- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Call it history’s conservative curse.

According to a University of Miami study, those historical rankings of American presidents that pop up every year or so are significantly weighted in favor of Democrats, thanks to the liberal leanings of academia.

Political science professor Joseph E. Uscinski, one of the study’s authors, said the new analysis shows that the overwhelmingly liberal academic community consistently ranks Republican presidents about 10 spots lower than the public would.

“I don’t think anyone is surprised,” Mr. Uscinski told The Washington Times. “Among the political scientists and historians that I work with, Democrats outnumber Republicans 8 to 1.”

What was eye-opening, he said, was the stark difference between the historians’ assessments of Republicans and the grades given by the public.

“On average, all the Republicans get the short end of the stick,” he said. “But the one it impacts the most is [Ronald] Reagan. It’s often difficult for people to fathom why he’s ranked as low as he is.”

The University of Miami report, to be published in the scholarly journal White House Studies, looks at presidential rankings from historian Arthur Schlesinger’s seminal 1948 survey through more recent polls, including the Wall Street Journal’s 2005 list and C-SPAN’s 2009 survey.

In the C-SPAN rankings - the focus of much of the University of Miami analysis - Reagan in 2009 broke into the Top Ten, behind Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower and Woodrow Wilson.

But on other surveys, the late conservative icon falls much lower. A 2010 Siena College poll has Reagan at No. 18, behind Bill Clinton, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Barack Obama.

Downgrading the performance of Reagan and other Republicans, including Gerald R. Ford, Richard Nixon and both Bushes, George H.W. and George W., Mr. Uscinski said, has an impact on how people view the presidency today and in the future.

“When progressive or liberal presidencies dominate these lists, those attributes begin to be associated with the criteria of what makes a great president,” he said.

Most historians readily concede that, politically, their colleagues lean left. That doesn’t mean their conclusions or assessments are incorrect, though, historian Jeff Kimball said.

“When you’re talking about judging presidents, you’re talking about judging politics,” the professor at Miami University in Ohio said. Everyone, he said, has a subjective point of view.

“But does that mean that none of us are capable of a detached point of view? I don’t think that’s the case,” said the author of “The Vietnam War File: Uncovering the Secret History of Nixon-Era Strategy (2004).

Wayne State University historian Melvin Small, who has spent much of his career focused on the LBJ and Nixon presidencies, agreed.

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