Over two hundred presidential scholars ranked the 43 U.S. Presidents on six personal attributesInteresting criteria--especially the luck factor and avoiding mistakes. It is not hard to see why Bush would fall so low, given several of these: intelligence, compromising, communication, members of the exec branch (Cheney, Rumsfeld, his Attorneys General), and AVOIDING MISTAKES. 9/11 was not Bush's fault nor was Katrina--bad luck, not unlike Jimmy Carter inheriting stagflation. But what Bush did with the increased room to maneuver after 9/11 was awful. Firing the Iraqi army was perhaps the single worst mistake in American foreign policy in the past one hundred years, and it was even worse than I thought as I learned last night that it put Matt Damon at risk in Green Zone.
(background, imagination, integrity, intelligence, luck and willingness to take risks), five forms of ability (compromising, executive, leadership, communication and overall) and eight areas of accomplishment including economic, other domestic affairs, working with Congress and their party, appointing supreme court justices and members of the executive branch, avoiding mistakes and foreign policy.
Of course, Obama is not looking as good as he once was, with the oil spill serving as his Katrina perhaps. I am more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, however, because the tools at his disposal to handle the oil spill are far fewer than those available to Bush to handle the aftermath of the hurricane. Also, I am, of course, biased. I feel bad for the guy, inheriting just a poor set of cards--housing bust, financial sector mess, big deficits, two difficult wars, broken car industry, etc. I wonder if he will get a lot of credit in the long run for avoiding making things worse via the bailouts and some stimulus. I do think re-election or not will do much to shape the tale.
Back to the survey, what I find most interesting are the changes towards the top. The top five has been relatively consistent although Teddy Roosevelt has been moving from 5 to 2 over the past thirty years (better press now? or just looking like the optimal Republican?). More surprising is that Monroe and Madison have been jumping up to 6 and 7 on the list. Less surprising is Kennedy falling off of the top ten. I am not an historian so I do not know what is changing in the histories of these Presidents, although I would guess that it might be the changes in the historians who are surveyed that might be making a difference. Otherwise, are there new facts or interpretations that are driving these shifts?