I saw a post on Facebook the other day claiming that the three greatest U.S. presidents were Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump. While I don’t agree with that list, it did get me wondering. So who are the three greatest presidents? I would guess that Lincoln is on that list, and while I liked Reagan, I’m betting he’s not. Trump. Well, I’m guessing that as a sitting president, your presidency can’t be judged until you’re out of office. But I did find a ranking of the presidents done by C-Span which was done in 2000, 2009, and most recently in 2017, that feels legit to me.
The C-SPAN Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership worked with a team of historians to organization, execute, and analyze this survey. All the details are on their site, but it’s basically that panel of historians and 91 survey participants that create this list. The whole thing is based on rating the presidents on 10 qualities of presidential leadership. I’m sure if you took a different group of 91 participants some of the results would be different, but this one feels pretty unbiased to me.
So, the initial question of who is the greatest president is… Abraham Lincoln. He took the top spot in each of the three years this thing has been done. Seems like a no brainer to me, but were off to a good start. So who were the top five.
|3||3||2||Franklin D. Roosevelt||Dem||1932||1936||1940||1944|
|5||8||9||Dwight D. Eisenhower||Rep||1952||1956|
Eisenhower seems to have had a bit of a jump there, but I don’t really know much about him. Perennial favorite Thomas Jefferson has been ranked 7th in all three years of this survey. You can see all of the results on the website. My next question was, how do the presidents of my lifetime stack up? Have I born witness to great leadership or middling administration? So, I was born in 1968… Sitting presidents don’t get ranked… Ah, here we go.
|10||11||10||Lyndon B. Johnson||Dem||n/a||1964|
|20||18||20||George H.W. Bush||Rep||1988|
|33||36||—||George W. Bush||Rep||2000||2004|
I don’t remember much politics before Carter v Reagan. I wanted Carter to win because I liked peanuts and there was a bunch of talk about Reagan starting war, which didn’t seem cool to my 11-year-old brain. I ended up being rather fond of both Reagan and then Bush. I don’t remember much about their politics, but they both seemed like good men. Clinton… well, I was listening to Rush Limbaugh at that time, so you can guess what sort on shit I was hearing. Bush seemed like he was caught up in the machine that got him elected, but became a stronger president in his second term. Still, he seemed like a good man. Obama, really liked him, he was the first time I voted Democratic party and he is both eloquent inspirational. I didn’t want Trump or Clinton in 2016. Bad choices, that’s what we were given. And look where we are. It’s a tough job and I wouldn’t want to do it, especially given that your every action is weighed in public. And I still believe that for the most part, people who seek power are typically not the people you would choose to wield it. Anyway, that’s my political history.
So, Reagan and Trump do not make the top three on either list. But, Trump is still in office, so he may pull out a surprise in the next survey and unseat Washington or Roosevelt, seems unlikely that he’ll get the top spot above Lincoln. Looking at the big list, it seems that history is kind to the president, and they tend to rise as we get a little distance from their time in office. I can’t speak to most of this list, as I’m no presidential scholar, but I expect that Obama will rise into the top ten, Reagan will probably stay there as well, and nobody on my lifetime list will be affected by Trump’s eventual rating. Looks like this is an every 10ish years thing, so it’ll be a goodly bit before they do it again and either confirm or deny my suspicions.
Whether you vote for the leader you want or simply vote for change, the important thing is to vote. Not voting is not a protest, not voting is letting other people choose for you. Do you want me making decisions for you? Because I will, if you let me. Later.