Greatness in the White House: Rating the Presidents

Greatness in the White House: Rating the Presidents

Greatness in the White House: Rating the Presidents

Greatness in the White House: Rating the Presidents

Synopsis

A narrative account of the survey of almost 1,000 professional historians on what constitutes a successful performance in the presidency, this survey tells us almost as much about the thinking and biases of historians as it does about the nature of the American presidency.

Besides comparing past presidential polls and constructing a ranking list of the nation’s chief executives, this study examines why historians rate presidents the way they do, and it analyzes those qualities and traits historians look for in a successful president. It also delimits what constitutes a failing performance in the White House and marks the major pitfalls that almost assuredly lead to an adverse historical verdict. In the process, the study demonstrates that there is not always a close correlation between what historians say a president should do and what historians obviously feel when actually ranking the performances of the presidents of the United States.

This study should prove enlightening not only to the historical profession but to the general public, political pundits, newscasters, public officials, and all presidential aspirants, and even to past and present occupants of the White House and their staffs.

Excerpt

Greatness in the White House was originally published in 1988 as No. 50 in the Pennsylvania State University Studies series. It was included in the series and was set up in camera-ready copy by computer in order to keep printing costs low and to facilitate the speed with which the results of the Presidential Performance Study could be placed in the hands of the many historians and others who had helped us with the presidential survey. It was our expectation that this would suffice, but the demand for the survey's results exceeded both our expectations and those of the Pennsylvania State University Press. Not only American historians but also journalists, psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, and numerous nonprofessionals requested and purchased copies. While this original printing was being depleted, we were engaged with a group of American historians in a modest follow-up study involving the Reagan years. Undertaken without any thought that it would be worth more than an interesting article, we planned to write up the results in that format. At the same time, we were continually receiving reactions to the 1988 survey -- a few critical, but most favorable -- which included numerous requests that we expand our original survey results to incorporate a ranking of the Reagan administration. the confluence of several events was suddently fortuitous. the original 1988 survey edition was rapidly running out, Penn State Press had decided to reissue the 1988 survey in standard book format, and our Reagan study had just been completed and was being prepared for publication. the result is the product before you. It contains the original text (revised and updated) and all the charts from the 1988 survey (except for some of the original survey's raw scores) and now also includes the most recent assessment of the Reagan years by almost five hundred American historians, along with the necessary corroborative survey data and information. We trust that this new edition will serve as useful a purpose as the first, and be as widely accepted. If nothing else, it should continue to stimulate debate about what constitutes greatness in the White House. State College, Pa. Robert K. Murray Summer 1993 Tim H. Blessing . . .

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