Like many of his predecessors, President Obama thinks about his place in history.
And he knows that his historical standing will likely be enhanced by one major thing: Winning re-election.
"Historians seldom give rankings that defy the voters' judgments," writes Robert W. Merry, author of a new book on presidential rankings.
In a column for The Wall Street Journal, Merry notes:
Consider the nine presidents most often cited by historians as the greatest -- (Abraham) Lincoln, (George) Washington and FDR, followed in various rank order by (Thomas) Jefferson, (Andrew) Jackson, (James) Polk, (Woodrow) Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and (Harry) Truman.
Not a one-termer in the bunch -- except for (James) Polk, who ran on a one-term promise.
The reasoning is fairly simple: Voters tend to fire presidents for specific reasons; those reasons are a kind of indictment that is likely to echo throughout history.
Merry, whose new book is called Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians, reminds us that Obama once said he would "rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."
We doubt he would say something like that now.
Now, of course, he's doing everything he can to make sure that he gets a second term. No president wants the humiliation of getting tossed out of office.
More than that, in terms of his legacy, Mr. Obama is right to look for vindication from the people instead of from history's judgment, as measured in those periodic polls in which historians rate presidential performance. The professional history-makers, it turns out, generally follow the sentiments of the electorate, at least once the smoke of the recent past has cleared. ...
There is a sort of collective wisdom in the electorate. The academics' views deserve respect, but the voters seem to have a better grasp of the grand flow of American history, as Mr. Obama now seems to understand.