Historian: Best presidents led U.S. out of crises

(Photo courtesy The Blade)
(Photo courtesy The Blade)

From The Blade, a News 11 media partner:

By Tahree Lane

Ranking the 44 U.S. presidents from best to worst is a parlor game, noted Douglas Brinkley, American historian. Those who fare best usually have steered the ship of state during crises.

Mr. Brinkley led an audience of 300 last night in his version of the game, which provided few surprises but plenty of insights into a handful of presidents. He spoke at the Authors! Authors! program, sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

The author of books about Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks, Jimmy Carter, and a soon-to-be-published tome on Theodore Roosevelt, Mr. Brinkley, 48, puts Washington and Lincoln at the top.

Washington had gentlemanly charisma and presence; he was an obvious pick for the nation's first elected leader.

"Abraham Lincoln is the patron saint of the presidency," Mr. Brinkley said. "No matter how bad you think you have it in the White House, Lincoln had it worse." He prevailed despite being surrounded by hatred as close as slave-keeping Virginia and Maryland.

Jefferson's great gift was doubling the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase, which even his explorers thought was folly.

William McKinley pushed the country toward imperialism by acquiring Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines.

After McKinley's assassination, Theodore Roosevelt, "a Darwinian ideologue," became the youngest-yet president. Having earned a degree in biology, "he believed in God and Darwin" and that the strong would overtake the weak.

He saved 230 million acres for federal parks, created the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, prevented the buffalo's extinction, and was a founder of the Audubon Society.

His distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, inherited Hoover's mess of the stock-market crash - one of many times a cycle of unregulated greed would be followed by increased regulation.

FDR was the first to effectively sell his message - including World War II - to the people via radio. He selected excellent military leaders.

And he was optimistic, as were Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, Jr. "Optimism is the oxygen of America," Mr. Brinkley said.