WASHINGTON – That presidents FDR,JFK and Reagan are immortalized involves more than their magnetic personalities.
They may have come along at the right time,but taking campaign promises and turning them into realities can be problematic for any president.
“Success is based in part on meeting very public diverse expectations,” Stephen Wayne,a professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University,said. “And of course when you campaign,you tell people what they want to hear without necessarily telling them what your priorities are or what’s more important and what’s less important.”
As possible candidates for the 2016 presidential election fall in line,they will be examined by voters who tend to look at past presidents and compare them to the new candidates. But popularity is never certain.
Since President Harry Truman,the average approval rating for all presidents is 54.1 percent. The highest rating was Kennedy with a 70.1 percent average over his time in office,and the lowest was Truman with a 45.4 percent average.
“It was his youth,his rhetoric,the myth about him to a great extent that keeps him high on the list,” James Thurber,a professor in the Department of Government at American University,said. “But,in terms of legislative accomplishments,Johnson really accomplished much of what Kennedy wanted.”
In the presidency today,party politics can make or break the commander in chief.
“Obviously,in a democratic society,success is based on favorable public evaluations,” Wayne said. “Secondly,in the political system,success is based on the achievement of political goals,which include policies,elected officials,getting people you want in,satisfying the various units in the party,making it stronger for the next time around and stuff like that.”
Wayne,who specializes in presidential politics,has written several books on the office and served as the president of the Presidency Research Group and the National Capital Area Political Science Association.
Timing is everything when it comes to presidential success.
“I think that it helps to have a major crisis,” Thurber said,“like with FDR and the crises of the Great Depression as well as Word War II. And it helps if a person has policies and speeches and actions that are related to solving the problems of war and depression.”
Thurber,the author of several books,including “Obama in Office,” is the director for the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at AU.
Wayne and Thurber said the promises fulfilled from the campaign and the political leaning of Congress have a lot to do with how much a president gets done,but personality is also key.
“I think the American people certainly want someone who is honest,someone who has integrity,someone who has empathy,” Thurber said. “Sometimes,Obama doesn’t show an appropriate amount of empathy,which comes from your soul and your experience. He’s a little too analytic sometimes.”
In a 2011 Gallup poll,Americans listed Ronald Reagan as their favorite president with 19 percent of the vote. The runners-up were Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton. President Barack Obama fell in the middle of the pack with 5 percent of the vote,and Richard Nixon,Lyndon Johnson and Andrew Jackson tied for last.
“This president has great rhetoric,” Thurber said about Obama. “He is a great speaker,but still you have legislation and then also whether that legislation,after it’s passed,gets implemented. And finally,whether the outcomes really solve the problems that they are dealing with.”
Reach reporter Caitlin Turner at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.