Ranking Presidents

There is still one full year left in Obama’s administration.  I’ve heard a lot about how Obama will go down in history as the worst American president. I disagree.

This “worst president in history” stuff  comes from those who listen to television and radio commentators, who make a very good living out of finding fault with Obama on every day of the week.  Conservatives would rank all Republican presidents at the top of the list, and all Democratic presidents at the bottom.  Liberals would do the opposite.

But, let’s face it,   everything that goes wrong in Washington is not the president’s fault. Also, presidents  who sink in popularity polls at least during some part of their term,  are not necessarily ranked poorly by academic scholars.    Case in point is President Truman, whose Gallup approval rating dropped to 27% during the Korean War, yet on balance, is considered one of the best president by  a series of selected scholars or historians:

Wikipedia’s Ranking 

Take a close look at the far right column, with the aggregate ranks, and you will see, some very familiar names as the top ranked presidents-  Lincoln, Roosevelt, Washington, and Jefferson.  And the 5 worst ones are Buchanan, Harding, Pierce, Johnson, and Fillmore. Although, Harrison is ranked as one of the 5 worst presidents, it is clearly unfair as he served only one year before his death.

When there is a truly good or bad president,  then there is a great deal of agreement among historians.   The highest ranked presidents in recent times are Kennedy, Johnson and Reagan.

The top quartile presidents are colored in blue.  The 30 year period from 1933 to 1963, marked a period of only top quartile presidents, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.   So, were these presidents so successful because of the times and mood of the country, or because they were all individually great leaders?   I believe it was a combination of good judgments and in most part, the backing of congress.

No- Obama will not go down as the worst president, nor the best president in the history of the US.  It is likely that a strong positive to his presidency was he made strong efforts to fulfill his campaign promises.  His inabilities to push his programs forward,  in many areas including global warming and immigration reform, were due to the intransigent conservative  Republican faction in Congress.

Stay tuned,







Imperial Presidents

Every  US president would like more authority.   When John Kennedy was asked if there were any surprises when he became president, he said he was surprised at how little authority he really had.  We are no longer in the age of Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower, where there was a sense of the president had to, at times, act unilaterally, for the welfare of the country.

Fox News often brings commentators in, to make the accusation that Obama is operating outside the law.  One of the most amazing accusations was that it would be unlawful to strike against Syria, after they used chemical weapons, because only Congress can declare war.  These same Republicans seems to constantly criticize Obama for not bombing Syria, again without Congressional authority.

“Damn if you do, damn if you don’t”  as the old saying goes.  If Obama waits for Congress to act,  nothing will get done.  If he acts through executive orders, he is called an imperial president.   But most of the really famous presidents, where ones that acted outside of congress at times.  The famous Emancipation Proclamation of  President Lincoln, was an executive order.  Pretty incredible.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives are controlled by Republicans and seem to be in lockstep against almost every initiative put forward by President.

Historians will quickly remind Americans that the conflicts between the legislature and executive branches have happened with every recent president.   But,  as former Senator Barney Frank pointed out,   a Democratic controlled Senate has a better relation to a Republican president than visa versa.  But, Frank is a Democrat, so beware of the bias.

Congress can be obstructive to the normal business of government in the name of congressional oversight.    Both parties have done this.   The Republicans, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio  refused to approve raising the debt ceiling, and had that measure  been defeated, the US would have been known as the only country which destroyed its credit rating, as an malicious act of partisan politics. This is a case where obstructive tactics went to destructive ones.

But, unfortunately,  there is great incentive for Democrats or Republicans to fight against each other.  No Republican is going to get on Fox News,  and accuse his fellow Republicans of being obstructionists.  Same with Democrats on MSNBC.

President Obama can’t get positions filled in the Department of State, according to Senator Kerry.   Republicans are demanding a nebulous “pound of flesh.”   Expect things to really boil when the next president nominates a Supreme Court justice.

When time is short as in the media, you load up both barrels of the gun and start blasting at the opposition.   But when the smoke clears,  it just seems everyone is a loser, as this is the surest way to make government less effective.

I just wish we had more moderates in both parties and less bias in the media.  I tire  of commentators on Fox, OANN and MSNBC.    Perhaps I yearn for yesterday.

Stay tuned,


Republican Trent Lott and Democrat Tom Daschle, have recently published a book, entitled Crisis Point, which highlights the way our government is becoming increasingly dysfunctional.   I have not had a chance to read it.

Crisis Point