C-SPAN investigation into presidential leadership adds spark to Eisenhower and Truman • Missouri Independent


TOPEKA – Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman played a pivotal role in WWII and remain attached to each other near the top of the C-SPAN rankings of US presidents based on their leadership.

Eisenhower finished fifth behind No.1 Abraham Lincoln, No.2 George Washington, No.3 Franklin Roosevelt and No.4 Teddy Roosevelt. Eisenhower’s position was unchanged from the previous survey of historians in 2017.

Truman, of Independence, was in sixth place ahead of No.7 Thomas Jefferson, No.8 John Kennedy, No.9 Ronald Reagan and No.10 Barack Obama.

James Buchanan, who finished 44th, was the latest dead in the 2021 survey. Andrew Jackson stumbled in 43rd place. Tied for 41st place: Franklin Pierce and newcomer Donald Trump, who was eligible for the first time.

“What strikes me here is the stability,” said Richard Norton Smith, who headed the Dole Institute of Politics in Lawrence as well as the Eisenhower, Reagan, Ford, Lincoln and Herbert Hoover presidential libraries. “It’s interesting, especially at the top and bottom of the list, how little significant movement there has been.”

“In contrast, living presidents seem much more likely to fluctuate,” the historian said. “It’s almost like there’s a boomerang effect where historians go a little too far when presidents step down and are at the nadir of their partisan reputation, and then they shift to less political status.”

Obama entered the rankings at No. 12 four years ago, but improved two places in 2021. George W. Bush continues to climb the mountain from No. 36 in 2009 to No. 33 in 2017 and No. 29 in 2021.

Ulysses Grant recorded the largest overall gain in all four C-SPAN Presidential Leadership Surveys, rising from 13 places from 33rd in 2000 to 20th in 2021.

“Grant is living his ‘Hamilton’ moment,” said Douglas Brinkley, professor at Rice University in Texas.

For the new survey, C-SPAN asked 142 presidential historians and professional presidential observers to rank the country’s 44 former leaders on 10 characteristics of leadership. Released in conjunction with Independence Day, the 2021 results were produced by twice as many reviewers as in 2017. The list of analysts has been changed to broaden diversity in terms of philosophy, age, gender and of race.

Trump, who lost his 2020 re-election to President Joe Biden, received his highest marks in public persuasion, ranking 32nd, and in economic management, ranking 34th. The panel ranked Trump last in the categories of moral authority and administrative skills.

Brinkley said Trump’s connection to impeachment negatively impacted his score for how this process also undermined Nixon and Clinton. In 2000, Nixon was ranked 26th but fell to 31st. Bill Clinton opened in 21st place, peaked at 15th place in 2009 and 2017 before slipping to 19th place in 2021.

“This year people have compared which is worse: Watergate or the impeachment of Trump? Brinkley said. “The word ‘impeachment’ probably cost Nixon a few places this year, and possibly Clinton as well.”

Howard University’s Edna Greene Medford said appreciation of the historical implications of racial injustice in the United States has grown, but slave presidents remain at the top of the list.

“While we may be a little more enlightened about the breed today, we still discount its importance when evaluating these presidents,” she said.


Kevin E. Boling

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