Can We Rank the Presidents?

Last week, CSPAN released an updated list of their presidential rankings. This kind of project is always exciting for presidential history people, much like the MVP race in the NBA or MLB can be for sports fans. We all have our guy and feel validated or slighted depending on where he falls on this system. 

The 2017 CSPAN Ranking

The 2017 CSPAN Ranking

While I find such rankings to be fun conversations starters, I question their ultimate value. What does it tell us about the presidency or about these men that Adams is one space about H.W. Bush? How fair is it to compare an "imperial presidency" like FDR's with the term of Benjamin Harrison who served when the presidency was deliberately weakened by the Congress? 

While my inclination is to doubt the use value of rankings, I would like to suggest an alternative system that, I hope, could be a bit more practical. Rather than listing the presidents from best to worst, I'd suggest using three basic categories: Highly Effective, Effective, Ineffective. These categories take into consideration how each president stands in relation to his time and factors in how well they operated given the freedoms and constraints placed upon them. As with any ranking system, this will require value judgments. But, I hope, it won't feel as arbitrary as the CSPAN system offered above. This isn't about who is best or worst (often perceived, fairly or not, as good or bad). Rather I just want to think about how they did their job. 

Highly Effective
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Andrew Jackson
James K. Polk
Abraham Lincoln
Theodore Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
Ronald Reagan

Effective
James Madison
James Monroe
Martin Van Buren
Ulysses S. Grant
Chester A. Arthur
Grover Cleveland
William McKinley
Calvin Coolidge
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson
Richard Nixon
George H.W. Bush
Bill Clinton
Barack Obama

Ineffective
John Adams
John Quincy Adams
William Henry Harrison
John Tyler
Zachary Taylor
Millard Fillmore
Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
Andrew Johnson
Rutherford B. Hayes
James Garfield
Benjamin Harrison
William Howard Taft
Warren Harding
Herbert Hoover
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
George W. Bush

Even this simplified system feels fairly arbitrary to me, but I think it's strength lies in its fluidity. The more I read and learn about these men, their presidencies, and the times in which they served, I feel like the odds of movement are much greater than the otherwise static rankings we find in the CSPAN-type systems.

So what did I get wrong? Where would you make changes?