George R. Goethals Chronicle: Ranking of Presidential Leaders | Editorial

But even during the first C-SPAN investigation in 2000, Grant had started to come out of the bottom. His ranking has steadily increased since then. Now he’s in the top half. A clue to the reason is suggested by looking at the president who fell the most, Andrew Jackson – from 13 to 22 – and also at Woodrow Wilson, the only president to come out of the top 10. Wilson went from six to nine, then to 11 and 13 of the four surveys.

What is happening? Clearly, reviews of these presidents’ actions toward black Americans, and then more broadly perceptions of their moral leadership, are informing changes. Before, but especially after the murder of George Floyd, racial justice takes on more weight.

C-SPAN rankings are based on the assessments of 142 historians, academics, and biographers who rated all CEOs on 10 different dimensions of leadership and then received an overall rating. One of the categories is Pursuit of Equal Justice for All.

Grant ranks sixth, behind Lincoln, Lyndon B. Johnson, Barack Obama, Truman and Jimmy Carter. On moral authority, Grant climbed 14 ranks. He climbs even more on the odds of Vision. At the same time, Wilson loses 17 places on Pursued Equal Justice For All and 13 on Moral Authority, while Jackson loses 18 places on the latter.

What to think of such judgments? Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton’s research suggests that reviewers, both academics and the general public, pay attention to only a few important and memorable pieces of information. Then they make overall judgments based on those little nuggets of knowledge.


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Kevin E. Boling

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