How should we rank our presidents? Which of them merit inclusion in the pantheon of the great? Which fit comfortably into the obscurity of mediocrity and which deserve to be consigned to the circle of failures, there to suffer eternal disgrace? In "Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians," Robert Merry confesses to being obsessed with "The Great White House Rating Game." Yet he hardly need be apologetic. Ranking leaders is one of the oldest of pastimes, as old as, well, Scripture itself.
What are the books of Kings and Chronicles but a version of "The Game" in which the 43 monarchs from Saul to Zedekiah are judged according to whether they have done good or evil in the sight of the Lord? These kings and queens run the gamut in their talents and righteousness, much like our own 43 presidents (counting Grover Cleveland, who served nonconsecutive terms, only once). For every Solomon or Hezekiah, there is a Washington or a Lincoln; for every Rehoboam or Ahab, a James Buchanan or a Richard Nixon. Then there are those perplexing "tweeners" so difficult to rate: like Josiah, skilled in domestic affairs but inept as a war leader (LBJ?); or Jehoshaphat, adept in foreign affairs but weak on domestic politics (Truman?).
While playful in describing his passion in "Where They Stand," Mr. Merry is deadly earnest about it. He proposes a strategy to minimize the opinions of individual analysts—his own included—and base assessments on two objective, or at least measurable, criteria: the rankings of historians (a kind of Real Clear index of the surveys taken over the years) and the contemporaneous verdicts of the electorate. Deploying these two "fundamental indices," Mr. Merry believes, will ensure a system of more accurate and reliable judgments.
Whole thing here.