Previous
Next

With room to drop

February 16, 2009, 3:22 pm

This set of presidential rankings, as Steve Benen points out, is not all that useful except as a conversation-starter.

Bearing that in mind, I’ll simply note the absurdity of keeping William Henry Harrison on the list. Ol’ Tip’s misplacement is thrown into high relief by virtue of his being ranked lower (39) than George W. Bush (a gentleman’s 36), which I’d expect even Bush partisans to recognize as a silly comparison. I have no quarrel with ranking Bush ahead, for the time being, of the three presidents — Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan — who set the stage for the Civil War; and I’m even willing to keep Andrew Johnson and Warren Harding on a lower rung for now, though I’d expect him to overtake Harding fairly soon.

But in all seriousness, we need to give Harrison the equivalent of a “No Basis” grade for his 32 days in office. It’s like he bought the books; showed up the first day, read the syllabus, completed his introductory assignment — a long and ponderous essay about his plans for the future and his thoughts on a republican system of government — and then just bailed out on the rest of the semester. Is that really so bad as to deserve 39th place? Sure, you have to knock him for “Performance in the Context of His Times,” performances that had conventionally including surviving to the end of four years. But can you really evaluate the guy in terms of “Moral Authority” or “Relations with Congress”? And so far as “Setting an Agenda” is concerned, Harrison is vastly underrated. Length and poor prose aside, there’s much to dislike about Harrison’s inaugural address — he spends several Broderian paragraphs complaining indirectly about the shrill tone of abolitionism, for example — but he offered some thoughtful words regarding the temptations of power and vowed that under no circumstances would he ever seek a second term in office. Then, as if to prove his point, he went ahead and decided not to even serve his first. And people were seriously bummed out about his death.

As President, Harrison died pure as the driven snow. It diminishes all of us to keep him in the rankings.

cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money, with the exception of an episode of Drunk History that WordPress seems determined to prohibit me from embedding

This entry was posted in history and current events. Bookmark the permalink.