A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hail to the chiefs

C-SPAN just did a poll of 65 historians, asking them to rank the presidents. Here's the top 10:
1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
4. Theodore Roosevelt
5. Harry Truman
6. John F. Kennedy
7. Thomas Jefferson
8. Dwight D. Eisenhower
9. Woodrow Wilson
10. Ronald Reagan
(LBJ was #11.)

Personally, I think first five are right on, but the I have some quibbles with the second five. Kennedy gets points for the moon shot and the Cuban missile crisis, but does that really compare with what LBJ did on civil rights? Jefferson wrote a helluva declaration, and I give him his props for the Louisiana purchase, but his embargo during the Napoleonic wars ruined the economy. Ike was OK but he didn't really do much. Wilson was a racist who segregated the military and the civil service, and his pig-headed self-righteousness did more to sink the League of Nations than anything his enemies ever did. And Reagan? Well, we're reaping the results of his deregulation of the economy and ignoring of the environmental crisis.
On the whole, we've fared better with our first ladies. Who wouldn't prefer Pat to Dick, Grace to Calvin or, for that matter, Laura to W?
Here's my top 10:
1. Eleanor Roosevelt, of course
2. Dolley Madison (She was the gold standard before Eleanor came along.)
3. Jackie Kennedy
4. Betty Ford
5. Abigail Adams
6. Lady Bird Johnson
7. Grace Coolidge
8. Lucy Hayes
9. Pat Nixon
10. Frances Cleveland
And here's my list of best ex-presidents:
1. George Washington (for becoming an ex-president instead of running for a third term, which he could have won easily. He wanted to hand his office to a live successor, creating the precedent of peaceful succession. Also freed his slaves in his will - the only slaveholding founding father to do so)
2. John Quincy Adams (anti-slavery crusader)
3. Jimmy Carter (peace negotiator and general do-gooder)
4. U.S. Grant (wrote a fantastic memoir that's still a great read, even today, and the gallantry with which he faced his final illness was incredibly moving.
5. Jefferson & Adams (tie for patching up their feud and dying in tandem on such a symbolic date - the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence)
6. William Howard Taft (finally achieving the only office he really wanted, Chief Justice, he did a credible, if conventionally conservative, job)
7. Ronald Reagan (most graceful exit ever)
8. Herbert Hoover (I'm not crazy about his support of the America First movement, but he gets points for the Hoover Commission)
9. Richard Nixon. (OK, so his entire post-presidential career was a shameless attempt to spin his Watergate crimes, and, as Harry Truman said of him, "Every word out of his mouth was a lie, and that includes 'and' and 'the.'" But you have to admit it was entertaining.)
10. George W. Bush (out of sheer relief that he's finally gone. It's like beating your head against the wall: It feels so good when you stop.)
And the three worst:
1. John Tyler (sided with the Confederacy, even getting elected to the first Confederate congress. Where I come from, that's called treason.)
2. Franklin Pierce (also sided with the Confederacy and conducted secret correspondence with Jefferson Davis throughout the war)
3. Millard Fillmore (later ran for president on the ticket of the anti-Catholic American Party, better known as the Know Nothings.)

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