This week’s list from C-SPAN of the best and worst Presidents of all time is generating a lot of buzz and a lot of press. It’s one of those surveys people talk about around the water cooler at work. (That’s assuming you still have a job, and the company can still afford bottled water, but I digress.)
I have always felt that labeling a President “best” or “worst” attaches a certain value judgment that all too often gets rated along partisan lines. I don’t find that very insightful or useful.
I would like to suggest a different rating system for which we use the criteria of “most effective” and “least effective.” To me this will lead to a more objective, less partisan assessment. For example, I can rate a President highly “effective” even though I may dislike him personally, or oppose his policies. FDR got a lot of legislation passed through Congress that had an impact on the country. I would rate FDR “highly effective” even if I did not personally like him or vote for him.
So, there have been eleven Presidents in my lifetime. I will rank the five most effective and the five least effective, leaving out President Obama because it’s too early to tell (which I wish the pollsters would understand).
1) Ronald Reagan
2) Lyndon Johnson
3) Richard Nixon
4) Bill Clinton
5) John Kennedy
1) Jimmy Carter
2) George W. Bush
3) Gerald Ford
4) George H.W. Bush
5) Dwight Eisenhower
Ronald Reagan was effective in redirecting the course of the nation. He also made three Supreme Court appointments. His message of hope and optimism is much like Obama’s (though ideologically they are quite different). From a sheer legislative standpoint, Lyndon Johnson was very effective in getting his “Great Society” passed. Whether the effects of Reagan and Johnson were good or bad, I leave up to the reader.
Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush were, in my evaluation, the least effective Presidents in my lifetime. Carter had difficulty getting any legislation passed and his one term left little imprint on the Federal Courts, with no Supreme Court appointment. Bush II also had trouble getting legislation through Congress, despite two terms in office. (His lasting legacy may be his imprint on the Judiciary.) It may be another five to ten years before historians can really evaluate the effectiveness of the war on terrorism.
Agree, or disagree. Post your comments below! Again, my goal was to evaluate whether the Presidents were effective--could they get things done? Whether those things were good or bad, are value judgments I leave for you to make. (Above is a rare photo of five U.S. Presidents pictured together).
My book, “Age of Obama: A Reporter’s Journey with Clinton, McCain and Obama in the Making of the President 2008” is now available for purchase. Just click on the blue book button on the right side of this screen! We had a great book discussion and signing Monday night at "Book Passage" in San Francisco. I will post information and photos later!