Odds and ends remaining from the Presidents for the Fourth series.
First, I enjoyed Alex Massie's version of overrated and underrated -- from a while back, but I hadn't seen it before. Massie is championing Cleveland, Coolidge, and Harding to join Grant as presidents who are moving up. We'll see!
I said I'd say something about Ronald Reagan. Well, (as he would say)...
Four of the postwar presidents have been the subjects of post-presidential campaigns to improve their reputations: Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, who did it themselves, and John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who had it done on their behalf. Apparently, it works; I think they've all achieved higher ratings than they deserve, to varying degrees. Nixon's campaign basically died with him. I expect Carter's to do so as well...Carter's campaign is a bit different than the other three, because it's focused on proving himself a Great Man, as opposed to having been a good president, and for better or worse I expect that Carter's post-presidency will have a lot less pull on his presidential reputation as time goes on. I have no idea what to think of the future of Kennedy and Reagan hagiography. One would have thought that it would ebb over time, but it sure seems to be a self-sustaining industry. I really don't know where I'd put Reagan, but I think that the various academic polls are too high (he's at #18, per Siena, which is a bit lower than where others put him). Beyond that...I've posted about Reagan several times, so I'll leave it at that, for now. I'm sure not for long; of the modern presidents, the ones I find particularly fascinating are Reagan, Clinton, Johnson, and Nixon, so I'm sure I'll return to one of them before long.
Is Bill Clinton engaged in a campaign to raise his reputation? I don't really consider his post-presidency to be self-advertisement. I think, and of course this is nothing but complete speculation, that he's mostly just doing stuff he wants to do. Which includes the global activism, but also includes getting to go to the World Cup, and other such events. Unless, of course, you count staying married as something that he's doing for his presidential reputation...I don't happen to believe that, and my rule of thumb for these things is to remember that we really have no idea what goes on inside a marriage, but, you know, I did have to mention it. Of course, Clinton shares with George H.W. Bush and the Kennedy family a continuing political dynasty, so that's a factor, too.
At any rate: since I've now devoted eight (!) posts to this topic over the holiday weekend, I suppose I might as well repeat my original disclaimer: this is a diversion, a good topic of conversation. That's fine -- obviously, readers can tell that I like this stuff -- but it's not careful analysis, although I certainly try to stick to what I know. There's a tendency once we get into these conversations to begin to attribute everything that happened during these presidencies to the man in office, when we know that he does not, in fact, have control of everything that the United States government does, much less whatever happens in the rest of the nation and in the wider world. Presidents matter, but...well, regular readers know what I think.
I'll also remind everyone that it really is too soon to know many things about the recent presidents. Not, at least mostly not, because we don't know how things will turn out, but because we don't know, in many cases, what actually happened. That goes with the previous point we don't know, in some cases, which side of a fight a president was really on. Of course, sometimes we never really can know, but there are plenty of times that new studies add quite a bit to our original understandings of what a president was up to.
Oh, last thing, before the weekend is over: so far at least, there have been some excellent discussions in the comments to these posts. I recommend peeking into them, and please join in, especially if you are a student of any of these presidents. And thanks to all those who have participated; with only a few exceptions, the conversation has been not only interesting but civil. My only requests are to please be respectful to other posters, and, if you don't mind, please give yourself some name -- even if you want to be anonymous, it's easier for everyone if you pick something to call yourself.
And once again, I hope everyone (or at least, I guess, all the American citizens here) had a great holiday. Happy Fourth of July!