According to a C-SPAN survey of 65 presidential historians, George W. Bush is not the worst president of all time. Bush ranks 36th among the 42 previous occupants of the White House. Who could be worse than Bush? Millard Fillmore is right below Bush with Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan bringing up the rear.
Presidential historians all have their favorites, and it shows in these rankings. For one, the presidents who were big personalities and interesting stories were ranked very highly. How else can you explain John F. Kennedy (#6) ahead of Thomas Jefferson (#7)? Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson come in at 10 and 11, which is fair when you look at the impact that these two had on the presidency. If these rankings were based strictly on presidential performance Kennedy would be lower, perhaps even behind LBJ.
The darlings of presidential historians rank highly. Teddy Roosevelt comes in at a vastly overinflated 4th, and the love for Harry Truman continues as he is 5th. The biggest movers in the rankings were Bill Clinton, who jumped six spots from 21-15, and Ulysses S. Grant, another recent favorite of presidential historians who rocketed up 10 spots from 33 to 23. Grover Cleveland fell from 17-21, Woodrow Wilson dropped from 6 to 9, while Jimmy Carter dropped from 22 to 25.
Of the recent presidents, Richard Nixon is ranked 27, think about that for a second, Nixon is ahead of George W. Bush. Jimmy Carter is 25, while the man he replaced, Gerald Ford is 22. Ronald Reagan is 10, while George H.W. Bush is 18th, and Bill Clinton was 15th. The bad news for George W. Bush is not only was he 36th out of 42, but this was his debut ranking. Historians are likely to rank him lower as the years go by, so the bottom is still within reach.
The top three were Franklin D. Roosevelt at three. George Washington was second, and to the surprise of no one Abraham Lincoln was first. Personally, I would move FDR to second, and place Washington a little further down in the top five. These rankings were based on some subjective categories like public persuasion, moral authority, and performance within the context of the times. These things are always fun for the rest of us to argue about, but the living ex presidents take them seriously. This is their legacy we are discussing, and right now things don’t look so good for George W. Bush.