Though the 2016 primaries and general election seem like a long way off, there is plenty of action in presidential politics even now. Would-be candidates are lining up political and financial support. Fringe candidates have already announced their intention to run. With a sitting president who can not run again and a vice president who, for the first time in a long time, seems like he’s not interested in running for the top job, the office is fully in play. Sort of at the front of the race are two familiar presidential names: Clinton and Bush.
All that action made a recent homework assignment for my daughter all the more interesting. Pitt and her classmates were required by their government teacher at East Wake, Emily Steele, to assign one president each to one of five categories: King (the most powerful president), Queen (the most compassionate president), Jack (the jack-of-all-trades president who was good at a lot of different things), Joker (the president who most likely shouldn’t have ever been in office) and Ace (the country’s best president.)
As readers of this column know, I’m fascinated by lists of all kinds and this one really piqued my curiosity. In an incredibly unscientific survey of some of my co-workers, I found a few interesting trends. Richard Nixon and James Buchanan were choices on more than one ballot for the Joker, while Barack Obama got multiple nods for King. One of my coworkers declined to judge presidents who served before his lifetime, pointing out that it wasn’t fair to compare presidents today to those from back in the day. “The same exact reason I don’t compare old school NBA players to new ones,” he said.
That argument makes a lot of sense. After all, one wonders how history would view George Washington if he had been forced to make a decision about dropping an atomic bomb. Still, it’s interesting to consider what presidents did or didn’t do during their time in office and how that colors our view of their presidency.
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For the record, here are Pitt’s choices and a brief explanation for why she chose each of them.
As King, she chose Abraham Lincoln who successfully managed to oversee the actual division of the country and begin plans to reunite it, promoted legislation to end slavery and managed a military machine. He wasn't afraid to bend rules to accomplish his goals.
For Queen she selected Lyndon Baines Johnson, who passed Great Society legislation that included programs such as Medicaid and Medicare and enacted civil rights laws.
She named Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the Jack, because he managed the nation through a decimated economy and successfully led the country through a war that encompassed the entire Earth and managed to do that all while remaining immensely popular with the electorate.
Her Joker was James Buchanan because he was too afraid to make decisions. He could have averted the succession of the southern states and perhaps headed off the Civil War if he had acted, but instead he just pushed the tough decisions off to his successor, Abraham Lincoln.
Harry Truman was her Ace. He was thrust unexpectedly into the presidency at FDR's death, and had to manage the end of a world war and make the difficult decision to use atomic weapons, then he had to direct post war reconciliation and the rising power of communism, while retooling the American economy for a postwar existence. He was a forerunner in the movement for Civil Rights and promoted a balance between business interests and the rights of workers.
What would your list look like?