For conservatives, it’s maddening to see periodic polls of historians ranking American presidents from the greatest to the worst. These rankings tell us more about the far-left bias of historians than they do about the effectiveness of our presidents.
A recent poll of American history professors rated Barack Obama as one of the greatest American presidents and Donald Trump as one of the worst. FDR and Woodrow Wilson are almost always rated “great” presidents, while Warren Harding and Ulysses S. Grant are rated “failed” presidents.
FDR and Wilson vastly expanded government spending and power, while Harding and Grant cut the size of the government in Washington. Almost comically, the historians rate the bumbling and incompetent Joe Biden higher than Trump – despite that on virtually every leading indicator, the economy did substantially better under Trump.
In order to counter this liberal/progressive historical view of political leaders, the Committee to Unleash Prosperity polled more than 100 of the most influential conservative thought leaders – a list that includes U.S. Senators, members of the U.S. House, governors, think tank scholars, business leaders, and prominent conservative writers and economists.
The question posed was: “Who would you rank as the single most overrated political figure in history and who would you rank as the single most underrated?”
We received responses from 120 of these top conservative leaders.
Note, this was not a survey of the worst and greatest presidents, but rather, who do they believe the history books rate too highly or poorly? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, for example, were only selected by a few as under-rated, because they are generally rated highly already. Joe Biden only received a few votes for most overrated, because most Americans regard him as a poor performer already.
For the most overrated category, the person who was far and away the leading choice was Barack Obama. Here were the top five in that category:
- Barack Obama
- Franklin Roosevelt
- Woodrow Wilson
- John F. Kennedy
- Joe Biden
For the most underrated category, the winner by a smaller margin was Calvin Coolidge. Here were the top five vote getters:
- Calvin Coolidge
- Donald Trump
- Ronald Reagan
- Dwight Eisenhower
- Bill Clinton
Coolidge was the president who gave America “the roaring 20’s” when the economy and stock market boomed and American living standards soared. He cut tax income tax rates from 75% to 20%. He was in favor of a limited government and was famous for saying that “the business of America is business.” If he had run for reelection in 1928 rather than handing over the reins to the hapless Herbert Hoover, The Great Depression would have likely been avoided.
Bill Clinton is on the underrated list because despite his personal behavior, the economy prospered in the 1990s, the stock market rocketed forward, we had the only balanced budgets in the last fifty years, and he signed free trade deals, welfare reform, and a capital gains tax cut and no wars. We could use a Democrat like that today.
FDR turned what should have been a short-term financial crisis into a decade long depression by massively increasing government spending through the failed New Deal programs, raised taxes to more than 70%, and kept the unemployment rate over 10% for nine years.
It is worth mentioning a few presidents who made the conservatives’ list of underrated and overrated. These include Trump, JFK, Jimmy Carter and Abraham Lincoln.
Hopefully, in the future when presidents are ranked, the judges will include successful Americans of all political philosophies, and not just leftwing professors who live divorced from reality in their ivory towers.
Stephen Moore is a co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity and a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
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