Lincoln #1, FDR #2,… Why not George W. Bush #3?

Most of the time when historians rank President’s I ignore it. Like back in 2009 when U.S. News reported:

“President George W. Bush is near the bottom of the heap in the latest survey of historians on presidential leadership.

Bush received an overall ranking of 36 out of 42 former presidents—in the bottom 10.Click here to find out more!

The five best presidents, according to the historians, were Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, in that order. Rounding out the top 10 were John F. Kennedy at six, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson, and Reagan.

The worst presidents, according to the survey, were James Buchanan at 42, Andrew Johnson at 41, Franklin Pierce, William Henry Harrison, Warren Harding, Millard Fillmore, George W. Bush, John Tyler, Herbert Hoover, and Rutherford B. Hayes.”

So all “its too recent for history to tell” aside, let’s look at the rankings a little closer. So some of the top picks are Abraham Lincoln and FDR, which unlike Franklin Pierce, Warren Harding, and some of the lower ranked Presidents, governed over very traumatic periods of American History.

Abraham Lincoln faced the Civil War and the south trying to leave the union. FDR faced the Great Depression and World War II. President George W. Bush also faced these types of experiences with September 11th and the ongoing wars in the middle east. So when it comes to ranking Presidents by historians they must take more into account then just their “difficulties” they faced in office.

Maybe its how they handled them. Lincoln suspends habeas corpus and jailed thousands of southern sympathizers. FDR creates massive government bureaucracies and sends thousands of italian, japanese, and german immigrants for basically being from countries in which the United States was at war with. Bush instead used Congress to help enact the Patriot Act which allowed law enforcement to bend the rule of law to “suspend suspected terrorists” indefinitely.

So why is it that Bush does not rank up there with Lincoln and FDR?

I would suggest that he wasn’t enough of a tyrant. Who are the most remembered and liked individuals? Brutus, Cato or Caesar? Napoleon or the people that exiled him? Everyone, of course, always remembers the tyrant and rewrites history to make them seem more like a saint.

If George W. Bush really wanted to become a top ranked President by historians, he should have made the Patriot Act and executive order and suspended more of American’s rights.

This is by no means a defense of George W. Bush, nor is it an attempt to say that it is unjust or unfair that he isn’t ranked higher. The point here is that historians enjoy the dictators and tyrants of society and they look down on the Presidents that did little or nothing. When, in fact, it was the founders’ intent for the federal government to be restrained. And yet, we reward the very men who begin its downfall from limited government to massive controlling government with the finest statues and monuments to be remembered forever.

So do I think George W. Bush should be ranked #3 as one of the greatest President’s? Absolutely not. Should historians? Absolutely and there is no reason for them to not to. My personal list is almost a complete reversal with FDR and Lincoln on the bottom as being two of the worst. Now if they would only let me decide who’s faces would be on our currency. Oh wait…

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Some Forgotten Presidents Shouldn’t Be by David Stokes

Today’s article of the day comes from Townhall.com:

On August 2, 1927, President Calvin Coolidge had breakfast in the White House residence with his wife, Grace, and remarked to her “I have been president four years today.” It was one of those quick, concise, directly-to-the-point sentences she had been used to hearing since they met in 1905. It was also something the American people were familiar with, having nicknamed the 30th president “Silent Cal.”

He had a 9:00 meeting with reporters in his office that morning. Before fielding a few questions, he told those gathered: “If the conference will return at 12:00, I may have a further statement to make.” Curious, but compliant, in those long-since-gone days of semi-civility between presidents and the press, the journalists found their way back at noon.

An hour or so before that conference encore, Coolidge took a pencil and wrote a message on a piece of paper. He handed it to his secretary with the instruction to take it to his stenographer and have him make several copies – enough for the newsmen who would be at the 12:00 meeting. Ever the frugal man, he suggested that the brief statement could be copied several times on the same sheet, thus only using a few sheets of paper. He told the secretary not to give the note to the stenographer, though, until about 11:50 a.m.

He really wanted to manage this story.

He asked for the pages to be brought to him uncut and before the reporters were admitted to the office, he took a pair of scissors and cut the paper into smaller slips. When he was just about ready, he told his secretary:

“I am going to hand these out myself; I am going to give them to the newspapermen, without comment, from this side of the desk. I want you to stand at the door and not permit anyone to leave until each of them has a slip, so that they may have an even chance.”

An “even chance” at a big scoop, that is.

The handwritten note from the president said: “I do not choose to run for president in nineteen twenty-eight.” Though the now classic Broadway play (made into several film versions), The Front Page, was yet a year away from being published and produced, it comes to mind with the image of dozens of reporters rushing to find telephones.

Calvin Coolidge could have been re-elected if he had wanted the job for another term. His anointed successor, Herbert Hoover, won big in 1928, though it is clear that Coolidge was less-than-enthusiastic about the “Great Engineer.” It is one of those curious “what ifs” of history – would Coolidge have dealt with the coming of the Great Depression better than his successor?

Historians tend to bunch the three Republican presidents of the 1920s – Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover – together in a way suggesting they were identical triplets separated at birth. But there were many differences – some subtle, some not so much.

Herbert Hoover, all of his speechifying about “individualism” notwithstanding, was not the fiscal conservative many today make him out to be. As Amity Shlaes has pointed out in her often-quoted-these-days book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, Mr. Hoover had a strong interventionist streak in his personality. He “could not control his own sense of agency,” and “liked to jump in, and find some moral justification for doing so later.” So, in many ways, he helped to turn a recession into the Great Depression “by intervening in business, by signing into law a destructive tariff, and by assailing the stock market.”

Ironically, when closely examined, Herbert Hoover’s approach to economics had more in common with his successor than it did with the two men preceding him in the White House.

Warren G. Harding generally ranks in the bottom five when studies are done about the effectiveness of our chief executives. In fact, Hoover fares better than the man from Marion, Ohio. This is largely due to the scandals that came to light after his untimely death in San Francisco in 1923 – the affair known as Teapot Dome. Also, some of Mr. Harding’s personal behavior was less-than-presidential. That said, he might have been a saint on that front compared to president’s 35 and 42.

What is usually missed about Harding, though, is how effective he was on the issue of the economy. When he assumed the presidency in March of 1921, he inherited a mess. Woodrow Wilson had expanded the role and size of government dramatically, incurred a $25 billion dollar debt, and cracked down on political opponents – even imprisoning some (socialist activist Eugene V. Debs, etc.).

In fact, the economic problems in the 1920-1921 depression were actually worse in many ways than the Great Depression a decade later. But that downturn didn’t last as long – thankfully. Warren Harding cut federal spending and lowered taxes. And in less than two years the number of unemployed in the country fell from 4.9 million to 2.8 million, en route to a rate of 1.8 per cent by 1926 under his successor, Mr. Coolidge.

Oh – and Harding set the political prisoners free, even inviting Debs to the White House. He was a classier act than many now remember.

By the time Calvin Coolidge became president upon the death of Harding in August of 1923, the country was on its way to enjoying some great years of prosperity. He was a fiscal conservative who tried his best to stay out of the way. He knew that the government functioned best as a referee – not as a participant in the economic game – or as a team owner.

After he was elected in his own right, he told the nation in his March 4, 1925 inaugural address:

“I want the people of America to be able to work less for the government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. That is the chief meaning of freedom. Until we can re-establish a condition under which the earnings of the people can be kept by the people, we are bound to suffer a very distinct curtailment of our liberty.”

His decision not to run in 1928 – at the height of his popularity – puzzled many. But Coolidge understood the nature of leadership, and its seductions. He explained it this way:

“It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation, which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless or arrogant.”

Of course, it can never been proven, but I suspect that if Calvin Coolidge had decided to run again in 1928, he might have responded to the initial shock waves of 1929-1930 differently than Hoover. Maybe, just maybe, the Great Depression would not have lasted so long. And maybe, just maybe, people who should know better these days would stop trying the same old failed “interventionist” tactics that never really worked backed then.

At any rate, Mr. Coolidge died suddenly on January 5, 1933, after Hoover had been badly beaten by Franklin Roosevelt. He did not live to see what a prolonged depression looked like, but one suspects that he would have ventured an opinion or two.

His words would have been brief and directly on point.

~PCCapitalist