Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Obama-era survey on Bush

A lot of hay has been made over this C-SPAN survey of 36 historians, which puts Bush 43 not at the bottom and Ronald Reagan -- friend of petroleum and defense interests, enemy of public welfare and education, who turned America into history's largest creditor (while Dubya exacerbated every problem he encountered, he did not create every difficulty he left us with), in the top half. It sort of makes you wonder how much presidents suck in general.

The survey gives us two things to talk about -- movement from the 2000 survey and components. Three if you count the participants, but I don't know anything about historians. The public story is that they moved this one after inauguration so they could do it for Darwin/Lincoln's 200th birthday, but you feel they kind of wanted to get the end of Shrub's episode; Clinton was rated 21st in the last year of his administration before the Marc Rich pardon. Now, he's rated 15th.

The Clinton movement is pretty interesting. In 2000, there were people who thought the internet bubble wouldn't all end in tears, NAFTA might work out, and NEWCAG was a genius. The biggest things weighing him down were military actions in Kosovo and Somalia, and some personal peccadilloes. I guess we've decided that presidents are entitled to their little invasions here and there, and all we ask is moderation, as well as the idea that integrity and capability in your role as a public servant don't have a lot to do with whether or not you cheat on your wife. 8 years of a teetotaler with no known record of adultery and a military service record have warmed us up to Bubba, although even his successor beat him on moral authority. It turned out our signifiers were all wrong.

Americans are taught as children that the slavery compromise in The Constitution made the Civil War inevitable, but apparently adults blame it on James Buchanan. I don't have a personal opinion on what caused the Civil War, but it's bad and he's the scapegoat, but shouldn't Bush 43 be at best second worst? Anyway, it's Carter that chaps my ass -- he's ranked under Cleveland, Taft and McKinley! And going down!

I find it hard to talk about the breakouts because they seem a little crazy. "Pursued Equal Justice for All" is Guantanamo George's, best known before running for President for condemning the retarded to death, best ranking. If he's 24th in that, what should we think of the bottom 18*? "Performance within context of times" still damns Buchanan as worst, but 43's ranking is the same as his overall. Apparently, historians don't buy this "historical context" hogwash, except to say that JFK had it easy: he's 6th overall and 12th in context. George W. Bush even beats Buchanan (and Hoover, which I could see) on economic management, so I'm thinking there's some anti-Buchanan bias around. You'd think if we can rehabilitate McCarthy, we could do a little work on Buchanan, but no. He only beats our former President in International Relations -- Nixon's, as you'd expect, best rank at 11, down from 8 in 2000.

64 historians participated. The methodology's not super clear, but I think each historian rated each president as a percentile in each of ten categories, and C-Span used massive parallel supercomputers to average them. Then, they summed the average for a total score (the methodology, averaging the input then summing, suggest they didn't get responses back from all historians in all areas. So, there's some hidden bias.)

* -- As Cleveland served twice, 85-89 and 93-97, there are 43 presidencies, but only 42 presidents.

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