WASHINGTON -- There are certain questions frequently asked of eminent minds in public that must be avoided lest that eminence reveal himself to be a moron or at least moronic in certain areas of intellectual endeavor. Recently the Washington Post addressed one of these questions to Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton professor of history at Columbia University. Naif that he is, Foner exuberantly rushed forward to prove my point. The question asked was one variation or another of "rank the present president of the United States on the historians' scale of 'great' to 'failure.'" Foner, though the author of distinguished historical studies of 19th century America, bemanured his scholarly credentials by ranking George W. Bush as "the worst president in U.S. history." Now I like a good joke, but nowhere in his tortured exposition was there a hint of humor.
Obviously in the area of contemporary history the professor is a moron. We may even extend his moronism to include the ranking of presidents throughout American history. He claims that Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan "occupy the bottom rung," because they "were simply not up to the job" of facing a "national crisis." Well, I can agree to that. Then he throws in Calvin Coolidge and Warren G. Harding, because of "the corruption of their years in office," though Coolidge's administration was not particularly known for corruption. If Foner is still placing the blame for the Depression on Coolidge he might devote some time to reading economics, particularly Milton Friedman's explication of the Depression, which makes clear that it was a monetary crisis made so by the Fed's tight money.
Finally, he places Richard Nixon at "the bottom rung" for his "disdain for the Constitution and abuse of presidential power." Nixon's opening to China and navigation of the tricky waters of the Cold War apparently amount to nullities in Foner's analysis, as does Nixon's fairly successful management of a government that is gigantic in comparison to those of the earlier failed presidents.