Two news stories last week present an incredible teaching opportunity when it comes to how the media and academia promote statism by insisting that big government is the solution to all our problems. First comes the story out of Siena College Research Institute in Loudonville, New York, which announced last week that more than 238 so-called presidential scholars had concluded that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the nation’s top president. The legacy news media giddily reported these findings, and the story appeared in hundreds of news outlets worldwide. Some headlines focused entirely on the current president, gushing that President Obama, at No. 15 in the survey, is “among the best presidents ever.”
Unfortunately, the scholars used criteria better suited to finding a date on eHarmony.com than in rating a president. I can see including “integrity” and “leadership” as criteria. But I’m still not sure, even after speaking to one of the professors on the project, why it was important to rate the presidents on how “lucky” they are. No joke. It turns out the presidential experts think Bill Clinton was our tenth luckiest president. Other criteria included imagination, background, willingness to take risks and ability to compromise. Surprisingly, the criteria didn’t include favorite pastimes, favorite first dates and “one thing the president wishes more people would notice about him.”
In all seriousness, this survey sets standards that favor executive branch statism. Under the scholars’ criteria, a president who unflinchingly refuses to support proposals that grow government would be chided, because compromise and courtships with Congress that spawn new programs are prized commodities in this survey.
Which brings me back to FDR, supposedly the nation’s best president. The media and education establishment have gone out of their way to elevate Roosevelt to a position in history that simply is not warranted. Coincidently, last week, one of FDR’s entitlement programs came back to haunt us. The U.S. House passed a bill that would extend unemployment benefits, but the legislation is being blocked in the Senate.
Newspapers, including the Idaho Statesman, posited that “Idaho could see $7 million a week less going to grocers, gas stations and other retailers if Congress doesn’t act on a bill to extend unemployment benefits.” The newspaper didn’t mention that in order to extend unemployment benefits to 99 weeks, it will cost taxpayers $34 billion.
Unemployment insurance is a big scam, mythical in every way. The taxes on businesses are so excessive that unemployment insurance is actually as a deterrent to businesses looking to open and businesses looking to hire. The taxes serve as a deterrent to employees who should be saving, convinced that if they lose their jobs they’ll get a check from the government to bail them out. And finally, unemployment benefits provide an incentive that has been proven to prolong unemployment.
Presidents should be evaluated within the confines of their job descriptions – evaluated based on their ability to operate within the limited government principles found in the U.S. Constitution, promote free markets and expand liberty. It’s not sexy, but if academia and the media were to take an interest in such criteria, and report and fuss over those findings instead, our nation would be far better off.