Monday, February 16, 2009

Ranking the Presidents

Ranking the Presidents

It's President's Day ("Washington's Birthday" for you conservative traditionalists out there) and if you go to the bank, you may be able to get yourself a shiny new William Henry Harrison dollar. They're going through the presidents and it's Number Nine's turn, thus putting to lie the Simpsons' Mediocre Presidents Song.

Except you can't go to the bank because it's President's Day.

One of my more popular old posts was from last year during the Democratic nomination stalemate, when I suggested that Barack and Hillary adopt WHH's old 1836 strategery of splitting up the nomination. Is it really only a year since the Democrat's internal anxiety of that doom and gloom battle?

They'll be making those dollars three times longer than Tippecanoe and Tyler Too was president. Which is why it surprised me that C-SPAN's latest version of the Historians Rank The Presidents survey actually included William Henry Harrison. How does one really rank his job performance? I mean, was he better at laying around dying than James Garfield was? Most of these surveys exclude those two, but this one lists them all (although I noticed David Rice Atchison is missing).

The big news in this survey is that 43 was included for the first time, and he ranks down in the Tyler-Fillmore zone, 36th of 42. (They don't rank Grover Cleveland's two terms separately, though the first would clearly rate higher as the second was dominated by the Panic Of 1893. Back then we didn't have recessions or depressions, we had "panics" which sounds way scarier.)

W is for all intents and purposes dead last in international relations, ahead of only William Henry Harrison. And how could WHH screw up as bad in a month as Bush did in eight years?

The exit interviews and rhetoric, and the post-inauguration comments by Cheney, clearly indicate that Bush is hoping for Truman-like historic revisionism. Harry climbs to his highest ranking I've ever seen in these, number five. That's just below the Rushmore line, for those of you playing at home, and without the benefit of a hagiography campaign like the one Reagan has.

I've always thought Woodrow Wilson was by far the most over-ranked in these things. The 1919-20 Red Scare domestic spying and repression of dissent was in some ways worse than Bush; even the Gonzo Justice (sic) Department didn't have elected members of Congress arrested the way A. Mitchell Palmer went after Milwaukee Socialist Victor Berger. And Wilson let ole Eugene Debs rot in jail; it was Warren Harding who finally pardoned him.

Wilson's biggest foreign policy initiative, the League of Nations, was an abject failure, amd there was also Wilson's serious irresponsibility in staying in office when he was not fit physically, and probably not fit mentally, to serve. Vice President Thomas Marshall deserves some of the blame there for refusing to act. Is anyone ever going to do one of these for the Vice Presidents? Even Cheney would have a hard time beating Aaron Burr for last on that list. And that very first Got Milk ad is still the best:

Awon Buh.

I also have a little Iowa pride and feel like Herbert Hoover gets a lot of the blame that Calvin Coolidge deserves. Since we're into revisiting the causes of the Great Depression, let's note that the setup for that was all on Harding and Coolidge's watch, and they dumped the load on Hoover. Granted, Hoover handled it badly, but in a lot of ways he resembles Jimmy Carter: he did a lot of great things in his life and only ever failed at one job.

Anyway, the birthday of John Adams, the first Vice President, is October 30. I say we celebrate by making the first Monday in November Vice Presidents Day and get another holiday. Works for me.

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