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Yglesias Ranks the Presidents


Too busy with book revisions and class prep and hating snow to do any President’s Day posts of my own, but I thought Yglesias’ ranking of presidents was not bad. Ranking Washington 1st is fully defensible, even if I’d go with Lincoln. Establishing the precedent of peaceful transfer of power was vital (and is much to John Adams’ credit as well). TR is about right at #11; the idea of the man as a great president and great man is really falling for the self-promotional material TR himself played a central role in creating. Among other things, for as meh as Taft might have been, so much of Taft’s bad reputation today comes from TR’s self-serving biography written after their split. LBJ seems about right, as does Jefferson.

Really just two major objections and then some minor ones. I know that among the progressive blogosphere, Grant’s reputation has skyrocketed in recent years but the idea that he was the 4th best president is not something I can buy. I agree that much of the criticism of Grant over the years was Dunning School inspired and I realize that there wasn’t that much he could really do in the face of widespread corruption washing over the entire Republican Party and the creeping return of white supremacy, but he wasn’t a particularly effective president. I’d also rank John Tyler much lower. The man named John C. Calhoun Secretary of State and committed the nation to an aggressive pro-slavery policy to carve out a place for a hopeful election victory in 1844. It didn’t work but it did go very far to making sectional tensions the dominant feature of American politics. I’d rank him below Fillmore, if not Pierce and Buchanan.

I don’t think I can agree about George H.W. Bush as #8, but I’d at least be willing to hear the argument. I’d rank Cleveland lower too, but we are really getting into nit-picking mode at this point

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