Late last Friday, former U.S. president George H.W. Bush died at the age of 94.
The 41st president has been praised by innumerable people for his decades of public service, his character, his integrity, his personality, his devotion to his family, and many other aspects of his life and career.
There have, of course, also been long obituaries that included critiques of his career as a public official. Some commentators have chosen to be very respectful to someone who just passed away, while others have unfairly focused on comparing former President Bush to President Donald Trump as a way to take shots at the current president. Still other people have criticized Bush for decisions and policies that were considered conservative while praising him for some of his more liberal decisions.
American Liberty Report isn’t doing any of the above things in this article. We are, instead, looking back at how Bush has fared in rankings of presidents. We’ll look at how historians, scholars, and ordinary citizens have rated him as well as what analysts consider his strengths and weaknesses.
Basically, Bush has been ranked almost exactly in the middle of historians and scholars’ rankings of our 43 previous presidents (Grover Cleveland was president twice so he is No. 22 and No. 24). Trump is president No. 45, but we’re looking at surveys from a few years ago. Besides, any survey that includes any current president who has been in office for less than two years is flawed because history determines the impact of any president’s decisions.
Lincoln No. 1 in One Survey
Let’s first look at the C-SPAN’s third Presidential Historians Survey. The cable TV network reported that “nearly 100 historians and biographers” participated in the 2017 survey.
The survey’s respondents said the five best presidents in American history are No. 1 Abraham Lincoln, No. 2 George Washington, No. 3 Franklin Delano Roosevelt, No. 4 Theodore Roosevelt, and No. 5 Dwight Eisenhower. They said the five worst were No. 43 James Buchanan, No. 42 Andrew Johnson, No. 41 Franklin Pierce, No. 40 Warren Harding, and No. 39 John Tyler.
George H.W. Bush was ranked 20th. Every president was ranked in 10 categories. Bush ranked highest in International Relations at No. 8 probably because of the USA’s triumph over Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War and his leadership while the Soviet Union disintegrated into many smaller nations, including Russia, and many Eastern European nations overthrew their Communist oppressors. Last week, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, praised Bush for his role in reunifying Germany with the democratic West Germans triumphing over the authoritarian East Germans.
In other categories, Bush ranked 12th in Crisis Leadership, 15th in Relations with Congress, 16th in Administrative Skills, 16th in Pursued Equal Justice For All, 17th in Moral Authority, and 20th in Performance Within Context of Times, 21st in Economic Management, and 23rd in Public Persuasion. His worst ranking was in Vision/Setting an Agenda, where he was 27th. Us oldsters remember the constant criticism of Bush for what he called “the vision thing.”
If you’re interested in modern presidents, those who were president after World War II, Harry Truman ranked sixth, John Kennedy eighth, Lyndon Johnson 10th, Richard Nixon 28th, Gerald Ford 25th, Jimmy Carter 26th, Ronald Reagan ninth, Bill Clinton 15th, George W. Bush 33rd, and Barack Obama 12th.
FDR No. 1 in Another Survey
Now let’s look at the Siena (N.Y.) College Research Institute, Presidential Expert Poll of 2010. The 238 presidential scholars who were polled rated Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson as the best five in that order and Andrew Johnson, Buchanan, Harding, Pierce, and George W. Bush as the worst five in that order.
George H.W. Bush is ranked No. 22. Truman ranked ninth, Eisenhower 10th, Kennedy 11th, Johnson 16th, Nixon 30th, Ford 28th, Carter 32nd, Reagan 18th, Clinton 13th, and Obama 15th.
The scholars ranked the presidents in 21 categories. Who knew there were that many? Bush’s highest ranking was 11th in Background. That’s probably a reference to his extensive governmental experience before he was president and his preparation for the job as Reagan’s vice president.
His other relatively high rankings were 14th in Foreign policy accomplishments, 16th in Ability to compromise, and 18th in Avoid crucial mistakes. His worst rankings were 34th in Court appointments, 33rd in Communication ability, and 32nd in Handling of economy.
Reagan No. 1 in People’s Survey
Now let’s look at how the American people rank Bush. It’s probably not surprising that Americans have less of a historical perspective than, well historians, and rate modern presidents very high or very low depending on their personal ideologies.
In a 2011 Gallup poll, Reagan was ranked as the greatest president ever with 19 percent of the votes. Lincoln, Clinton, Kennedy, and Washington were ranked second through fifth. Obama was seventh and the younger Bush was tied for 10th.
As for the older Bush, he ranked lower than his son with only 1 percent of the respondents ranking him the best. Nevertheless, he was tied for 12th with Eisenhower and Carter because Americans ignored so many presidents who historians didn’t ignore.
“Americans clearly evaluate presidents through partisan lenses — with Democrats and Republicans each most likely to choose a greatest president within their own party,” said the Gallup report, which noted that Democrats ranked Clinton, Kennedy, and Obama as the three greatest presidents ever. We’re not kidding.
Were you surprised at George H.W. Bush’s ranking? How good a president do you think he was? Send us an email with your thoughts! We’d love to hear from you.