Alex Massie wants to know who the most overrated and underrated U.S. presidents are. The trick with this sort of thing is you need a metric of “rated.” Ross, for example, says Ike is underrated but my impression is that at this point Ike is already very highly rated (every foreign policy conference seems to open with a discussion of the need for a new Solarium project.
I’ll use the 2005 Wall Street Journal poll of scholars as my baseline, and say that Eisenhower’s at number eight so he’s not a good candidate for underrated. I think Grant is undervalued at 29, Carter is undervalued at 34, and John Quincy Adams undervalued at 25. Overrated on the list are Kennedy at 15, McKinley at 14, and Reagan at 6. There seems in general to be a slant in favor of presidents who were very successful partisan politicians (even guys from long ago like Jackson and McKinley) and thereby entered the pantheon of “historical figures who present-day figures sometimes mention in a positive light” and an undervaluation of people who faced difficult political circumstances beyond their control and nonetheless did some good things.