Saturday, July 5, 2014

The War on 44

Earlier this week, the New York Post in conjunction with Quinnipiac University ranked the best and worst U.S. presidents since World War II. Of the 12 men that have held the office since Franklin Roosevelt's sudden passing in 1945, the unscientific poll ranked Barack Obama as the worst of the dozen. The choice wasn't a landslide; combined, the last two presidents earned 61% of the "worst president" vote, with Richard Nixon a distant third.

In late 2008, I wrote a two-part essay grading the George W. Bush administration. It was part retrospective and part moratorium, written three weeks before our 43rd president was to leave public life and well after any impact could be made to alter the legacy of his flawed presidency. I did not anticipate writing a similar essay about Barack Obama until December 2016 or January 2017, when our current Commander in Chief is expected to hand over the reins and segue into private life. Rest assured, 2 1/2 years from now I will write a similar essay in structure if not necessarily tone, and as far as I'm concerned that missive is only two-thirds written.

In all honesty, I've grown to accept the Obama administration for the mixed bag that it has truly become. I feel that for the near-constant criticism he has faced in the last 18 months, maybe half of the vitriol is justified. The progress he has made in support of energy regulation and LGBT rights certainly maintains his credibility in liberal social circles. Obama's steady hand in bolstering the economy and gradually creating job growth in the wake of the 2008-09 recession --without much help from a polarized Congress, mind you-- has been overlooked by the partisan fight over health care reform, questions about domestic privacy, and his aloof approach to foreign policy. At this time, Obama will rank in the middle of the pack, if not slightly below the average. If Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan have taught us anything, there have been far more incompetant leaders in our nation's 238-year history. If you want to rank just the presidents that won reelection, it's hard to argue that Obama was worse than the rudderless, scandal-plagued 8 year stint of Ulysses S. Grant. Or the aforementioned Tricky Dick. Or, if I dare suggest it, Bush 43.

It would be easy for me to dismiss this poll as meaningless, but at the same time hindsight is 20/20. As I stated not quite six years ago, we can't really analyze the legacy of a president until he's been out of office for a few years. If this poll were taken eight years ago, those surveyed would have chosen Bush 43 by a sizable margin. On top of that, Bush 43 and Obama are the first two presidents whose administrations were fully ingrained in the internet era, where anyone can say anything within the alleged anonymity of modern technology, and trolls and haters can repeat the same meme ad nauseum. The president's flaws have been magnified, every apparant blunder scrutinized to infinity.

It feels weird defending someone I have mixed feelings about. At the same time, the only people that are declaring President Obama a failure are the same critics that wished he would crash and burn six years ago. They take something that wasn't totally his fault --a Solyndra here, a Benghazi there-- and feast on it like ribs at a street festival. Most of the issues he has faced in office --immigration, Iraq, gun control-- are still lingering from past administrations. I voted for Obama in 2008, not because of the naive optimism that swooned my peers, but simply because he appeared to be the stronger of the two candidates. Begrudgingly, I did the same thing in 2012. The legacy of our 44th president is a hodgepodge, but also still up for interpretation, and not beyond repair. I just hate to imagine what the next guy will be up against.

Other notes:

+ I'm sure some of you might have noticed the name change above. After nearly two years of inconsistent blogging --about three entries a month-- it didn't make sense to call this "Stu's Weekly Updates" anymore. As much as I love the challenge of writing a new blog entry once a week, my hectic schedule simply doesn't permit it anymore. I'm not going anywhere, I'm just accepting my current reality.

Next Week: my third "Seasons of Love" TV essay.

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