Before President Joe Biden entered the White House, he consulted with several prominent historians about how to be a great commander in chief. Their answer: Grow government. Spend, spend, spend. Don’t worry about blowing up the debt.
It was the worst possible advice, and that meeting no doubt contributed to our economic calamity.
So, I wasn’t surprised to read about a poll of more than 100 of America’s most prominent academic historians who rated the greatest and the worst presidents. This is a farcical popularity contest that the Siena College Research Institute conducts every few years.
The results tell us much more about the leftward political leanings of historians than it does about presidential performance.
For example, the president ranked the highest in recent surveys has consistently been Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Others in the top five include Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and George Washington.
How is FDR a great president? Yes, he was the commander in chief of the military during World War II and deserved high marks for winning the war. But his domestic economic agenda was a failure of epic proportions. For the first eight years of the New Deal’s expansion of modern-day big government, the unemployment rate remained at about 10%, and the Great Depression went on and on.
Woodrow Wilson is also rated a near-great president. He raised the income tax from 7% to 70%, pulled America into a war we shouldn’t have fought, ran up the debt and ushered in the first disastrous era of “progressive” government. He is easily one of the five worst presidents of all time.
Biden was ranked 19th overall. So, the president who has raised the national debt into the stratosphere and has allowed inflation to surge to its highest level in 40 years is an above-average president? For what exactly? Uniting the country?
Speaking of economic failures, President Barack Obama lands in 11th place, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson is 8th best. His legacy was the catastrophic Vietnam War, the failed Great Society and the birth of the modern-day welfare state.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger, President Ronald Reagan, who won the Cold War, defeated communism and launched a three-decade stretch of prosperity, is rated only the 18th-best national leader. Reagan barely beats out Biden!
Donald Trump is ranked as the next-to-last of all presidents. Trump cut taxes, deregulated, made America energy-independent, was tough on China and engineered Operation Warp Speed that saved millions of lives worldwide. For that, he’s near the bottom of the heap.
So, who were the greatest presidents? Everyone has their favorites, but here’s my ranking based on promoting security, prosperity and limited government: Grover Cleveland, Calvin Coolidge, Jefferson, Reagan and Washington.
These presidents were champions of liberty and recognized government growth as the greatest path to tyranny. Trump, a president I worked for, should be in the “near great” category. But I’m biased.
Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economist with FreedomWorks. His latest book is “Govzilla: How the Relentless Growth of Government is Devouring our Economy.”