The Lonely Centrist

A place for reasoned debate about the issues of the day.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Ronald Reagan the Greatest American Ever? I Don't Think So

Back in 2002, the BBC conducted a public vote to choose the "Greatest Briton." Winston Churchill, a very credible choice, ultimately won, with 28.1% of the vote (from among a field narrowed to ten in prior votes), and the 19th century engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (a pick showing some real knowledge of history and appreciation for acheivers outside the realm of politics, military, and government) finished second, but it was close - the vacuous underacheiver, Princess Diana of Wales, finished third (13.9%). The Top 10 are listed here.

Anyway, such polls are mainly in fun, and shouldn't be taken too seriously, but it is alarming that anyone could think that Diana, Princess of Wales, was somehow greater than Churchill or say, Shakespeare, or Lord Nelson, or Alfred the Great, or several hundred million other Britons, etc.

Well, the Discovery Channel decided last fall to do its own little American version. They didn't promote or handle it nearly as well as the BBC, and so in fact seem to have gotten little mileage out of it. That's a bit sad, because such programs really could be used to educate the public. It could be a great water cooler show. Indeed, Discovery did so little promotion of it that it pretty much slipped by unnoticed, with the final results announced in late June, when television viewing is way down. Indeed, only just noticed it myself.

Discovery started with a list of 100 people that they chose to put up for vote. Several of the names on the list were atrocious selections - Tom Cruise, Lucille Ball, Dr. Phil, Carl Sagan, Brett Farve, and Martha Stewart are a few names that leap out, but at least half the list was unjustifiable under most any criteria. That meant, of course, that others were left off - Patton, Grant, Hemingway, etc.

The shallowness of most people's knowledge of history was shown by the selection of George W. Bush as number 6 and Bill Clinton as number 7, and the shallowness of their thinking by the inclusion of Elvis Presley (#8) and Oprah Winfrey (#9) in the top ten. But in the end the voters didn't do too badly. The Top 5 were:
5. Ben Franklin
4. George Washington
3. Martin Luther King
2. Abraham Lincoln; and
1. Ronald Reagan
That's a pretty good group, with the glaring problem being Ronald Reagan as #1. Reagan was, in my book, a great president, whose reputation will continue to grow with historians, but greater than Washington or Lincoln or Jefferson - no way. At least he's no Lady Diana.

The Top 25 are posted in order of votes here, and the 100 candidates offered up by the network are here. It's not a bad time waster, but could have been a much more entertaining, and educational, debate starter.

  • The Skeptic
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Michael Barone
  • The New Republic
  • National Review
  • Democracy Project
  • Bob Bauer
  • Center for Competitive Politics
  • Ryan Sager
  • Going to the Matt
  • Professor Bainbridge
  • Volokh Conspiracy
  • Mystery Pollster
  • Amitai Etzioni
  • Alexander Chrenkoff
  • Middle East Media Research Institute
  • Right Democrat
  • Democrats for Life