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Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2000 / 22 Adar I, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports



Grading the American presidents -- HERE'S A GREAT RIDDLE with which to trick your friends: "What five presidents are not buried in the United States?"

Before giving you the answer, I ask you to look at the new survey of historians. Conducted by C-Span (the network that shows Congress in action), the poll asked the professionals to rate our 41 presidents according to their effectiveness.

The top of the list contained few surprises. The four faces on Mt. Rushmore are chiseled in our national memory. The historians ranked Abraham Lincoln in first place, Franklin Roosevelt in second, George Washington in third, Theodore Roosevelt in fourth.

Thomas Jefferson, who finished seventh, is the only missing face from Mount Rushmore. The historians bumped him for FDR, who was not yet inaugurated when the grand South Dakota sculpture was undertaken.

Let's talk about a more recent quintet of presidents: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton.

Except for Reagan, who finished 11th on the new list, all ranked in the range of 20th through 25th. Bush was 21st, Clinton 22nd, Carter 23rd, Ford 24th, Nixon 25th.

How does it feel to be one of those guys? They've just received their grade in history. If they're like the rest of us they can only wonder what small achievement might have taken them past a whole pack of their close competitors.

This is especially true for the current president who has enough months left in office to think about his tightly calibrated ranking in history but probably not enough time left to change it.

Clinton ranked fifth in economic management, fifth in pursuing equal justice, 11th in public persuasion, 20th in crisis management, 21st in international relations; 21st in administrative skills, 22nd in vision and agenda-setting.

The ranking the historians gave him in "moral authority" must be especially troubling. Of the 41 presidents, he finished 41st, dead last.

How does that feel to the man working on his legacy in the Oval Office, this president who has hired a top-paid staffer, Sydney Blumenthal, to tend to that specific task?

Who are the five American presidents not buried in the United States? Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and most of all, Bill Clinton. He's not even out the door yet.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
01/13/00: Complacency might be the campaign key
01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
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09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

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