As election season kicks off, I offer you my five favorite presidents (at least for now). #5 Dwight D. Eisenhower. Surprised myself with this one. Despite some huge mistakes (like overthrowing the government of Iran), Ike appointed Earl Warren Chief Justice of a court that ended school desegregation; dispatched federal troops to integrate the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas; and warned of the dangers of the “military-industrial complex.”
#4 John Quincy Adams. Defeated by Andrew Jackson after only one term, he immediately gained election to Congress where, for the next 17 years, he led the anti-slavery movement and became a tireless national spokesman for emancipation.
#3 Thomas Jefferson. Although a slaveholder, Jefferson gave America its dominant myth of the small farmer and independent craftsman, even as the Industrial Revolution was preparing to crush the reality. The most intellectual of presidents, he produced the Declaration of Independence, supported the separation of church and state, and advocated both liberty and equality.
#2 Franklin D. Roosevelt. The “traitor to his class” who protected American capitalism from its worst excesses, FDR led us through both the Great Depression and the Great War. The New Deal is looking particularly good – as the Tea Party seeks to dismantle it – because much of the national infrastructure we built then we still use now.
#1 Abraham Lincoln combined a poet’s sensibility with a horse trader’s cunning to hold the nation together through its bloodiest war and to end its most shameful institution. Ridiculed by his many foes, he had a transcendent dignity.
That’s my list: two Republicans, two Democrats and a Whig. Three served in the 19th century, two in the 20th.
Tomorrow we might stumble onto the five worst.