In 1993, the bespectacled, bow tie blazing, Republican curmudgeon George Will published an essay titled, “Here Come the Eager Beavers.” And come they did, Democrats descended on the United States Capitol in droves after twelve years of Republican rule. Will, in a style only Will employs, played on the freshness of a new administration, and a new party to boot, espousing that they will try to change everything.
The title stuck with me, and every new administration brings me the same sigh. “New World Order’s” are thrown around as easily as “I’m With Her” buttons are tossed in the trash. (No, trust me, they are not going to be worth something someday. They made a trillion of them.)
With the change in carpets in the White House comes the inevitable reviews by pundits, media, and historians on the man with much more gray on his head than when he entered. The website, McClatchy DC has one of the first, “Is Obama the greatest president or worst ever?”
Oh gosh, could we at least wait until January 21? (By the way, it’s a poll, so guess what the answer will be?)
Americans sure do love ranking things, or making them great, ‘not so great’, near great, or average. (Richard Nixon had a habit of naming his top seven Presidents, always including himself, imagine that. He also included Wilson, so here again his logic is questioned.) When people ask me who my ‘favorite’ presidents are, I make a point to add that by being ‘favorite’ I am not labeling them as ‘great.’ Take Nixon again- one of my favorite presidents because he is so very good and so very bad at the same time. But Great? With all due respect, No.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. created the Presidential Greatness Index and for a man I highly respect for a lifetime of service, I hate that he did this. To determine the ‘greats’ we have to first eliminate the faulty and the failures. That we can handle and usually all agree. But how on earth do we compare the administration of Franklin Roosevelt with the administration of James Polk? Apples and Oranges there, Arthur.
My biggest problem with the rankings is that year after year they change as if we are ranking College Football teams on the rise and fall of their records. Donald Trump has a rating system for the Obama Administration, and even that changed. I believe the word he used over a million times during the campaign was, “Disaster.” However, during the transition he is soliciting his advice on everything. Apparently, the Bushes aren’t returning phone calls, or there is a new Trump Presidential Ranking System out and he had Obama pegged wrong.
It’s difficult, premature, and ridiculous to assess the Obama Administration at its close. In 1961, Schlesinger ranked outgoing President Eisenhower 22nd out of thirty-four Chiefs. Comparatively, that makes him stink. But in the most recent poll of 2015, Eisenhower had graduated into the top ten list of our Presidents. That makes him “great.”
What gives, Arthur?
In 1961, Eisenhower was viewed as a hands-off president, out of touch and merely a figurehead. As classified memoranda, letters and files have been released over the past five decades, that view has changed. Eisenhower was Man in Charge. And a good one at that. Not sure why 1961 historians felt the man who commanded Overlord in Europe would let someone else handle the reigns of the White House, but that’s another topic altogether.
Democrats will shower President Obama with accolades he will not deserve for fifty years. In 2001, Vice President Al Gore introduced an outgoing President Bill Clinton as “The Greatest President Ever!” I am sure we will get a lot of that same sentiment and decibel level for President Obama as well. Until, like Eisenhower, the full gamut of information is released and we can non-politically assess his role.
The truth is, we don’t know. At the time (2001), Clinton could herald NAFTA as a success. Twenty-five years later, we can count the number of jobs lost to Mexico (because of it) in the hundreds of thousands. And the banking collapse of 2008 that was blamed on President Bush actually has roots in the Clinton Administration legislation of 1999 and 2000. So, Al, ‘Greatness’ is always relative.
One thing is for certain, I dare say with less than forty days to go before his presidency ends, Obama managed to skirt the Curse of the Second Term. You may be familiar with this presidential phenomenon that stretches back to President Washington. Second terms do not go well. In the 20th Century alone, Wilson encountered World War I and failed on the League of Nations, FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court and was still struggling to pull us out of the Depression, Truman went to war with Korea, Eisenhower had to send troops to a Middle School in Little Rock and was embarrassed with a U2 Spy Plane crash in The Soviet Union, Johnson’s ‘second term’ was entirely engulfed with Vietnam, Nixon (do I even have to write it?) resigned amidst a massive cover-up of Watergate, Reagan traded Arms for Hostages to Iran (a far cry from Obama just dropping millions in cash on pallets to them) and Clinton was impeached on the charges of perjury. Lastly, President Bush reacted slowly to Hurricane Katrina almost blowing New Orleans of the map, and could not show progress in the shock and awe promised to root out terrorism in the world.
Second terms do not go well. President Obama has deftly managed to escape this doom, although the cash payment to Iran would have scored massive fallout if performed in a Republican Administration. And the retaliation on police officers across this country should fall on the desk of the president, but again, somehow President Obama gets a free pass. Can you think of any other president who would accept a running message that police officers are the enemy?
Barack Obama cannot be rated ‘great’ or anything else for at least fifty years. As we experienced with NAFTA, his ObamaCare legislation could very well leave a negative impact in the next ten to twenty years. One of a million tiny shatters in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 glass ceiling is that the weekend before the election, those insured under ObamaCare opened new bills for coverage. The premiums skyrocketed. As Obama heads for the exit lights, his signature legislation, meant to bring affordable health insurance to millions of uninsured will bankrupt families across the nation, as lost jobs to Mexico did in 2007 and 2008.
From 1961-1981, the United States experienced seven presidents, including outgoing and incoming Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan. From 1996-2016, there have been three. The stability of our nation’s leadership in longevity will be viewed a century from now as a calming period.
Let’s hope the Beavers keep the dam.