It’s always entertaining when the Brits comment on American history; it becomes presumptuous when they evaluate and rank American presidents.
Staffers at the British publication, the Times, did just that during our last national campaign and came up with some interesting picks on the first forty three American presidents: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/us_elections/article5055404.ece.
Their choices for the top nine chief executives were pretty much on the mark and not open for much quibbling, although the order could easily be challenged. Finishing 1-2 in the rankings were Lincoln and Washington and there’s not much debate there though their spots are interchangeable.
FDR as Numero Three can readily be disputed. The British are understandably partial toward Franklin Roosevelt since he immersed us in World War II in large part to save their sorry posteriors and to insure they did not speak German today instead of the Queen’s English. I’d assign Reagan to that third place (from eighth), move Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt up a peg into the fourth and fifth slots, Truman into sixth from seventh just ahead of Ike and, generously, let FDR claim the eighth position followed by James K. Polk.
Rounding out the Times’ top ten, Woodrow Wilson is another result of English indebtedness and partiality since he also saved their little island when he made us a player in the First World War by involving us in that European conflict and helping to turn the tide against the Kaiser, at the cost of over a quarter million U.S. casualties. Wilson’s War to End All Wars didn’t even come close to accomplishing that goal and the Versailles Treaty paved the way for Hitler and the next world war.
Consequently, I’d put Woodrow somewhere in the third tier, if that.
Other peculiar choices were JFK (11) and LBJ (12). The Times acknowledged that, “Kennedy had a troubling and not entirely successful foreign policy record that included the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the escalation of the Vietnam War” and that it was Johnson who turned Jack’s civil rights ideas into laws. Both also merit second, or third, tiers by virtue of involving us in Viet Nam and another loss of 60,000 lives in a losing cause.
Nevertheless, JFK’s continuing yet tarnished mystique still carried the day. As for LBJ’s mystique, maybe the Brits are into abusing dogs’ ears and presidents giving press conferences while sitting on the toilet?
President George H.W. Bush is well-placed at number 20 in the presidential sweepstakes, mainly because he became so enamored of his “New World Order” and his “kinder, gentler” politics that he lost sight of Reagan’s shining city on that hill and effectively abandoned Reagan’s conservative revolution that put him in office.
Clinton was a bare 3 presidents down the list from GHWB. As one Times evaluator moaned, he “Promised so much, delivered so little and embarrassed everyone,” which is a kinder, gentler way of saying he screwed up royally. His chief foreign policy screw up was allowing Usama bin Laden to escape when we had him in our sights, escape to live and plan another day for September 11th, 2001.
For some inexplicable reason, Gerald Ford, a true teats on a bull president, was made #25 on the Brit list, which at least was ahead of the man who defined an inept presidency, Jimmy Carter, who“got just about everything wrong.”
Not surprisingly for a Brit newspaper, George W. Bush was consigned the 37th position. What is surprising is that he finished behind Millard Filmore and Warren Harding! Good grief, Brits, have you no perspective and grasp of the reality of terrorism? Do you really think we will be able to bail you out a third time when Islamic Sharia law dictates your surrender?
Bringing up the rear, in British estimation are, in order, 32 day president William Harrison, Van Buren, Pierce, and Buchanan.
Almost lost in the shuffle is one, Richard M. Nixon at #37, the man who won 49 states in a re-election landslide but who still remains so politically toxic three and a half decades after his forced resignation that a rational and objective view of his tenure would be career-ending for most journalists.
My opinion? A century from now, historians will regard both RMN and GWB as being in the top ten of American presidents.
Feel free to quote me on that.