Choosing which President has been the Best v. the Worst
Presidents have been judged on their job performance since George Washington took the first oath of office on April 20, 1789. Not even he was immune from criticism, some of it harsh. The essayist Tom Payne wrote a stinging rebuke of the Washington administration — and of Washington’s character just before the first president left office.
Every administration has its critics. Indeed we can often learn more from opponents of an administration than from those who supported the president. But criticism shouldn’t be dismissed as simply a partisan political maneuver. We fear those in power who think and act least like us and therefore scrutinize their every decision. This would be the Founder’s position as well. Jealously guarding constitutional limitations on the executive is a healthy reaction from the American polity.
With each successive administration, Americans have compared and measured the man in office against his predecessors. Even sitting presidents themselves have attempted to attach their administration to supposed greats of the past. In the modern era, last week’s news might as well have been two hundred years ago, but by showing continuity between Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, politicians hope to persuade the American public to buy they pitch and support their policies.
This example is used based on the demographic size of Latino’s registration to vote. Do you suppose that this is directly involved with 6 million of these individuals being granted some form of amnesty? How about in-state tuition, driver’s licenses’, work, and the hell with court?
But how do Americans measure presidential success? This is where the story gets interesting. Is it by popularity? Effective communication? Success in achieving foreign or domestic policy goals? Energy and activity in the office? Leadership? The measured overall health of the country during and immediately after a president’s administration? This is a difficult question and one that Americans have pondered for decades.
For the sake of our critique then it is suggested that the office of president should be used as the was the founding generation intended by vetoing unconstitutional legislation and avoiding foreign entanglements. Polls have always used scholars from academia and publications remained quite consistent, perhaps because of the fact the historians surveyed generally used the same criteria for determining the “greatness factor” of the president, namely leadership qualities, vision, and success in achieving their desired foreign or domestic policy goals.
The problem with these academic polls is not the questions but the perception of the executive office — a perception that has been skewed by the success of the United States in the twentieth century and the growth of the power of the executive branch with regards to the other branches and levels of government. The historians who participated in these polls lacked an originalist perspective on the Constitution. Therefore they ranked 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.”
The source citation for this writing comes mainly from the book, 9 Presidents Who Screwed Up America: And Four Who Tried to Save Her written by Brion McClanahan and is an influential read.