Against Presidential Greatness
UNTIL election day is past, candidates for President campaign among their fellow citizens with the simple end in view of being elected. Once they are inaugurated, however, Presidents frequently yearn for an even higher office-a niche in the pantheon of “great” Presidents. Membership in this exclusive society is, on the whole, not to be achieved through sheer popularity. Was there ever a more popular President than Dwight D. Eisenhower? Yet we all “know” he was not a “great” President, nor even a “near great” one.
How do we know this? Essentially I think the answer is: we know it because historians tell us so. In each generation, or possibly over a shorter span, a consensus arises among the authors of political and historical texts about how well various Presidents met the alleged needs of their times. These opinions are in turn the distillate of writings of journalists and other leading opinion-makers who were contemporaries of the various Presidents, filtered through the ideological predispositions of the current batch of history writers.
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