Where They Stand
The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians
By Robert W. Merry
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781451625400, 320pp.)
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
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The author of the acclaimed biography of President James Polk, A Country of Vast Designs, offers a fresh, playful, and challenging way of playing “Rating the Presidents,” by pitching historians’ views and subsequent experts’ polls against the judgment and votes of the presidents’ own contemporaries.
Merry posits that presidents rise and fall based on performance, as judged by the electorate. Thus, he explores the presidency by comparing the judgments of historians with how the voters saw things. Was the president reelected? If so, did his party hold office in the next election?
Where They Stand examines the chief executives Merry calls “Men of Destiny,’’ those who set the country toward new directions. There are six of them, including the three nearly always at the top of all academic polls—Lincoln, Washington, and FDR. He describes the “Split-Decision Presidents’’ (including Wilson and Nixon)—successful in their first terms and reelected; less successful in their second terms and succeeded by the opposition party. He describes the “Near Greats’’ (Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, TR, Truman), the “War Presidents’’ (Madison, McKinley, Lyndon Johnson), the flat-out failures (Buchanan, Pierce), and those whose standing has fluctuated (Grant, Cleveland, Eisenhower).
This voyage through our history provides a probing and provocative analysis of how presidential politics works and how the country sets its course. Where They Stand invites readers to pitch their opinions against the voters of old, the historians, the pollsters—and against the author himself. In this year of raucous presidential politics, Where They Stand will provide a context for the unfolding campaign drama.
Robert Merry is the editor of The National Interest. He has been a Washington correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the Executive Editor of the Congressional Quarterly. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The National Review, The American Spectator, and The National Interest. He has appeared in Meet the Press, Face the Nation, Newsmakers, and many other programs. He lives in McLean, Virginia.
“There is no better guide for evaluating our current presidential candidates than this remarkable book. Reporters, commentators and citizens alike should read Robert Merry’s illuminating journey into the past to discover what made our previous presidents succeed or fail. The history is lively; the writing is graceful; the analysis is brilliant.”
-Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
"A pleasant romp through the annals of American politics."
“It is rare that such a breezy book exhibits both serious intent and skillful analysis…Such grounded reflections make this an unusually authoritative book. While likely to be catnip for aficionados of presidential studies, this will also quickly rank high among serious works on the presidency.”
“First-rate history….Where They Stand is both stimulating and refreshing, particularly in its take on presidents such as Andrew Jackson, Polk and Grant, whose legacies have been obscured by time and controversy…. Where They Stand is filled with almost flip-page observations about presidents that are shrewd and provocative.”
“[A] shrewdly conceived and elegantly written short book….This is beach reading for wonks that expertly navigates 44 shades of gray.”