[Make sure to order Robert Spencer’s new book, Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster.]
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
In the first year of President Trump’s first term in office, C-SPAN’s Presidential Historians Survey ranked Obama as the 12th greatest president and Bill Clinton as the 15th greatest president. The survey made no mention of the current president. Siena College’s Presidential Expert Poll, which did include President Trump, listed him as the 3rd worst president.
Who are these historians and presidential experts?
The volumes of presidential biographies are rife with everything from plagiarism to political agendas. The historians who produce them tend to spend all their free time recording PBS specials and touting a distorted version of history in which the greatest Americans are those who do the most to undermine the country and to sell out the interests and future of its people.
The same Siena survey which ranked President Trump near the very bottom also asked its experts and historians whom they would pick to manage the country’s problems. Out of seven categories, Obama was picked to deal with three problems, healthcare, racial progress, and developing a shared vision. Bill Clinton won one category and FDR another. The only Republican the experts were able to countenance was Eisenhower and only for military matters.
Presidential rankings are politically subjective.
Ulysses S. Grant, who now routinely ranks at the very bottom, was the object of a political cult of personality in his lifetime. JFK retains top rankings even though any serious historian would be hard pressed to explain what his accomplishments were. Woodrow Wilson’s comfortable perch near the top will shift as cancel culture catches up with the first progressive Democrat.
But progressive historians used to practically worship Wilson while hating Eisenhower.
The presidential rankings were an innovation of Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr, the progressive historian whose son, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr, was probably the single worst political historian, working on Democrat campaigns and then writing about them, while smearing Republicans.
The Schlesinger surveys boosted progressives, placing FDR right behind Lincoln and Washington, with Woodrow Wilson in fourth place. They also ranked Eisenhower, whom progressives violently loathed at the time, as a near failure. Today, Eisenhower is highly ranked as a study in contrast with later Republicans. Republican presidents are denounced as fascist dictators when in office and then later redeemed to use them as a cudgel against their successors. That’s why George W. Bush, the subject of his own derangement syndrome when he was in office, is being rehabilitated as an attack on Trump. And one day, historians will point to Donald J. Trump as the model of what a decent Republican president ought to be like.
So the one thing we know about presidential rankings is that they’re worthless. Until now.
For his twentieth book, Robert Spencer, the masterfull historian of the scope and origins of Islamic terrorism, takes a patriotic historical detour with, “Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster”.
Robert Spencer’s criteria is very different from those of progressive historians and pundits who glorify politicians that speak to their leftist ideals and whose soaring rhetoric sends thrills running up their legs, who admire the creases of their pants and the speeches that were written for them by teams of experts, but who daintily turn away from the obligation of recording the carnage and catastrophes of their policies.
“Rating America’s Presidents” focuses on whether a particular president was good for America and goes down the whole list from Washington to Trump, exploring the implications of their policies and the endurance of their political legacies. Spencer ranks presidents based on a simple system: did they cause harm or were they good for the United States of America?
“Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster” offers a short focused summary of each president, listing their greatest accomplishments and worst failures, serving up a few anecdotes from their administrations and a nugget or two from their eras, and summing up their effectiveness.
Robert Spencer’s new book takes the old historian ranking system and democratizes it by showing the work behind the rankings. Instead of providing impenetrable black box surveys based on subjective or entirely hidden criteria, Spencer methodically lays out his criteria and the thought process behind them in his introduction, and then develops it in every presidential capsule biography as he proceeds down the list from the first to the present president.
Unlike the work of many left-wing historians, “Rating America’s Presidents” doesn’t employ a crude partisan lens. Although the summaries of each president may be brief, Spencer ably dissects the strengths and weaknesses of both popular and unpopular presidents, focusing less on image and on feelings than on the impact their policies had on the United States of America.
Too many historians celebrated JFK and then Obama because of how these men made them feel, how their speeches touched them, and how their visions dovetailed with their politics. But Robert Spencer builds up America’s story through its presidents by showing how the decisions of each administration and its enemies brought us to the triumphs and challenges of today.
And, as a historian of the Jihad, Robert Spencer doesn’t neglect America’s earliest confrontations with the intolerance and the expansionism of Islam as a challenge that did not emerge on a cool September of a new century, but that its earliest leaders also had to confront.
“Rating America’s Presidents” would make a great resource for teens confronting political indoctrination in the classroom. Robert Spencer packs a great deal of knowledge and insight into every presidential capsule biography from George Washington to Donald J. Trump.
Easily readable and focused, Spencer’s twentieth book is as invaluable as his first.
Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster by Robert Spencer is available now from Bombadier Books.
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