C-SPAN has released the results of its second annual presidential leadership survey. The survey asks historians to rank U.S. presidents using a pre-determined list of criteria. This year, Lincoln tops the list.
I have always found these types of surveys bizarre, yet innocuous. First, "ranking" a president seems strange because multiple factors will determine how a president's contemporaries view him or her (perhaps, some day). But as time passes, new issues will shape a president's standing among future generations. Also, most of these studies poll historians. Although I respect the expertise that historians have in discussing the historical impact of particular presidents, scholars in other fields, such as political science, economics, and law, could make valuable contributions to this subject as well. Nevertheless, the study provides annual space for harmless trivia and debate.
Yes, Democratic Underground: Andrew Johnson Ranks Much Lower Than Bush
This year's study, as do most others, places Lincoln at the top. Although many liberal historians and politicians have recently argued that Bush is the absolute worst president (a claim I vigorously dispute), Dubya ranked 36 (out of 42). Immediately following Lincoln in the top five are: George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
The bottom five included (from bad to worst): Warren G. Harding, William Henry Harrison, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, and James Buchanan. Previously, I described Andrew Johnson as possibly the "worst" president due to his callous efforts to kill Reconstruction and perpetuate the subordination of black people, and based on his awful conflicts with the Republican Party, which almost led to his removal from office. My analysis upset the crowd at Democratic Underground who seemingly believed that any argument that did not consider Bush the worst president emanated from a vile and corrupt mind. Does anyone know how the kids are reacting to the release of this survey?
Lyndon B. Johnson: Number 11
I am happy to see that LBJ ranks number 11. Many liberals despise Johnson due to the Vietnam War and his crass Southern persona. But Johnson actually did more than any other president -- including Kennedy -- to advance racial equality, assistance for the poor, public education, public health care, and general civil rights concerns.
Nevertheless, Johnson typically gets less credit on these liberal issues than he deserves, while Kennedy tends to receive far more acclaim on these matters than his performance warrants. Of course, social movements played a critical and essential role in pushing Johnson towards these accomplishments. The engagement of social movements with presidential leadership allowed for the dramatic political and social changes of the Johnson administration.