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What Makes a President Great? Clipping? Sipping? Slashing?

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tags: presidents, Obama legacy, ranking presidents



Related Link HNN: Ranking Presidents

So Presidents’ Day has come and gone, along with the whining over C-Span’s latest ranking of American presidents, which predictably put Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin Delano Roosevelt on top (yawn); demoted the beleaguered Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson; and positioned Barack Obama, in his post-presidential debut, at No. 12.

Such lists are a fun parlor game, if one that tends to provoke weary sighs from scholars, including some of the 91 who participated in the poll. “It’s not a thing that lends itself easily to quantification,” said one of them, David Greenberg, a historian at Rutgers University (and author of books about Richard Nixon and Calvin Coolidge). “But still we play along.”

Our attachment to these rankings, Mr. Greenberg said, reflects something real. “The president is a singularly important symbolic figure in our national culture,” he said. “Because the head of government is also head of state, the president just becomes this vehicle for emotional attachment that might otherwise go to a king.”

Fair enough. But are “public persuasion,” “crisis leadership,” “moral authority,” and pursuit of “equal justice for all,” to name some of the criteria C-Span used, really the only things that count? Now that the Presidents’ Day pieties are over, let’s look at some alternate ranking systems that take account of the things that really matter.

Read entire article at NYT


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