Rating the Presidents, 2017

Today C-SPAN released the 2017 version of its rankings of the presidents. Yours truly was one of the 91 scholars who participated.

Given how popular Gordon Wood appears to be with some bloggers, I wonder what those folks will make of the fact that we’re both on the same panel. 🙂

19 thoughts on “Rating the Presidents, 2017

  1. Shoshana Bee February 18, 2017 / 12:46 am

    In my line of work, I look at lists of numbers in columns and extrapolate trends at a glance (I have to be fast, or I risk being replaced by a computer) Looking at the overall trend for the presidential rankings at a glance, I was personally satisfied to see that U. S. Grant was the most rehabilitated over the survey period, followed by Bill Clinton (Grant improved by 11 places, Clinton by 6, respectively) On the other end of the spectrum, we have Hayes and Cleveland tied for largest drop in popularity (both dropped by 6 places since 2000). Lincoln, Jefferson, and Taft remain unchanged in their places for all three years.

    The first four places remain almost unchanged over the years surveyed. I found this most interesting, However, the president that I was most interested in was Thomas Jefferson. Why? Because in recent years there has been much dialogue on his attitudes about slavery, hypocrisy, questionable role modeling, etc. I expected to see a drop. I was somewhat relieved to see that those surveyed seemed unaffected by popular culture’s fickle towards its historical rock stars:Jefferson was one of the three presidents who did not change status over the three years surveyed.

    Next: I will rank my favourite elements on the Periodical Table 🙂

  2. Mark Snell February 18, 2017 / 7:05 am

    How was it possible to rate William Henry Harrison when he died only 32 days into his administration? His platform? Choice of running mate? I also noticed that there were many historians on the panel whose field was NOT presidential history. As far as President Obama being listed, don’t historians need “time and space” to make an objective assessment?

  3. Joshism February 18, 2017 / 8:31 am

    The Smithsonian Museum of American History had an exhibit on the US Presidents when I was there a few months ago. Visitors could use a touch screen to vote for their favorite president. After voting you could see the current ranking of votes.

    The top ranked presidents were the usual two (Lincoln and Washington) followed by Reagan, Obama, and Bush II (not necessarily in that exact order) before picking up with the usual suspects like FDR and TR. I thought it said alot about how skewed the public’s opinion of the presidency is.

  4. John Foskett February 18, 2017 / 8:57 am

    An interesting set of results with much for debate. Harding, for example. What were the criteria (if any)? And what did you think of the NHL 100? 🙂

  5. Mark Pethke February 19, 2017 / 1:02 pm

    On the contrary, I wonder if Jefferson’s “rock star” status is the only thing keeping him in the Top Ten. He’s the poster child for the notion that second terms can be disastrous for Presidential reputations. The Louisiana Purchase must count for an awful lot in historian’s estimations, because The Embargo Act and other second term misadventures would surely sink him otherwise.

  6. hankc9174 February 19, 2017 / 4:20 pm

    I’m always surprised at Ike’s high ratings. He did a good job of maintaining the status quo but i’m hard-pressed to name any advances on his presidential watch.

    • hankc9174 March 3, 2017 / 7:32 am

      I’d like to see something along the lines of ‘100 greatest moments in American history’ and correlate them to the presidency. Or perhaps nominate the greatest accomplishment during each and rank them.

      Rosa Parks stand took place during Eisenhower’s but I wouldn’t give him ‘credit’.

      He also reflected that appointing Chief Justice Warren was the worst mistake he ever made.

  7. TFSmith February 20, 2017 / 11:34 am

    DDE did order the 101st Airborne into Arkansas to enforce de-segregation, and federalized the Arkansas NG to take the force out of the hands of Faubus, setting the standard for the remainder of the Civil Rights Era – and he issued the MIC warning, which certainly has echoes to today.

    And he managed to avoid stumbling into Vietnam in support of the French in 1954 and the British, French, and Israelis in Egypt in 1956.

    Please delete the previous version.

    • Mark Snell February 21, 2017 / 5:52 am

      I agree with Task Force Smith. Ike also signed the legislation that created NASA.

      • TFSmith March 1, 2017 / 8:01 am

        Of course, he also signed off on Guatemala and Iran, so he made his share of idiotic decisions.

    • Kristoffer February 21, 2017 / 6:36 am

      True about Ike’s civil rights support. Being “hard-pressed to name any advances on his presidential watch” was a contemporary criticism of Truman, a criticism which has since been dropped. Speaking of which, Truman had his own civil rights credentials, namely running in 1948 on a platform which included civil rights, desegregating the federal government and the armed forces during the 1948 election campaign, and other work.

  8. Helga Ross March 2, 2017 / 4:24 pm

    Hi Brooks,

    The biography I’ve just begun reading is most timely in terms of your topic.
    ‘Being Nixon: A Man Divided’, by Evan Thomas.
    Here’s what I just posted to my Yahoo Group:

    Pardon the pun: At present, politically,’the plot thickens….reminding me of Watergate–and the President I despised for as long as I’ve been alive to the subject, politics.

    So-o-o It took me this long to bring myself to find and filter through the many renditions for a Bio on Richard Nixon I can bear to read. Because balance, on balance.

    I suppose, because I’m curious; I want to know how he got that way.

    Why do I loath him so, while not knowing all there is to know about him? Because of his politics from my earliest remembrance, his role in McCarthyism. I was young but not so young I didn’t find it disturbing or forgettable.

    I cried the first time he was elected. The second time, I was no less resigned.

    I suppose I can console myself that my deep reservations about him were borne out.

    Anyway, I can tell already I found the right book: I’m into reading ‘Being Nixon A Man Divided’ by Evan Thomas. I cannot say the author is unkind.

    By the same token, JFK is the President of Presidents of my lifetime, imho. His imperfection, only learned later, was relative to his office, comparatively benign. My aspiration, because of him, was the Peace Corps; my inspiration validated by James W. Douglass’s ‘JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters’.

    I haven’t watched C-Span, so forgive & indulge me, if I ask you how you contributed to raising his ranking, if you did. Hopefully, you’ll indulge me. We get to ask you questions, as well as respond?

    Thanks, Brooks,

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 2, 2017 / 10:54 pm

      Hi Helga–

      There are those who say that my writings on Grant offered a more positve view of his political kills and the challenges he faced. My interest was not in elevating him, but understanding him, and if that’s the result, so be it.

  9. Charles lovejoy March 6, 2017 / 5:29 pm

    I rate Grant as one of the US best. Far from perfect but …Grant took over a disaster, he left the country in better than it was when he wad elected. IMHO

  10. Charles lovejoy March 6, 2017 / 5:34 pm

    But Theodore Roosevelt being a progressive I rank him at the top.

  11. Ned March 6, 2017 / 11:45 pm

    Criteria seem opaque to me — Moral Authority? Performance Within Context of Times?.What do those really mean?

    There is definitely a love affair with the WWII-Cold War era — half of the top 10 cover the period from 1932 to 1968.

    Just as Clinton has risen in with distance, and even W has come up a couple spots, I expect Obama will climb with time. Though he has dropped a couple places each poll, seems to me historians are still overly enamored by Woodrow Wilson,

  12. Nathan Towne August 3, 2017 / 6:36 pm

    Interesting. I would say that I don’t agree very much at all with the rankings, but that is understandable as I often seem to see issues a bit differently than some other people do.

    • Nathan Towne August 4, 2017 / 7:59 am

      I should probably add to my above comment that while it is an interesting experiment, it is also probably one that really tells us more about those formulating the rankings than it does about the President’s themselves. Americans positions are so fundamentally disparate regarding the most foundational of core ideological and legal values that an experiment like this one can demonstrate very effectively where those formulating the ratings are coming from and what amongst those values and/or assumptions are most important to them. Two Americans with the same knowledge of events would often see things quite differently than the other. Whether for better or for worse, the reality is that academics tend to lean to the left of the center of American politics and as anyone can see, that is fairly clearly apparent in these rankings. That isn’t necessarily why if I were to attempt to formulate a ranking that it would probably look a bit different. That isn’t the point and that is not what I am saying. The point is simply that the perspective of the panel is clearly revealed here, a point which is not surprising due to the nature of the question that is being addressed, but a reality that is nonetheless readily apparent.

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