Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Presidential rankings and what-ifs

I have made a list of the Presidents of the United States where I rank every President who served for over a year based solely off of what they did and attempted during their time as the President and campaigning to become President. Here is my list:

  1. George Washington - for his formation of treaties and respect of Native Americans
  2. Abraham Lincoln - for his effort in keeping the United States together and the Emancipation Proclamation
  3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt - For his efforts and success in setting a strong foundation for the 20th century economy, he would be our best if it weren't for the Japanese Internment camps
  4. John Fitzgerald Kennedy - For his efforts towards science and combating poverty
  5. Dwight David Eisenhower - For his diplomacy, protection of the economy, and prophetic farewell speech.
  6. Thomas Jefferson - For his exploration of the American west, preserving trade in the Mediterranean, and diplomacy
  7. James Earl Carter - for his strong efforts towards peace around the world, and attempts to gain energy independence for America, he worked towards ending nuclear proliferation, 
  8. John Quincy Adams - For his economic wisdom, respect of Native Americans,
  9. Harry Truman - For his continuation of building the foundation for the 20th century his predecessor built. He is ranked lower for his dropping of the bombs.
  10. Theodore Roosevelt - For his valiant efforts in preserving America’s treasures and national parks, he is ranked lower for his intervention in Latin America.
  11. Lyndon Baines Johnson - For his efforts on combating poverty and his overall human rights record. He ranks lower for his intervention in Vietnam.
  12. Ulysses S. Grant - For his continuation of Reconstruction
  13. Benjamin Harrison - For his advocacy of civil rights, reformation of the civil service
  14. Warren G. Harding - for supporting the 8 hour work day, child labor laws, opposition to lynching, and good neighbor policy
  15. William McKinley - For his advocacy of civil rights at home and abroad
  16. Woodrow Wilson - For his breaking his promise on World War I, anti-German sentiment, his support of the League of Nations keeps him from falling farther.
  17. Martin Van Buren - his cowardice in face of anti-Mormonism which he opposed demotes him, he kept peace with Mexico, advocated free trade, and opposed slavery
  18. Richard Nixon - EPA, improved relations with China, set up AMTRAK
  19. Gerald Ford - environmental regulations, strengthened AMTRAK
  20. James Madison - he opposed the national bank which hurt our economy, he started the War of 1812, and protected Native Americans.
  21. Zachary Taylor - For his attempts to set up the Western states as free states
  22. James Monroe - He started the Seminole Wars, did the Missouri compromise meaning each slave state had to be matched with a free state, his expansionist Monroe doctrine which paved the way for future abuses of Latin America,
  23. Chester Alan Arthur - For his signing of the Pendleton Act which put rules against favors, he opposed Mormon polygamy (bad), opposed racism against the Chinese (good), and favored better relations with Native Americans.
  24. John Adams - His largest accomplishment was the Alien and Sedition Acts
  25. Bill Clinton - he signed Gramm-Leach-Bliley, DOMA, DADT, and failed to pass meaningful health care reform. But he balanced the budget and didn’t hurt Medicare, which prevents him from falling further.
  26. Barack Obama - For his efforts towards universal health care, ending the Iraq war, and standing up to warmongerers, and his attack on Social Security, and constant giving in to Republican demands when his party controlled both houses of Congress
  27. James K. Polk - He was extremely expansionist,
  28. Grover Cleveland - For racism, opposition to labor, and imperialism
  29. Herbert Hoover - For his obsession with the deficit, protectionist policies, and limited response to the great depression.
  30. Calvin Coolidge - His small government rhetoric and lack of leadership made his Presidency unsuccessful albeit popular
  31. Franklin Pierce - For his unsuccessful compromise the Kansas-Nebraska Act
  32. William Howard Taft - for his attacks on President Roosevelt’s environmental policy
  33. Rutherford B. Hayes - For ending Reconstruction
  34. John Tyler - For his refusal to form a national bank in the face of an economic collapse
  35. Millard Fillmore - For passing the Fugitive Slave Act
  36. Andrew Johnson - For his opposition to Reconstruction
  37. Andrew Jackson - For his deportation of Native Americans
  38. James Buchanan - For his unwillingness to use his power to keep the Union together
  39. Ronald Reagan - For negotiating with terrorists to hold Americans hostage until he was President, selling arms to Nicaraguan terrorists, attack on Grenada, and deregulation of the financial sector.
  40. George H.W. Bush - For vetoing every good bill that came his way and using the United States military to his benefit (an oilman used the US military to defend a major oil exporter with dreadful human rights, I’m sure there is no conflict of interest.)
  41. George W. Bush - For attacking Iraq, destabilizing the financial markets, the PATRIOT ACT, No Child Left Behind Act,
As a reader will tell, I am very progressive and focused heavily on not just outcomes but the meaning behind the act. I am a HUGE Washington fan. People can be great people in terrible circumstances, and that can test their character strongly, like the top three on my list. People can be trapped in situations where they can't get out, like Herbert Hoover was where he tried to pass a lot of legislation but as President he was caught by Congress. A President that doesn't try will not get high on this list (Coolidge), a President who does the wrong thing will get demoted (the Bushes), and a President who in the face of insurmountable odds perseveres for the right thing will get very high on this list (Washington, Roosevelt, Carter, and especially Lincoln).

A graph of Presidents by their time and ranking on this list has some outcomes of order. The longest time a top 10% President was in office was President Roosevelt's term. (no two Presidents of the top five served next to each other) The longest time that the top 10% were in office was from 1933-1963. Johnson almost makes the cut, but no cigar. Depending on how future Presidents perform he might someday be in the top 10%. The longest time the top 50% were in office sequentially was from 1933-1981 from Roosevelt to Carter. The longest time the bottom 10% and bottom 25% were on this list was 1981-1993. The longest time the bottom 50% were on this list in light of Obama's decision to target college funding and Social Security means we are currently breaking this record (nice going Obama).

A few notes of what could have happened if history was different for certain Presidents, and my defense for my decision.
  • President Obama would rank higher, and until last week he did (I have been working on this for a few years) but after his proposals last week he sunk about 10 places from where he was before. His decision is not compromise, it is a surrender. His largest failure of what I look for in a great leader is perseverance for good, standing for a needed change for a long time.
  • President Carter is ranked especially highly because he chose to do what was right over what was easy throughout his term. No other President comes close to his attempts to foster peace between nations and attempts to make America energy independent. I would propose that what makes Carter usually decided to be an undistinguished President are the forces that he was pushing against from foreign oil and when he proposed the best solution to solve an energy embargo against the economy of the United States he was blockaded by Congress which had turned against him in the midterms. While his accomplishments while in office didn't come close to what was needed, he did what he could to do what had to happen to strengthen our economy and bring peace as President. No other President has seen as much pushback as President Carter, and by my criterion of persevering for the right thing whatever the odds Carter gets big marks from me that pushed him to the top 10. Our country needs leaders who are willing to stand against our enemies, foreign or domestic, people or ideas. He earned his Nobel Prize.
  • President Lyndon Johnson would be our greatest President on this list if it weren't for Vietnam which was like every war an ultimately unnecessary war. I know support was started by President Eisenhower but the decision to set up the war lies with Johnson sadly. He was the last Democrat to push through major legislation with major compromises (read surrenders) with the Republicans and to effectively wield the power of the Presidency for good (Although Carter certainly tried, he was fighting a force obviously too powerful). I highly recommend the biographies that Robert Caro has put on and am only 2% into the volume he wrote on his time as President and I am absolutely fascinated by how he lived his life to the fullest.
  • President Wilson would rank higher if it weren't for his racism and anti-woman views.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt would be much higher if he wasn't so expansionist.
  • If President McKinley had served longer he would probably be a greater President on the accomplishment front, but was unable to complete his second term which probably would have allowed him to pass some human rights legislation. His greatness lives in his successor, President Theodore Roosevelt.
I am a big fan of the policies of the top 13 Presidents after which my enthusiasm wanes.

So, those are a few of the opinions I have developed after looking at the successes and failures of every American President who served for over one year, which would be William Henry Harrison and James Abram Garfield.

I hope to post in the near future of what a future President would have to do to climb to the top 5 of this list, which is as possible today as it was in 1961, and given our current challenges, maybe more for my criterion of perseverance over large odds.

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