Jeffrey Valentine has given us a perfect send-off into Presidents Day weekend with an epic post ranking the 44 men who have led our nation.
When I was a lad, Presidential ranking lists were common and popular. Jeffrey’s version is better and fairer than most of them. Then as now, the historian cabal was overtly political, overwhelmingly liberal, and successfully misleading the public with false narratives gilded into accepted truth. Worst of all was Kennedy’s house historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. who was routinely treated by the news media of the time as an objective authority, which he most certainly was not. He placed his friend and idol JFK in the “Near Great” category, scrupulously ignored the warts on Democratic Presidents like Wilson and Jackson, and was especially unfair to Eisenhower, whose “hidden hand” Presidency has gradually won admirers the more we learn about what he was doing.
Ethics Alarms is dedicated to the subjects of both ethics and leadership, so Jeffrey’s commentary is especially welcome as well as timely. Here is Jeffrey Valentine’s Comment of the Day on the post, “The Big Lies Of The “Resistance”: #8 “Trump Only Cares About Himself, Not The Country.” I’ll be back for a brief comment at the end:
Perhaps moreso than the original post, Adimagejim’s comments about former President Obama [JAM: Commenter Adimagejim was extremely critical of President Obama ] got me thinking about how I think about Presidents and how they rank. The more I think about it, I put Presidents into seven distinct categories. As you will see, my personal opinions don’t always mesh with popular opinion. I will also note that while I find the Presidents fascinating, I won’t even pretend to study them to to the extent that our host has.
The categories are as follows:
1. The Greats with no caveats. These are the Presidents who could objectively say “I was a great President because…..”, have a really reasonable explanation of why they were great, and not have to explain away any major part of their respective presidencies. In this category, I place George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, James K. Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Ronald Reagan. [You’ll note these categories won’t create perfect rankings, per se, as I believe there is at least one president (Roosevelt) in paragraph 2 objectively better than Jefferson, Monroe, Polk, Truman, and Reagan].
[Note One: This ethics blog is often very critical of Jefferson-reasonably so as a man- but I’m ONLY analyzing the presidencies of these men. I think his presidency was clearly successful-even if he wasn’t an ethical individual. In fact, Jefferson may be the major exception that probes Jack’s rule that, generally speaking, the country is better served by an ethical man holding the presidency.]
[Note Two: James K. Polk doesn’t quite seem to fit on this list. I think his reputation is a function of consequentialism, however. He expanded U.S. territory, which set the stage for the civil war. Historians blame him for this- I don’t think that’s fair. I read somewhere that a historian once stated he resolved matter for HIS time. I think it’s unfair to expect a president to do more. What he resolved for his time- he resolved well. He was, therefore, a great, but not legendary, president.]
2. The Greats with Significant Caveats: These are the Presidents who could objectively say, “I was a great president because…”, have a really reasonable explanation about why they were great, but would have a major controversy or issue to to explain away in terms of their legacy. Caveats are always, in my mind, considered based on their respective times. My more liberal friends might put Washington in this category, because he owned slaves. I do not. This list includes Andrew Jackson (Trail of Tears), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Japanese American Internment), Dwight D. Eisenhower, (McCarthyism), Lyndon B. Johnson, (The Vietnam War), and Bill Clinton (Monica Lewinsky). Continue reading