Presidential Greatness Essay

1869 words - 7 pages

Ranking presidential greatness is a process, which is largely based upon opinion and personal judgment. With any ranking system, whether based on subjective or objective criteria, judgment and opinion is required to determine which factors best serve as indicators or measurements of greatness. While opinion serves as a major part of the decision-making process, a factual framework is also intrinsic to the process of ranking presidential greatness. This framework serves as the basis on which comparisons are made and can include factors such as those related to historical events, presidential accomplishments, presidential performance, personal characteristics, etc. The central focus of the paper is to discuss presidential greatness. I will begin by examining the American public's general conception of presidential greatness and their apparent views regarding the subject. In the second half of the discussion, I will examine how scholars have attempted attempt to define greatness and rank presidents; I will also include my analysis and criticism their arguments. The subsequent focus of this paper is to present my own definition of presidential greatness and the categorization and ranking processes that I have devised. I will conclude by presenting the president who according to my definition qualifies as the greatest president.
Poll data seems to suggest that in general public's evaluation presidential greatness is shortsighted. When asked to identify whom they considered the greatest president, over 53% voted for a president whose term in office occurred after the latter half of the 20th century. Of the 17 presidents who received votes, 11 had served after 1950 and only four served prior to 1900. At the top of the list was Ronald Reagan, who received 19% of the votes, Abraham Lincoln with 14%, Bill Clinton with 13%, John Kennedy with 11%, and George Washington with 10%. In addition, included in the list was our most recent presidents Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush who received 5% and 1% respectively. In the past 12 years, Gallup has conducted the same poll eight times, and each time the top ranking president has been one of three candidates: Reagan, Kennedy, or Lincoln. The poll also reveals that party affiliation affects the public's opinion regarding presidential greatness. According to Republicans that participated in the poll the top five greatest presidents are Reagan (38%), Washington (14%), Lincoln (13%), Kennedy (7%), and George W. Bush (5%). Clinton leads among Democrats with 22% of the vote followed by Kennedy (18%), Obama (11%), Franklin Roosevelt (10%), and Lincoln (10%).
Michael Genovese examines presidential greatness within the context of presidential usage of power. He points to Franklin Roosevelt as a president whose term lead to the invention of the "modern presidency" and which brought about "a new standard of greatness" that increased the public's expectations for successive presidents (Genovese, Memo 45). Genovese...

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