Before we leave this Fourth of July weekend behind, allow me to share my list of 10 favorite presidents. It’s a dynamic list, changing every so often as I read and research more about each of the men who has served as our commander-in-chief over the past 200-plus years. No Independence Day would be complete without at least one such Top 10 list, especially in the information age.
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln aren’t eligible. They’re either one or two on every known list, so I’ve retired their jerseys into the Hall of Fame to make it more interesting. So here it is, based only on my opinion.
1. Harry S. Truman – Has been my favorite president since I began reading about him in high school. He took over for a three-term incumbent who led the country out of the Great Depression and through most of World War II. He dropped two atomic bombs to speed the end of the war and managed a chaotic post-war economy. But that’s not why he’s my favorite. What puts him No. 1 for me was removing command and control of our nation’s fledgling nuclear program from the military and putting it under civilian control. It was a controversial decision at the time, as were many of Truman’s. He left office with a 33 percent approval rating, but is widely regarded as one of our most effective presidents.
2. Theodore Roosevelt – This Roosevelt is probably high on everyone’s list. There’s a reason he’s on Mount Rushmore. He was a big personality and really established the U.S. as a global player during the Industrial Revolution. For me, Roosevelt’s foresight to set up millions of acres as national parks puts him head and shoulders above almost all other competitors.
3. George H.W. Bush – The first Bush was probably the most qualified candidate ever elected president. He was ambassador to China and headed the Central Intelligence Agency for a time. He also served eight years under Ronald Reagan as vice president. I like qualified people. Bush makes my list because he didn’t go to Baghdad in 1991. It took courage to abide by his word after such a successful military campaign.
4. Andrew Jackson – Last president to pay off the national debt. He made it his mission and he got it done. That alone ranks him high on my list. Where is that kind of resolve when we need it?
5. Thomas Jefferson – One of our Founding Fathers and author of the Declaration of Independence. As a writer, his selection is mandatory. The establishment clause of the Declaration is one of the most important paragraphs ever written and, by most accounts, it was all Jefferson.
6. Ronald Reagan – I came of age in the late 1970s and it was a tough time in America. We were seemingly getting our teeth kicked in around the globe on all fronts. We were looking for something, anything, to turn things around and Reagan proved to be what we needed. His cult of personality alone puts him on my list.
7. James Madison – Our nation’s fourth president is rising rapidly on my list. I’ve only just started Ralph Ketcham’s 1971 biography on Madison, but I’m already so impressed. He basically wrote the Bill of Rights and is widely known as the workhorse behind the scenes in setting up the federal government after the American Revolution. His political views changed over time. Imagine that, having views tempered by experience.
8. Bill Clinton – Yes, Slick Willie makes the list. As near as I can tell, he is the last president to reach across the aisle to craft needed legislation. He’s also the last president to balance an annual budget.
9. Franklin Delano Roosevelt – I attribute this to my grandfather, a true FDR Democrat. My grandfather was a brick layer and he got steady work through the Civilian Conservation Corp created by Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. I remember vividly how Grandpa once scoffed at TV pundits debating the long-term impact of the New Deal. “We got to eat, that’s what I remember,” he said. Good enough for me.
10. John Adams - Probably saw the potential for this country better than any of the Founding Fathers.
Steve Boggs is editor of the Tribune-Herald. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.