Monday, February 21, 2005

Where's the Rest of Me?

Four was a good enough number for the Beatles and U-2. They didn't feel the need to add more members to their ensembles.

Four is good enough for the numbers of seasons.

But for some people, ten is the only sufficient number for compiling lists. They may have a case. After all, David Letterman presents nightly top-10s, not top-4s. And then there's the precedent of the Ten Commandments.

So, for those who read my earlier post containing my choices for the top-four Presidents of our history, and who, paraphrasing Ronald Reagan in King's Row, wonder where the rest of the list is, here goes. (I'd love to know your choices, be they in a list of the top-four or the top-ten.)

5. Theodore Roosevelt

6. Harry Truman

7. Andrew Jackson

8. Woodrow Wilson

9. John Adams

10. Chester Alan Arthur

Like the rest of the human race, each of these presidents had their failings and blind spots. Their tenures were not unqualified successes. But, whether appreciated by their fellow citizens or not, they met and surpassed the challenges of their times.

A few other observations:

1. Beyond judgments about his time as president, Jimmy Carter was and is a great man. His term was not without its successes (ie, the Mideast Peace accords, recognition of China). But it is as an ex-President activist and author who exploited opportunities to advance peace, disease eradication, and faith in Jesus Christ that he has had his greatest achievements.

2. While I give Ronald Reagan high marks for his handling of the PATCO strike, it is far too early to suggest his name for any list of greatest presidents. Only time, with its opportunities for cool-eyed assessments of an as-yet incomplete picture of his administration, will allow such judgments.

3. The most overrated presidents of our history, I believe, have been Thomas Jefferson and John Kennedy. Jefferson, indeed, is an overrated man, the result of his assiduous courting of history. Kennedy's accomplishments were even more scant than the list of things he tried to accomplish during his thousand days in office. His death, of course, was a devastating tragedy.

4. Among the most underrated presidents are Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, and Chester Alan Arthur.

5. My list of terrible presidents (in no particular order) would include: Herbert Hoover, Warren Harding, Richard Nixon, Ulysses S. Grant, James Polk, and James Buchanan.

Again, I'd be interested in the opinions of readers.

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