Well a new poll by Harris Interactive has come out, and when asked who they think the greatest American President was, respondants chose Abraham Lincoln. He won roughly twenty percent of the votes cast by 2,302 adults in the United States.
The options were somewhat structured. Not every president was included, for some reason, only those recognized previously as "famous," or "great," were allowed to be chosen, like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge. All presidents after FDR were included. Responses were tallied by how many answered "best" or "second best."
However, Lincoln seems to be the only name in its proper place, here is the list as selected by those 2,302 Americans, who seem to have trouble with amassing any collective long-term memory.
10 - George W. Bush
9 - Theodore Roosevelt
8 - Harry S Truman
7 - Thomas Jefferson
6 - Bill Clinton
5 - George Washington
4 - John F. Kennedy
3 - FDR
2 - Ronald Reagan
1 - Abraham Lincoln
Americans seem to suffer from the opposite problem that plagues many of the places in conflict around the world. In Israel, Kosovo, and Northern Ireland, there are long standing blood feuds between different groups that center on issues going back centuries. In Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites are fighting over massacres that took place over a millennium ago. But Americans easily forget it seems, which is good when it keep us from slaughtering each other, but bad when it leads to misplaced adulation.
George W. Bush does not belong on this list, period. He is probably going to go down as one of the worst presidents in American history. There is really no major positive achievement that his administration can lay claim to. He invented a mandate and used it to weaken the constitution, govern through religious fanaticism and patriotic bullying, and has ruined a surplus. He has been bad from any perspective, Liberal, Conservative, Communist, Libertarian, Green, Anarchist, all of them can agree that he has been a terrible influence on the country.
And neither does Clinton. While he was not a terrible president, he was pretty much just a caretaker. None of his major initiatives managed to get through Congress and his style of rule was too tied to polls. Regardless of the whole mess he made on that intern's dress, his presidency was slightly above average, a B- so too speak.
Ronald Reagan might be a good number 10, but only if I was feeling generous. The mess we are dealing with in Afghanistan and Iraq is partly his fault. His administration was probably the most corrupt since that of Harding's, and he did nothing to balance the budget. Victory in the Cold War belongs more to George Marshal, Truman, and Nixon's strategic use of detente and opening up trade with China, than Reagan's posturing. It is Reagan who brought the Christian Right to power, a dangerous development, and who was the first president who governed through his image, and not through any coherent or well thought out policy. His style ushered in Clinton and Bush.
And he raised the drinking age. What a real state's rights conservative libertarian he was!
Okay, this is what I think the top ten should be:
1 - Abraham Lincoln, he fought the Civil War and kept the country together and began the elimination of slavery, though he could not see its abolition through.
2 - George Washington, he ranks he for mostly setting a good precedent. He stepped down after two terms and was able to keep the country together during the rough first years. However in terms of actual legislation, his administration is pretty thin so I have to rank Lincoln higher.
3 - FDR, he held the country together during the Great Depression, and lead the US through World War II, to become the world's great superpower.
4 - Jefferson, doubled the size of the country and balanced the budget. He also represents a good form of pragmatism, not abandoning his ideals as a whole, but willing to keep institutions that were working and necessary, he preserved many of the achievements of the previous Federalist administrations despite being a Democrat.
5 - James K. Polk, although by getting us California and Texas, maybe he did more wrong than good. Still the most successful one term president.
6 - Theodore Roosevelt, who I think still is one of the best examples of strong willed and charismatic leadership founded on pragmatic and still idealistic principles.
7 - Harry S Truman, began turning the tide back during the Cold War, though at the time no one realized it. Probably the best campaigner in American history, winning the 1948 election despite losing two major wings of his party, proving once and for all, Nader did not cost Gore the election, Gore did.
8 - Lyndon Johnson - Simply because he put his party's future aside and supported Civil Rights. Vietnam was a bad decision, and the Great Society had its problems, along with Nixon, perhaps our most tragic of presidents, too ambitious and cut down by their personality flaws.
9 - Woodrow Wilson - America's rise to power was largely through his efforts, and his internationalism is a cornerstone of most president's foreign policy one way or another.
10 - I am having trouble finding people to put here, so it could either be Reagan, Jackson, Eisenhower, or Kennedy.