The Perversity of Legacy

Gene Healy, author of the fantastic Cult of the Presidency, notes that historians who rank presidents (and what's the point of ranking presidents anyway?) love warmongering activist presidents. Gene couldn't be more right that…

something's gone wrong when a president's worth is measured not by how much harm he avoided, but by how skillfully he capitalized on crises in order to spur revolutionary change. If presidents are too quick to embrace war, if they find themselves drawn toward sweeping theories of executive power and an exalted, quasi-religious view of their station, perhaps that's because the people who fill out their report cards reward such behavior.
That's something to consider as Barack Obama takes office amid an atmosphere of crisis at home and abroad. If history teaches us anything, it's that the Audacity of Hope can all too often lead to the Arrogance of Power.

I wish Barack Obama the best: historical mediocrity.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center