Did his decisions have repercussions (good, bad or neutral)? How did he use executive authority? Did he expand it? How well did he work with Congress? Did he reign in unconstitutional acts of Congress? Did he have a vision that expanded beyond his term of office? Was he faithful to his position? Did he use his office for petty reasons?

And so on. Using such criteria, the presidents emerge much more richly than mere ranking -- and they're better to understand and appreciate. (In other words, there really is no ONE single criteria to measure the presidents.)

And such criteria takes mere silly partisanship out of the picture. (That is, a policy difference is not a reason to impeach a president, though that has been attempted several times, not just by the moonbats of today.)

By using the criteria I've cited above, presidents such as Madison, Fillmore, Taylor and Grant have risen in estimation, while Jackson and Jefferson have fallen.

Lincoln had slavery and the... (Below threshold)

Lincoln had slavery and the civil war. He was very unliked at the time.

Teddy Roosevelt had "trust busters" and the federal wilderness land grab.

Roosevelt had the depression and Pearl Harbor.

Truman had the atomic bomb and the North Korean Invasion of South Korea.

GW Bush had the twin towers and the war on terror.

It takes a situation that is not planned on to show the greatness of a president. History will be very kind to GW. I totally disagree with GW on immigration, but his war on Islamofacists is right on. ww

For a modern, and I think f... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

For a modern, and I think fair, assessment of the Bush presidency read: World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism by Norman Podhoretz. It is quite good. Podhoretz highlights many similarities between Bush and Truman.






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