Wilson's second term was an historic failure. After winning in 1916 on the slogan, "He kept us out of war!" he plunged us into a European bloodbath that produced 116,000 U.S. dead and a Versailles treaty that rewarded our imperial allies with new African, Middle East and Asian colonies, giving the lie to Wilson's promise that this was a war to "make the world safe for democracy."
Wilson -- not Harding, Coolidge or Hoover, all of whom tried to ease the vindictive terms imposed on a defeated but democratic Germany -- set the table for Nazism. Adolf Hitler was born at Versailles.
In 1918, Wilson lost both houses of Congress, and his party was crushed in 1920. Americans concluded that his second term had been a failure. Yet historians mark him as Great or Near Great.
Harding brought us out of the Wilson depression of 1919-1920 without any Obama-like intervention in the economy, cut the income tax rate by two-thirds, gave us the Washington Naval Agreement, the greatest arms reduction treaty in history, and worked to alleviate the most onerous aspects of the Versailles treaty that Wilson had imposed on Germany.
Harding and Coolidge gave America the greatest prosperity it had ever known, the Roaring Twenties, and the people rewarded them accordingly.
Yes, some of Harding's cronies were crooks -- but so, too, were some of Harry Truman's, whose second term was marked by scandal, political nastiness and a winless war, after which he was repudiated by a nation that gave Dwight Eisenhower a landslide.
"Communism, corruption and Korea" was the slogan attached to Truman's legacy by the GOP in 1952. America agreed.
Eisenhower, who ended the Korean War in six months and presided over eight years of peace and prosperity, is now rising in the rankings of historians, some of whom now put him as high as 11th.
Though a plurality of Americans list John F. Kennedy in polls as the best president of their lifetime, fewer historians still share that view.
Other presidents are difficult to rank.
Richard Nixon's second term resulted in his resignation.
Yet his first term -- ending the Vietnam War and the draft, creating the Cancer Institute and Environmental Protection Agency, creating a new majority that gave the GOP five victories in six presidential elections -- was judged by the American people such a smashing success they rewarded him with a 49-state landslide.
In "Where They Stand," Bob Merry offers his own assessments. Buy his book, take it to the beach, and bring the subject up with the after-dinner drinks. A long and loud discussion should ensue.