The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Ratings Game
Recorded on June 11, 2008
Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium
It's a perennial pastime to rate U.S. Presidents on an all-time
ranking: Certain Presidents were "Great," others were "Near-Great,"
and so on down to "Failures" and "Unmitigated Disasters."
(OK, we made that last category up.) But as Alvin Felzenberg
points out, there are many flaws with these rating systems.
Despite reams of new historical information, the rankings never
seem to change very much. They all favor a certain kind of
President - those who tended to increase executive power.
That aside, the idea of rating presidential performance on a simple
linear scale is absurd. The Leaders We Deserved (and a
Few We Didn't) breaks presidential performance into easily
understandable categories - character, vision, competence, foreign
policy, economic policy, human rights, and legacy - and assesses,
for each category, the best and worst. The result is a
surprisingly fresh look at how our various Presidents stack up
against each other, with some of the "greats" coming off far worse
than their supposedly mediocre colleagues.
Alvin S. Felzenberg teaches at the Annenberg School for
Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He was the
principal spokesman for the 9/11 Commission, an advisor to the
Department of Defense and the Voice of America, and served in
several senior staff positions at the U.S. House of Representatives
as well as New Jersey's Assistant Secretary of State.