What is the true measure of a U.S. president? We'll find out when the C-SPAN ranking comes out later this month.
I just submitted my ranking of the presidents for C-SPAN. With each new administration, historians around the country consider various criteria and rank the presidents starting with dear old George and updating through the most recent person to serve as chief executive.
The distinguished group tasked with this lofty goal is made up of some of the most impressive professors, authors, and historians in the country.
The first time I was asked to participate, Brian Lamb signed the letters personally and I framed mine. The letter still hangs in my office, an homage to someone I greatly admire. As the founder of C-SPAN, he has created some of the most boring television ever, and some of the most important. He has given Americans not a glimpse, but a front-row seat, to their government in action (or in a process of stagnation, as the case might be).
The presidents are judged, on a scale of 1 through 10, on the following criteria: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision on setting an agenda, pursued equal justice for all and performance within the context of times.
The survey results are tabulated and a snapshot of the American presidency emerges. I fall in line with many of the assessments. James Buchanan comes out on bottom, ranking even lower than the ill-fated William Henry Harrison who was in office only a month before dying. I am reminded of the story that Mary Lincoln admonished her husband for feeding Tabby the cat with a silver spoon. He responded, "If it's good enough for Buchanan, it's good enough for Tabby."
Speaking of Abraham Lincoln, he comes out on top, passing Washington. I do not agree. My friends argue that Lincoln faced the greatest crisis and I counter with, "What is a greater crisis than creating a country?"
I take this seriously. I have had many discussions with my friends over the past weeks debating various executives and sometimes my opinion shifted.
My 4-year-old granddaughter no doubt heard these conversations and saw the paperwork on the table. Before I snatched the pages from her artistic hand, she had ranked them thusly: U. S. Grant got an "N" on International Relations (in teaching lingo meaning the student never showed up), an "E" on administrative skills and an "E" on Relations with Congress.
Presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, and Woodrow Wilson got a cat. She bypassed Warren G. Harding altogether.
Pulitzer-prize-winning author, T. J. Stiles, has his own suggestions for appropriate criteria for assessing the presidents, and I believe they are worthy of consideration. They include: the most underappreciated as good presidents, the most effective but for ill, the most transformative appointments, the biggest surprise as an effective/good president and conversely the biggest disappointment.
Stiles also suggested the best nickname. Surely “the Gipper” would get an 8.5, if not a 9.
The survey results will be released on June 30, resulting in some lively conversations and perhaps a revision in methodology. In addition to the 1-through-10 scoring system, the 11th score will be a cat.
Deb Goodrich is the co-host, with Michelle Martin, of Around Kansas and the Garvey Texas Historian in Residence at the Fort Wallace Museum. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.