Greatness in the White House: Rating the Presidents

By Robert K. Murray; Tim H. Blessing | Go to book overview

Conclusions

AMONG POLITICAL SCIENTISTS and other scholarly observers of the presidency, there has recently been a quest to find reliable predictors for a successful performance in the White House. Quantitative analyses of personality traits and the construction of presidential models have encouraged a belief that the difficult task of selecting proper presidential leadership can be simplified and reduced to a workable formula. The ultimate hope is that a "potentially great" president can be picked out of the crowd even before he is elected.

All the studies thus far have led to no such achievement. The best they can do is help us delineate more accurately what has been, but they have not yet enabled us to select what is to be. Using the rankings of the presidents in the various historian polls since 1948, one study has estimated that approximately 75 percent of the variance in presidential greatness can be accounted for by such factors as administration duration, number of war years, administration scandals, time of party control of Congress, number of acts passed by Congress, number of treaties negotiated, and so on. 1 Another study has maintained that as much as 84 percent of the variance in presidential success can be explained by combining the differences in presidential activeness and decisiveness with those in administration accomplishments. 2 Maybe so. But all such details about a president and his administration are known only after he has been elected and served.

One recent intriguing theory, advanced by political science professor James David Barber of Duke, contends that there is a recurrent rhythm in American politics and that this rhythm has three themes: politics as conflict, politics as conscience, and politics as conciliation. Professor Barber claims

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