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C-SPAN Survey Of Historians Finds Lincoln Tops, Bush Seventh Worse Ever

For President's Day C-Span released a survey of top historians around the country of all political views as well as viewers, and the survey found a consensus that Abraham Lincoln was the best president in the nation's history followed by 2.Washington, 3. FDR, 4.T. Roosevelt, 5.Truman, 6.Kennedy, 7.Jefferson, 8.Eisenhower, 9.Wilson and 10.Reagan. The bottom 10 included 33.Hayes, 34.Hoover, 35.Tyler, 36.George W. Bush, 37.Fillmore. 38.Harding, 39.W.H. Harrison, 40.Pierce, 41.A. Johnson and 42.Buchanan.

lincoln3.jpg

Historians and viewers separately rated each president along several lines of criteria including public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with congress, vision/setting an agenda, pursued equal justice for all, performance within context of times.

Some recent presidents such as Jimmy Carter might have ranked highly in some areas such as pursuing equal justice, however poor management of the economy as well as handling of the hostage crisis with Iran helped to drive Carter's overall score down to an unimpressive 22 among all the presidents. The man that Carter replaced, Gerald Ford didn't fare much better at 23, but was better than the dismal 25 of Richard Nixon who scored highly in international relations but poorly handled issues of moral authority because of rampant dishonesty related to the Watergate Scandal.

George Bush's father, George H.W. Bush ranked 20th, with some strong leadership during the Gulf War, but far weaker economic handling skills. Bill Clinton that replaced him actually rated at 21, with scandal drawing heavily away from his economic leadership skills.

Among viewers the results were somewhat different than that of the historians. Bill Clinton for example ranked at 36 with viewers, but far better at 21 with historians. Viewers ranked Reagan at 6, while historians at 11, for the combined result of 10. Historians ranked LBJ at a high 10 for getting passed the Great Society legislation, while viewers ranked LBJ far lower at 19. Likewise JFK ranked higher with historians at 8 but lower with overall viewers at 12. Lincoln did manage to top both the viewer as well as historian results as the best president ever.


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Comments (10)

Chad:

Which professors, and from which colleges, please?

ke_future:

having studied history in college, i can tell you for a fact that like every other liberal arts field in academia, it is filled with left-leaning bias. it's just the way it is. personally, i would discount historians views on the historical rating of anybody who lived during their lifetime, or the generation immediately proceding. in such cases, they are simply too close to the subject to give a rational and objective analysis.

fmk:

Paul,

Here is the link:

http://www.c-span.org/PresidentialSurvey/Overall-Ranking.aspx

P.S. I'm pretty sure you are reading/quoting the wrong column

I certainly appreciate your link, FMK. I think I might have crossed up part of the 2008 and 2009 results somehow at one point. I'm only human, and do sometimes make errors. I wanted to post something for President's Day, but all the information before me might have created a maze of too many figures to deal with.

ryan a:

ke_future:

"personally, i would discount historians views on the historical rating of anybody who lived during their lifetime, or the generation immediately proceding. in such cases, they are simply too close to the subject to give a rational and objective analysis."

Well, since a ranking like this is filled with SO MANY subjective categories, I doubt that it's ever possible to come up with an objective result. The rankings are all going to be based on how the actions/ideologies/programs/policies of these presidents are interpreted and analyzed by various historians. More economically-oriented historians might come up with very different results than more politically-oriented profs. Bias and political leaning is always going to come up--left and right.

That's just the way it goes...and I think it makes sense to pay attention to biases instead of trying to sweep them under the rug. They always come out, one way or another.

Ask Milton Friedman to rank all the presidents and you will get one answer. Paul Krugman, of course, would give you a very different list.

ke_future:

you're right, ryan. my point was that when you ask historians to rank the presidents in these categories, and then specifically identify that they are historians, then you are trying to legitimize what is, as you put it, a subjective ranking.

look, people can think whatever they want to about the presidents because people have different values that they think are important. i just object to a biased and subjective poll being presented as historical analysis.

Lee Ward:

And I object to the characterization that the historians viewpoints are biased.

That's like saying that economists' viewpoints are biased and therefore their view on the economy should be ignored. It's specious.

Or say it about any professional group - "Bankers," for example. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that bankers are largely "Conservative." So when it comes to the opinions of bankers on how to fix the credit crunch we should ignore their views because they are -- as a group -- largely conservative?

huh?

ke_future:

lee, you are missing the point i am trying to make. which is that they are pointing to a group of historians and saying, in essense "these experts rank the presidents in this order" however, some of said presidents are too recent to have a valid *historical* evaluation.

as far as bias goes, the only bias you *ever* see is the biases on the right. you never see it on your side of the arguement, lee. or at least i can't remember you ever owning up to them existing

Lee Ward:

Perhaps if you were a historian you'd have more experience judging the near-term presidents from a historical perspective.

They can do it - it's their job, but the fact that you can't do it doesn't invalidate their opinion.

Yes, some day people might look back on Bush 43's Iraq and say job well done - but how long do we wait before we have a valid assessment? 5 years? 50? 150?

Right now it's a friggin' quagmire wrapped in a soft tortilla shell, and from a historical perspective it's a pile of monkey dung. Yes, someday there might be a different assessment, but today it is what it is.

And I admit guys like Limbaugh are unfairly biased, and the twits at Fox News are really biased - so what's your point?

ke_future:

lee, just so you know, i AM a historian by training, education, and inclination, and i say that judging near-term presidents from a historical basis is flawed.

the fact is that practically nobody can keep their biases from influencing their judgement, which is why proper, and accurate, historical judgements are made about things that people do not have a current stake in, such as presidents who served recently.

well, i don't know, lee, how long was it after Lincoln's death that historians finally started giving him his due? just to give one relevant example

my point is that you only see bias on the right, never on the left. which you amply prove with your statement.


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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