NOTE: This post was original post on President’s Day February 18, 2013.
This is not meant to be a list of the five best presidents. It is not the five most effective presidents. It is surely neither of these. They are my five favorites.
This may be an easy one for many. For me, as a political theorist, Lincoln is the most interesting. I love studying and contemplating how his views on slavery, always thoughtful and complex, changes over time. Most importantly, Lincoln asserted the primacy of the U.S. Constitution and insisted that it be viewed as a document which represented Enlightenment principles and not just an agreement of political expediency.
Lyndon Baines Johnson:
LBJ is not likely on the favorite list of many. Johnson represents some of the best and the worst of the American Presidency. It was Johnson that achieved landmark Civil Rights legislation in 1964, 1965, and 1968. The War on Poverty and the Great Society represent my dream domestic agenda. The Great Society aimed to bring about social change by empowering and organizing the poor. Education and social action. Political empowering those in poverty, particularly the black poor, led to a backlash against the Great Society. While many still whine about the Great Society, it was never allowed to get off the ground.
The thing which ultimately killed the Great Society, and destroyed both Johnson and the image of Johnson, was the Vietnam War. What a sad waste on so many levels.
Much of the greatness of Adams has little to do with his Presidency. If we were to list the five greatest political figures in American politics we would have to include Jefferson and Madison. However, I will be leaving them off this list.
Adams was the first president of the partisan-era. Like Johnson, he made horrible mistakes like the Alien and Sedition Acts. Yet he resisted, at the cost of most political capital, the calls for war with France. In the end, Adams failed at the political games which Jefferson would master.
I do not think that I would have actually gotten along with President Wilson. Yet, I have to claim him. He is the political scientist as President. As a result, I am not sure if political scientists are meant to govern. Despite his flaws (segregation, the imprisonment of Debs and others during the war), Wilson was driven by his commitment to democracy. We have ruined Wilsonianism over the last 50 years, but it was a noble dream.
Wilson also successfully brought about much of the progressive agenda. This laid the groundwork for the progressive agenda of today. Much of that agenda is part of the bipartisan consensus of today.
This may bring about considerable eye-rolling. This is “my” President. I supported him from the beginning of the primary season. My Obama sign went up in front of my Rexburg home in the Fall of 2007. It was the first-time my candidate made it out of the primaries. I had rooted for Howard Dean in 2004, Bill Bradley in 2000, Steve Forbes in 1996, and Bob Dole in 1988. It was also the first time that I voted for the winner in the general election (Dole, Gore, Kerry).
Mostly importantly, this is the president that I most identify with. He is mocked for being too much like a professor. He is considered to be the most liberal President. Oh, he is not all that liberal. However, he is the president that achieved the closest thing to universal health-care. He has fully embraced gay rights. He drives the right crazy. For all of these things, I am proud.
Obama is also a post-baby boomer liberal. I do not much relate to the Democrat Party politics of the 1960s and 1970s. I have connected to Obama much more in style than I have in specific positions.
Who are your favorite Presidents? Why?