Blogs > Liberty and Power > Seeing Calvin Coolidge as a Dream

Dec 22, 2006 4:47 pm

Seeing Calvin Coolidge as a Dream

I recently had an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times on the virtues of presidential inaction--and how the presidential scholars who participate in presidential rankings surveys tend to greatly overvalue imperial presidents. Excerpt:

Summing up the results of one of his surveys, the historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. -- who in 1948 introduced the practice of presidential rankings -- noted that"mediocre presidents believed in negative government, in self-subordination to the legislative power," while top-ranked presidents"left the executive branch stronger and more influential than [they] found it."

And scholars continue to see it that way today, favoring presidents who expand executive power and preside over major wars.

Thus, in a 1996 survey by Schlesinger's son and namesake, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., five of the top 10 presidents were war leaders, including James K. Polk, whose major distinction is an unconstitutionally begun war of conquest; Woodrow Wilson, who brought us into a war most historians view as pointless carnage, and Harry S Truman, who launched our first major undeclared war and was rebuked by the Supreme Court for claiming that his powers as commander in chief allowed him to seize American companies.

I also did a podcast on the subject, here (scroll down to December 19).

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