Thursday, January 24, 2013

Statistical Presidency

Nate Silver's article on greatness in the American presidency, with special attention to whether Obama will qualify, is rather baffling.  He mentions that it is a little premature to consider such a thing, but plays with some numbers to talk about it anyway, because...

Because it's fun to do?  Because these are essentially highschoolers running our op-ed pages now?  How does the mind of an intelligent person not immediately step back and say "Wait, this is insane.  How is this not ridiculous?"  So I'll remind them.  It's insane.  It's ridiculous.  If you want to do the work at home in the privacy of your study, ask yourself what you would have thought of similar reveries in early 2005.

When I saw that the opinion of presidential scholars was going to figure prominently in the rest of the discussion, I started skimming, and quickly broke off.  That's like asking New York sportswriters who belongs in the HOF.  Superficially, you can say that they know the territory, and the best writers gravitate to the biggest markets, so they must be the best judges.  Except when you think about it, you know they're not, because their biases will be too great.

That JFK finished 9th rather illustrates that point*.  As for Bush finishing 38th, Reagan finished 25th when the same lists ran in the 90's, but he gets a ranking of 10 ranking now.  Were they wrong then, or wrong now? And Woodrow Wilson?  Really?  You get credit for having One-Worlder dreams and then being the chief architect of their destruction?  The 1996 dealio was run by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

Ben commented there was an outlier - I wasn't sure what he meant.

*Kennedy gets props for this quote, however:  "No one has a right to grade a President—even poor James Buchanan—who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made his decisions."


Sam L. said...

Way too soon for the last 4 presidents, though I'm pretty sure no liberals will like either Bush, or not really like Clinton and Obama. Maybe in 100 years, passions will have cooled. I suspect not, though.

Michael said...

Nate's statistical analysis is great, but he venturing into dangerous waters here. The problem is he comes from the sports background which has evolved into always wanting to be the first to say something. It is way too early to evaluate a sitting president and as you pointed out, these opinions are fluid. But I guess he needs something to fill his time until 2016 when he gets the spotlight back.

Ben Wyman said...

I think Nate just thought it would be fun. He's hard up for things to do these days. And Lord knows it's click bait.

I meant Bush 43 - all of the Presidents elected twice were given very high rankings, outside of Nixon (29th) and Bush. Bush ranked 38th, below a lot of people who weren't just negligible but in some cases mostly incompetent. He was considered roughly equal to someone who died immediately after taking office.

It does seem probable that not enough time has passed for historians to really judge Bush with any fairness.