Friday, July 2, 2010


Obama the Great

Barack Obama had barely settled in office when he won a Nobel Peace Prize. Though he's been in the job fewer than 18 months, liberal scholars are already rating him one of our better presidents, finishing ahead of even Ronald Reagan on 20 attributes ranging from legislative accomplishments to integrity.

In a Siena College poll of 238 presidential scholars, Mr. Obama emerges as the 15th most highly rated president, trailing Bill Clinton (13th place) but finishing three spots above Reagan (18th place). Mr. Obama's immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, was ranked number 39th among 42 presidents, and bested only Warren Harding in one category, intelligence.

Siena poll director Douglas Lonnstrom notes that Obama scored highest in the categories of imagination (6th), communication (7th) and intelligence (8th). His only poor rating was "background," where he placed 32nd, perhaps because of his relative inexperience before taking office.

If the Siena Poll proves anything, however, it's the folly of trusting "presidential scholars" to make objective judgments about presidents. In 2005, the Wall Street Journal published its own book, edited by James Taranto, exploring what makes American presidents great or groan-inducing. Mr. Taranto said at the time the book was needed because most surveys "reflect the left-wing bias of academia, and thus tend to give conspicuously low ratings to conservative presidents."

The Journal's survey polled an ideologically balanced group of 85 historians, political scientists, law professors and economists, whose range of political views was similar to that of Americans as a whole. The results? Three presidents were ranked as "great": George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. Eight presidents were ranked "near great," including Ronald Reagan, who finished eighth. John F. Kennedy was ranked 18th and Lyndon Johnson was ranked 17th, and those were the only high points for recent presidents.

Obviously, the 2005 Journal survey didn't rate Mr. Obama. But given the direction of the economy since he took office, a conspicuous absence of foreign policy successes and his falling public approval ratings, it's doubtful that his preliminary grade among Journal scholars would be nearly as high as the respondents in the Siena poll.

-- John Fund

the Wall Street Journal
Political Diary Online
Friday, 03 July 10

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