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The Greatest Americans Ever

The Discovery Channel recently decided to come up with a list of the twenty-five greatest Americans. Through a series of nominations and eliminations, they allowed viewers to cast their vote. In the end there were a hundred names from which to choose twenty-five.

Among that hundred that did not make the last cut are diverse group of politicians, entertainers, intellectuals, and sports figures. Included in the group that was not chosen for the top twenty-five were Lucille Ball, Alexander Graham Bell, Laura Bush, Andrew Carnegie, John Edwards, Brett Favre, Hugh Hefner, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Michael Moore, Condoleezza Rice, Sam Walton, and Tiger Woods.

How a few of these even came to be included in the top hundred is a bit mystifying. And it is quite likely if people had a chance to vote again, they might well change their mind about someone like John Edwards who is now facing federal indictments. Others are not likely to be looked on kindly as time progresses either. On the other hand, some are likely to rise in such polls as time sifts out the fifteen-minute wonders and reminds people of qualities that stand the test of time.

The Top 25

  1. Ronald Reagan
  2. Abraham Lincoln
  3. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  4. George Washington
  5. Benjamin Franklin
  6. George W. Bush
  7. Bill Clinton
  8. Elvis Presley
  9. Oprah Winfrey
  10. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  11. Billy Graham
  12. Thomas Jefferson
  13. Walt Disney
  14. Albert Einstein
  15. Thomas Edison
  16. John F. Kennedy
  17. Bob Hope
  18. Bill Gates
  19. Eleanor Roosevelt
  20. Lance Armstrong
  21. Muhammad Ali
  22. Rosa Parks
  23. The Wright Brothers
  24. Henry Ford
  25. Neil Armstrong

Among the top twenty-five are eight presidents, plus two more with connections to government, two who were instrumental in the civil rights movement, one religious leader, four connected to entertainment, five prominent inventors and technology innovators, two sport figures, and one astronaut.

Most notable is the man that heads the list. In spite of being much maligned by the media and often ridiculed as a lesser light among presidents when it comes to intelligence, Ronald Reagan has, for the second time in ten years, been chosen in a popular poll as the greatest American ever. In 2001, voters for the History Channel made that choice, and now ten years later it is viewers of the Discovery Channel.

It is striking that the top two picked were presidents cut from a different cloth than most of today’s politicians. Neither Lincoln nor Reagan was considered of the intelligent elite of their day. Though an attorney, Abraham Lincoln was self-educated and often portrayed as a backward hayseed with little grasp of the intricacies of state affairs. And Ronald Regan was a C student at a small private college. Nevertheless, the average person recognizes in both something they admire and long for in a leader.

Both men were common-sense leaders who weathered extremely difficult and complex times. Both spoke a language everyone could relate to and understand. And, both were willing to make extremely unpopular decisions and trust the American people to come around to their side in time. In addition, both Lincoln and Reagan’s terms were marked by a passion for freedom: Lincoln for the slaves of America and Reagan for those enslaved to communism wherever it existed.

It’s not a secret that both had their failings. Reagan had his Iran Contra and seriously misjudged what a Congress that refused to curb spending would do to his plans to eliminate the deficit. Lincoln wasn’t above suspending the Constitution at the height of the War Between the States and came far short of emancipating all slaves during the course of the war.

Perhaps it is what both men did to lead people to believe in the ideals of our nation that sets them apart. Americans do not expect their leaders to be perfect. They understand the pressures of the office and the frailty of man can lead anyone to make serious errors. But they do look for leaders who rise above their failings and encourage others to do the same. They admire leaders who use the power of their office to exalt what makes this a great nation rather than rail against it.

Even though some people voted for the likes of Hugh Hefner and Michael Moore, we should take courage the cream rose to the top. While some may have voted for a different order in the rankings, there can be no doubt the top five were men of high ideals who actually believed in something. Who championed the greater good. Leaders who challenged Americans to believe in something bigger than themselves and were willing to step out in front regardless of what the critics of their time had to say.

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