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Where They Stand

Examines presidential ratings by pitching historians' views against the judgment of the presidents' own contemporaries.

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"Review by Sanford LevinsonEvery four years, we both celebrate the Summer Olympics and elect American presidents. Both athletes and candidates are well aware of the current record holders and desire to set new records. Robert W. Merry, a longtime Washington journalist and biographer of James K. Polk, offers an insightful overview of the presidential "rating game" by which our now 44 presidents are sorted into bins ranging from "Great" to "Failures." He emphasizes two ways that presidents are rated. One of them involves professional historians and academics who have, since 1948 (most recently in 2005), regularly rated the presidents. The other concerns the verdicts of the electorate: Did they re-elect the president in question and, just as importantly, according to Merry, reward the president for a successful two terms by electing as his successor a member of the president's own party?Based on these two criteria, supplemented by his own observations on American political history, Merry also sorts the presidents into suitable boxes, beginning with his six "Leaders of Destiny," the greatest of our presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt. As one might expect, he adds relatively little to the way we think about these presidents, given that they are the subjects of countless biographies and, particularly in the case of Lincoln and FDR (who, with Washington, head every one of the academics' ratings over the years), endless discussion. Merry does note that Jackson's ratings have fluctuated downward as more attention has been paid to his truly awful policies concerning Native Americans.Merry is more interesting on the remainder of the presidents, as he explains why he believes that some, including Warren Harding and Dwight Eisenhower, have been underrated and Woodrow Wilson, in particular, greatly overrated. Merry writes in the style of a good conversationalist, inviting both appreciative assent and, at times, disagreement. I believe, for example, that Lyndon B. Johnson wasfar more than a man "obsessed with the accumulation and exercise of political power for its own sake and for personal glory." This simply does not explain why Johnson was quite self-consciously willing to destroy the Democratic Party as he knew it in order to guarantee African-Americans the right to vote throughout America and otherwise begin cashing what Martin Luther King termed the "promissory note" included within the Fourteenth Amendment added to the Constitution in the aftermath of Civil War.Political buffs share certain traits with sports buffs. The latter can argue vigorously about the comparative merits of Ty Cobb andRogers Hornsby, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, and contemporary candidates for the Hall of Fame. Just as with even very good ballplayers who will properly be excluded from the Hall of Fame, so will most American presidents, even quite good ones, be found wanting when compared with the true Greats, even as we hope, every four years, that perhaps this time we will be electing a potential Hall of Famer. Merry offers food for thought as we enter the quadrennial presidential games and decide whom to root (and vote) for."
  • SKU: 000000000001352890
  • Author: Robert Merry
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Inc.
  • Release date: Jun 19, 2012
  • ISBN: 9781451625400
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Commitment Credit: 0
  • Book Search Plus: No
  • Warnings: No warnings
  • Height: 0.800
  • Length: 9.250
  • Width: 6.250

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