Reviewing Presidential Success…
Yeah, a brand new book, one I have been waiting to read. This book is the absolute must for the Presidential historian’s out there and obviously a prepared work because the author does not hold back anything on anyone.
The new book I am reading is so far up on the business of this citizen journalist’s site and fortunately for me, it parallels my own potential best-seller to a larger degree than I would like it too. Nonetheless, when I see a section that even resembles something that I’ve written, those chills are really quite a feeling.
The book is titled, 9 Presidents who Screwed-up America, by Brion McClanahan and of course published by Regnery Publishing (same company who did Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin, and ¡Adios, America!, by Ann Coulter). I would like to start from what he terms, The Right Presidential Yardstick.
How do Americans measure presidential success? By popularity? Effective communication? Success in achieving foreign or domestic policy goals? Energy and activity in the office? Leadership? The overall health of the country during and immediately after a president’s administration? Sure, this is a difficult question and one that Americans have pondered for decades.
The real story or a close one is when he mentions Arthur Schlesinger Sr.’s 1948 first academic poll to rank presidents for an issue of Time Magazine. This poll found 6 presidents t be “great”: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. Schlesinger followed up in 1962 almost two decades later for 75 historians with the same poll including the same presidents. The only difference found Andrew Jackson dropped from the great category otherwise the list remained static, for the New York Times Magazine.
In these two polls Schlesinger found those who were listed as “great” and “above average” shared the same criteria; consequently, the data showed that those historians rating used leadership, vision, and success in achieving their desired foreign or domestic policy goals. Those presidents who had received “below average” and “poor” ratings tended to be those who had forgettable administrations, without achieving policy goals or those who blundered through the beginning of the Great Depression or the Civil War.
Now the rub. According to McClanahan, the problem with these academic polls was not the questions but the perception of the executive office, a perception that has been skewed by the success of the U.S. in the twentieth century; moreover, by the growth of the power of the executive branch as seen by the other branches and levels of government.
The author admits that the historians polled lacked an originalist perspective on the Constitution. Therefore, they ranked the presidents based on the outcome of their policies, not on how they upheld the oath they took when sworn into office, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Ranking a president on that basis would entail that the historian had a knowledge and understanding of the ratification process of the Constitution. You see in 1787 and 1788 most proponents of the Constitution argued that executive powers would be implemented after the Constitution was ratified. The truth was evident, they did not know. McClanahan believes that the greatest minds of the time of ratification including, John Dickinson, Roger Sherman, John Rutledge, Oliver Ellsworth and Edmund Randolph argued that the executive was not to have the power of the King of England.
Furthermore, the papers of the day, the Federalist papers as well as the Anti-Federalist papers spoke of this very phenomenon. He further believes that most Americans today – including historians and academics – have a distorted view. We ask what the president should do in office, not what he is constitutionally permitted to do in office. The latter should be the measure of the man.
Potential executive abuse was the fear of a ratified Constitution. The founding generation considered an out of control executive to be the greatest bane of liberty. More tomorrow, k?