Historians Rank George W. Bush Among Worst Presidents

Lincoln and Washington were rated as the best

By Kenneth T. Walsh

Posted: February 17, 2009


President George W. Bush is near the bottom of the heap in the latest survey of historians on presidential leadership.

Bush received an overall ranking of 36 out of 42 former presidents—in the bottom 10.

Ronald Reagan was rated 10th best, up from 11th in a similar survey taken in 2000; Bill Clinton was rated 15, up from 21 in 2000. George H.W. Bush went to 18 from 20.

The five best presidents, according to the historians, were Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, in that order. Rounding out the top 10 were John F. Kennedy at six, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson, and Reagan.

The worst presidents, according to the survey, were James Buchanan at 42, Andrew Johnson at 41, Franklin Pierce, William Henry Harrison, Warren Harding, Millard Fillmore, George W. Bush, John Tyler, Herbert Hoover, and Rutherford B. Hayes.

The survey was conducted for C-SPAN, the cable network, among 65 presidential historians and scholars, who ranked the 42 former occupants of the White House on 10 attributes of leadership: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, "vision/setting an agenda," "pursued equal justice for all," and "performance within the context of his times."

Supervising the survey were historians Douglas Brinkley of Rice University, Edna Medford of Howard University, and Richard Norton Smith of George Mason University.

"How we rank our presidents is, to a large extent, influenced by our own times," Medford said in a news release. "Today's concerns shape our views of the past, be it in the area of foreign policy, managing the economy, or human rights. . . . Lincoln continues to rank at the top in all categories because he is perceived to embody the nation's core values: integrity, moderation, persistence in the pursuit of honorable goals, respect for human rights, compassion; those who collect near the bottom are perceived as having failed to uphold those values."

Among the historians and political scientists who participated in the ratings were H. W. Brands, Thomas Cronin, Robert Dallek, Alvin Felzenberg, Fred Greenstein, and James McPherson.

Everyone Gets It All Wrong

I typically don't do blogs...and I'm not a W sympathizer. Nor am I the "brightest bulb in the knife drawer" either (get your misquoted quotes correct, joe). But I do believe that any stock put into any judgement of presidents within the last 30 years is both very presumptuous and short sighted. "Historians" should be the first to state this. Reagan's legacy is one of myth and legend befitting only pop culture icons. Same with Kennedy, Lincoln, Washington...but the question is do they deserve this rose colored iconic status??

Only difference is that for those listed in the last sentence is that we have the benefit and hindsight of "time" to more accurately judge these men. I doubt many even realize the full impact of Nixon's presidency, let alone anyone after him.

The Bush clan gets a bad wrap...and truthfully, they are as flawed as they are royalty. Kennedy's, Rockefeller's, Roosevelt's, even Clinton's now...they are all of the same mold in a way. But history is most unkind to the Bush family because they (as opposed to the rest of the royal families) aren't as charismatic. They do business. They are businessmen. So...as much of Clinton's legacy is his personality such is the same for HW & W.

All of the "Best Presidents" listed above had MAJOR flaws and were EXTREMELY unpopular in most cases. Washington (didn't really want the gig)...Lincoln (barely won in the first place and then acted as if he had a mandate from the people, unpopular even in the North)...Teddy was imperialistic...Kennedy was alot of things and had a hard re-election coming up...Jefferson may have been the first philanderer in the White House...you get the point. I'm not doubting their greatness...but in many cases it was later generations that realized their greatness and largely ignore when they "screwed up." After Reagan left he wasn't the most popular guy. Clinton was a JOKE after he left (remember the 2 big GOP sweeps?) Carter was a joke...but really only recently we are seeing him less as the "Hostage or Gas Crisis guy" (which is why he lost the prez) but more as the "Peacemaker." Even NIXON! Loathed for decades...now, WOW...he SURE WAS GREAT WITH CHINA!!

Bush Sr - ...yes, got screwed by Reagan's economy finally bursting. That's why he lost. BUT...anyone notice it was his tax cuts that made the Clinton years so great? AND he thwarted Iraq when they WERE at their most powerful and could have been a threat to invade more in the area.

GWB - well. Gotta admit a lot of crap went down while this guy was around. 9/11 was no Kosovo or Noriega. Yes...really botched the WMD deal. But why were we in places like Korea or Vietnam to begin with (to fund wars!) I think it's WAY too early to put W or Obama on a list of bad/good. Let our kids do that, they're the only ones that will have to live in the world these guys shaped.

(but you and I are probably old enough to start baggin' on LBJ!)

Jeb Bush of FL @ Jan 08, 2011 13:11:29 PM


George W. Bush's high school transcripts are locked away for now and all eternity! Like anyone would care?

Bobbie Buchanan of TX @ Nov 13, 2010 23:21:22 PM

Re-Elect Al Gore

Should have run for a second term. After he really beat Bush in the first election before Florida screwed up the vote counting.

WC Edgar of TN @ Nov 13, 2010 20:12:09 PM

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