MEMORABLE PRESIDENTS

Shell and Michele have an interesting question:

In 100 years time, which of the presidents of our time will be remembered by the average guy? If they are remembered, what will they be remembered for?

Let’s limit this to post-JFK presidents to stay within the timeframes of the two posters.

Not too many presidents are remembered 100 years later. Aside from the founding generation, the pre-1903 presidents who are seriously remembered are, what, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt? Presumably, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower will join them from the pre-JFK era. All of these are remembered primarily as great war presidents or, in the cases of Grant and Eisenhower, as great generals.

JFK continues to have a legacy far beyond his non-existent accomplishments, primarily because he was charismatic, young, and murdered. Will those things still matter in 2103? I wouldn’t think so.

While Vietnam will certainly be remembered to some extent 100 years from now, because it was so domestically polarizing, and the bulk of the civil rights movement came during his presidency, I’m not sure LBJ himself has stamped himself into the national consciousness.

Nixon certainly will be remembered, as the first president forced to resign from office.

Ford will be a great trivia question–the first (so far only) man to serve as president who got no electoral votes (not counting the loss in 1976). But he won’t likely be remembered for any actual governing.

Carter-Doubtful. A one-termer with little long-term impact. The Iran Hostage Crisis, is probably the most significant milestone, and it’s already largely faded from history.

Reagan-Certainly. He presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Bush 41-Nope. Desert Storm may be remembered, likely as a prelude to the wars of this decade, but he’ll likely be mainly a trivia question as father of Bush 43.

Clinton- Good question. He had two terms which, aside from the scandals, were reasonably successful. But not much of lasting historical significance–no “real” wars–took place on his watch. He’ll likely be a trivia question–first elected president to be impeached–unless Hillary gets elected, in which case, he’ll be the answer to another trivia question.

Bush 43- Too soon to say. 9/11 will certainly be in the history books. His legacy depends on what happens over the next five years. If he is defeated in 2004, he’ll be a footnote like his dad.

Megan McArdle adds a degree of difficulty, requiring a one-line or less summary. Fine:

LBJ – The Vietnam Quagmire
Nixon – Watergate (Alternately, Old Vulcan Proverb: Only Nixon can go to China)
Carter – Nice cardigan, Mr. President
Reagan – Won the Cold War
Bush 41 – Won a war but lost the peace
Clinton – Impeached (Alternately, “I did not have sex with that woman. . .”)
Bush 43 – [Won/lost/started?] the Global War on Terrorists

Update (0848 11-13) Ford – The Accidental President (Which, thanks to Chevy Chase, has an amusing double meaning right now)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Paul says:

    In perhaps a foretelling slip, you appear to have forgotten Ford in your one liners….

    See, it is starting already.

  2. Rodney Dill says:

    Jimmy Carter could just as easily be…

    “attacked a Rabbit with a paddle/oar”
    “Billy Beer”

  3. mark says:

    Maybe Ford will be remembered for pardoning Nixon? Something else to consider.

    Carter: gas lines. Malaise.

  4. Brian Drozd says:

    Just a comment on pre-1903 presidents. How could you not list George Washington? Surely your not suggesting that he isn’t seriously remembered as President.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Brian,

    I lumped the Founding Generation together–all the early ones (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison) will be remembered forever, although mainly for their role in the founding rather than their presidencies per se.

  6. BoiFromTroy says:

    In ONE WORD or less…

    LBJ: Texan
    Nixon: Resigned
    Gerald Ford: Betty
    Jimmy Carter: Peanuts
    Ronald Reagan: Debt
    Bush 41: Daddy
    Clinton: Impeachment
    Bush 43: Terrorism

  7. Bob Munck says:

    I’m increasingly in doubt that the USA will be remembered in 100 years, let alone its presidents.

  8. Scott Harris says:

    First, you have to examine why other memorable Presidents are memorable:

    George Washington – Father of the Nation, General who won our independence. When he could have been king, he wisely and humbly set the two-term limit example which was not flouted until FDR, after whom it was written into the Constitution.

    John Adams – remembered for being part of a father/son Presidential combo.

    Thomas Jefferson – Writer of the Declaration, purchaser of the Louisianna territory from France, scientist, scholar, lover of the common man. Possibly our greatest ever President. Certainly, our greatest visionary. Did more to set the USA on its course than any other man in our history. By commissioning and publishing the results of the Louisianna expedition in search of a Northwest Passage, he inflamed the hearts of freedom loving peoples from around the globe – and the people who came to settle that land make up what is now our nation.

    James Monroe – Remembered primarily for the Monroe Doctrine western hemisphere restriction on European power.

    James Madison – Primarily remembered for his part in writing the US constitution. Single most important Presidential memory is Dolly Madison saving his portrait when the White House was scorched by the Brits.

    John Quincy Adams – remembered for being part of a father/son Presidential combo.

    Andrew Jackson – Father of the Democratic Party. Another champion of the common man. First President not directly related to the founders. His status will rise and fall depending upon how people view his treatment of American Indians, but he will be remembered. People today do not realize it, but the American Indians of that time were using much the same tactics that middle east terrorists are using today – surprise, asymetrical attacks on the civilian population. When Jackson marched the Indians down the Trail of Tears and expelled them from the Appalachians in defiance of the Supreme Court, he was hailed as a great defender of the common man who was more interested in safety and justice than legalistic interpretations of the law. Remind anyone of the suspension of Habeus Corpis under Lincoln, Japenese internment under FDR, or perhaps “illegal combatants” in Guantonimo Bay? When their security is threatened, Americans are willing and able to shrug off legal restrictions in order to ensure their personal survival. This just underscores the truth that the phrasing should be Order & Law, not Law & Order. In the absence of Order, people do not recognize the usefulness of the Law.

    Abraham Lincoln – ’nuff said.

    Grant – will be more remembered as a victorious General than president, like Eisenhower.

    Teddy Roosevelt – “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” The founder of the American Century and the author of American hegemony. Was the embodiment of American ideals. Adventurous, moral, courageous, arrogant, boisterous, great initiative, uncommon courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Presided over American ascension to 1st class world power.

    Woodrow Wilson – WWI, League of Nations

    FDR – ’nuff said.

    Truman – dropped the bomb on Japan, fired MacArthur.

    Eisenhower – will be more remembered as a General than president, like Grant.

    JFK – Assasinated. First telegenic President. Students of history will forever be shown snippits of his debate with Nixon. Also, Cuban Missile crises is a study in courage. Will get credit for some things actually accomplished by LBJ.

    LBJ – will probably be forgotten by 2050. Domestic policy accomplishments do not have an historical shelf life. JFK will steal his thunder.

    Nixon – first, and so far only President to be driven from office in disgrace.

    Ford – already forgotten

    Carter – quickly following Ford’s example of disappearing into oblivion.

    Reagan – As much as I admire how he almost single handedly rescued America from its 70’s-induced psychological depression, in 50 years, when people no longer even remember there ever was a Soviet Union, and since there was no major war on his watch, I think his star will dim into forgetfulness. May be remembered as part of the trifecta of Presidents who directly confronted communism – Truman, JFK, Reagan. I don’t think he’ll be remembered on his own.

    George Bush – remembered for being part of a father/son Presidential combo.

    Clinton – only hope for memory is Monica and impeachment, a rather dubious distinction. But we had Andy Johnson impeached and another President whose name I cannot remember (irony noted) was purportedly a much worse skirt chaser than Clinton. Will probably live until 2030, so forgotten by 2075. (In my opinion, Clinton is the embodiment of wasted potential. Had the talent and opportunity to be great, but squandered it on minimalist policies, and meaningless scandals.)

    George W. Bush – Much less talented than Clinton, but has a chance to be remembered as one of the greats. Time will tell if the “Bush Doctrine” of preventative war will be a world-historical watershed. Greatest Presidential moment to date is standing on the rubble of the WTC and addressing the American people with a bull horn. That picture still makes my hair stand on end.

    I think he understands the preeiminence of establishing Order prior to the rule of Law. If he flinches in the Middle East, he will be remembered as one of the worst Presidents in our nation’s history. If he doesn’t flinch, and there is no evidence that he will, and if the middle east becomes a peaceful, economically successful region, he will get credit in the USA and around the world as the greatest champion of freedom since Lincoln.

    If he gets assassinated a la Lincoln & Kennedy, his status will reach mythical proportions, and his place in history will be forever assured. Will certainly be remembered for the father/son connection. Also Trivia Question: Only President to be descended from two different Presidents – Franklin Pierce and George H.W. Bush.

    The jury is still out on him, but one day his picture could be on our money. It wouldn’t surprise me if his picture makes it onto Iraqi money some day. Main attribute is stubborn determination to defend freedom regardless of the costs – not a bad trait.