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."