Eric Foner briefly mentions the rankings of the greatest Presidents:
Ever since 1948, when Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger Sr. asked 55 historians to rank U.S. presidents on a scale from “great” to “failure,” such polls have been a favorite pastime for those of us who study the American past … More often, however, the rankings display a remarkable year-to-year uniformity. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt always figure in the “great” category.
But his main focus is on the failures. Presidents are viewed as failures for various reasons:
At a time of national crisis, Pierce and Buchanan, who served in the eight years preceding the Civil War, and Johnson, who followed it, were simply not up to the job. Stubborn, narrow-minded, unwilling to listen to criticism or to consider alternatives to disastrous mistakes, they surrounded themselves with sycophants and shaped their policies to appeal to retrogressive political forces … Harding and Coolidge are best remembered for the corruption of their years in office (1921-23 and 1923-29, respectively) and for channeling money and favors to big business. They slashed income and corporate taxes and supported employers’ campaigns to eliminate unions. Members of their administrations received kickbacks and bribes from lobbyists and businessmen … Despite some notable accomplishments in domestic and foreign policy, Nixon is mostly associated today with disdain for the Constitution and abuse of presidential power. Obsessed with secrecy and media leaks, he viewed every critic as a threat to national security and illegally spied on U.S. citizens. Nixon considered himself above the law … But Polk should be remembered primarily for launching that unprovoked attack on Mexico and seizing one-third of its territory for the United States. Lincoln, then a member of Congress from Illinois, condemned Polk for misleading Congress and the public about the cause of the war – an alleged Mexican incursion into the United States. Accepting the president’s right to attack another country “whenever he shall deem it necessary,” Lincoln observed, would make it impossible to “fix any limit” to his power to make war. Today, one wishes that the country had heeded Lincoln’s warning.
But Foner’s point wasn’t to offer us a history lesson. Rather he is outlining why he thinks George W. Bush is “The Worst Ever”. Alas – we have to endure this for two more years.