Historians weigh in on the President who had the best last year in office

Historians in the News
tags: Obama

FDR signing Social Security in 1935, early in his administration

In one retelling, the term “lame duck” first diffused into the American political lexicon with President Abraham Lincoln, who supposedly said that “[a] senator or representative out of business is a sort of lame duck.” Lincoln fared better than Calvin Coolidge, who was reportedly the first sitting president to have the epithet deployed against him. Though the term specifically refers to the period of drift that occasions the interval between Election Day and the swearing in of a politician’s successor, the “lame duck” mantra has come to infect the fears of outgoing presidents as they face down their final year in office. Can they overcome political stalemate and defy increasingly long odds to make good on one last campaign promise, or preserve another sliver of their legacy?

Thus far, President Barack Obama seems determined to make a mark in his final year—so central is the buzzer beater to the president’s political philosophy that he once reportedly distributed handwritten notes to his cabinet, which simply read, “[R]eally important things happen in the fourth quarter.” So in the spirit of fruitful fourth quarters, Politico Magazine put the question to 12 top historians: Which president had the best final year in office? Who has history rewarded? And which model should Obama follow for his own half-court shot?

Teddy Roosevelt:  Margaret O'Mara, associate professor of history at the University of Washington

George Washington:  Jeremi Suri, professor of history and global affairs at the University of Texas

James Madison:  Jack Rakove, professor of history and political science at Stanford University

FDR:  Meg Jacobs, research scholar in the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University

George Washington:  Elizabeth Cobbs, professor of American history at Texas A&M and research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution

Ronald Reagan:  Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University

George Washington: Mary Dudziak, professor of law at Emory University and chair in American law and governance at the Library of Congress

Calvin Coolidge:  Amity Shlaes, New York Times best-selling author and presidential scholar at King's CollegeIke:  Vanessa Walker, assistant professor of history at Amherst College

Read entire article at Politico for detailed explanations of choices

comments powered by Disqus