Those who have been to my personal site will have observed that I paused my ‘Major League Presidents’ competition after 41 contests. Basically, that’s because I have a ton of work to do, including my summer classes. But I am also not entirely satisfied with my numbers, and I am considering revisiting them. For this article, I would like to explain what I was trying to do, and to ask for your input on the essential elements.
It’s a popular game to rank Presidents, and a lot of publications, schools, websites, and media like to do so. Of course, what happens is usually predictable when you know the leaning of the authors/producers, and so the rankings lose a bit of their usefulness. I have come to the conclusion that part of this comes from two mistakes. First, these polls basically just assign some nominal value to each candidate, total them up and sort them out by their total score. This misses the fact that each President lives and serves in a different set of circumstances, and some Presidents were dealt an easier hand than others. Further, it seems that any President who served prior to 1840 is given an aura of superiority, without much consideration of the fact that everyone has their good and bad points, Presidents included. I don’t agree with the notion that a President should be considered better or worse than other Presidents on every point of comparison. Every man who served as President had certain abilities and skills which made them desirable as President in the first place, including those men who became President through the death or resignation of their predecessor. To gain perspective from studying Presidents, we need to watch out for the blunder of making President’s one-dimensional.
Some may ask why measure Presidents at all? The present field of candidates demonstrates why, I think. Is Barack Obama or Fred Thompson, with so little experience in office, really a good fit for the office? On the other, how should we weigh the long and often controversial records of people like John McCain or Hillary Clinton? Seeing how real-life Presidents handled their duties could be quite useful in marking desirable traits and warning signs in the candidates, and based on something better than emotion alone.
To sort out any comparison between Presidents, I developed a system which created a series of contests in various times and conditions, where in one case a certain President might prove superior but not necessarily in another set of conditions. Without going into even more annoying specifics, I began by trying to consider what qualities are desirable in a President. To do so, I tried to avoid the subjective – and therefore hopelessly volatile – measures which are so often presented, such as “honesty” and “courage”, because such descriptions will vary according to the flavor and mood of the respondent pool. Rather, I suggest that we examine the crises in American History, and how different Presidents dealt with them. So, for this article, I would like you to suggest some crisis in American History, and critique the responses of those Presidents who addressed them. In order to avoid the more emotional responses, I should like to ask that we limit the field to crises no later than 1987.