The Siena College presidential poll–a ranking of 44 presidents by 200 historians–put Franklin Roosevelt in first place. In other words, the man who, during his first two terms, gave us nonstop double digit unemployment–and 20 percent unemployment toward the end of his second term, is ranked ahead of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and all other American presidents.
And that may not be the worst indiscretion. These historians also ranked Barack Obama ahead of Ronald Reagan. In other words, if you start your presidency with 8 percent unemployment and run it to 10 percent (all the while going further in debt by more than $1,000,000,000,000) you are greater than the president who sharply reduced unemployment and inflation during his first term and then ended the Cold War in his second term.
Some people are dismayed by our historians’ peculiar judging standards. And it’s true that such wildly indefensible rankings are outrageous. But they help inform us that most historians can’t be trusted to make sound judgments about the past. That is useful to know, as parents prepare their 18 year olds to go off to college and be tutored by FDR loyalists.