Historians’ rankings

HISTORIANS’ RANKINGS…. C-SPAN’s presidential rankings, based on surveys of historias, is one of those projects that’s meant to be a conversation piece. The process is inherently subjective, but kind of interesting anyway.

Timed for Presidents Day 2009, C-SPAN today releases the results of its second Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership, in which a cross-section of 65 presidential historians ranked the 42 former occupants of the White House on ten attributes of leadership.

As in C-SPAN’s first such survey, released in 2000, Abraham Lincoln received top billing among the historians, just as the nation marks the bicentennial of his birth. George Washington placed second, while spots three through five were held by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, in that order.

Based on the results of historians surveyed, George W. Bush received an overall ranking of 36. Among other recent Presidents, Bill Clinton who was ranked 21 in the 2000 survey, advanced six spots in 2009 to an overall ranking of 15; Ronald Reagan moved from 11 to 10; George H.W. Bush went from 20 to 18, and Jimmy Carter’s ranking declined from 22 to 25.

The historians rated each president on ten qualities of presidential leadership: “Public Persuasion,” “Crisis Leadership,” “Economic Management,” “Moral Authority,” “International Relations,” “Administrative Skills,” “Relations with Congress,” “Vision/Setting An Agenda,” “Pursued Equal Justice for All,” and “Performance Within the Context of His Times.”

George W. Bush finished near the very bottom on “economic management” and “international relations” (40th and 41st, respectively), but managed to secure 36th place overall, thanks to higher marks on “pursued equal justice for all” (24th out of 42), and “vision/setting an agenda” (25th out of 42). I’d also note that Bush finished two places lower than Herbert Hoover.

It’s not altogether clear what’s behind the changes since 2000, when the same historians took on the same project using the same standards. JFK now edges out Jefferson; Woodrow Wilson dropped from 6th to 9th, and Reagan and LBJ swapped places. Grant jumped 10 places to 23rd; Hayes dropped seven places to 33rd. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

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