Thoughts on the legacy of President Barack Obama 2-16-15
The election of Barack Obama
President Obama’s legacy will be inextricably linked to the fact that he was the first African American to be elected president. A Black man in the White House. The Founding Fathers, including those who wrote the words “All men are created equal” owned slaves. So the election, in itself, will always be a great moment in our nation’s history and part of the Obama legacy.
That’s why they gave him a Nobel Peace Prize before he had even done anything. His election alone was stunning.
How will he be immediately judged?
If his current media treatment is any indication he will be immediately praised to the heavens by liberals and critiqued by conservatives. Liberal think tanks of historians will immediately say he is one of America’s greatest presidents. I should point out, shortly after he was elected president the Sienna Institute named him as the 15th greatest president in history. So get ready for a healthy debate.
What will he do?
I’ve always argued that his post presidency will be hugely eventful. In some respects his legacy will be in his hands. More than any other president in history his post White House years may define him. He could be a “Jesse Jackson on steroids, with companies seeking to have his approval and putting him, or his surrogates, on their boards of directors. Expect his team to bully the television executives to give him good coverage. His NGO will rival Bill Clinton’s and raise billions of dollars. He will be an international sensation.
What will it mean long term?
Long term? The quick answer is – we don’t know.
A more prosaic answer is that it depends on the kind of America we have in the future.
If American swings back to a more constitutional form of government and to a more free market economy, your grandchildren will hear history teachers say we almost lost it all under Barack Obama. That the whole American experiment was almost cashed in. But don’t count on it.
It is much more likely that American continues to move toward a more government managed economy and government managed education and society, then our grandchildren will hear history teachers say that America is today what it is, because of Barack Obama. Not FDR, not Lincoln… but Barack Obama.
So the future legacy of Obama will depend on the future of America.
And some would say that the combination of numbers, including those in the general public who benefit from a more socialist form of government and corporations who have their own government subsidies or special insider laws or contracts that give them an advantage, that those numbers mean that it is already too late. That is, the people who are now gaming the system outnumber and outvote the people who are living under its rules – trying to make a living without any special advantage.
What was his greatest moment?
Getting Osama Bin Laden. He made a gutsy call and it worked.
What will be seen as his greatest failure?
It has to the plight of the poor. According to a groundbreaking study at UC Berkley, the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer on a massive scale under Barak Obama. That has to be a disappointment for him and it is a terrible legacy for a liberal president to carry. It is causing a lot of people to rethink.
Either way, this presidency of Barak Obama has been a linchpin and will be one of the most significant in all of American history. It was set up by 9-11 and by the failed economy of the Bush presidency but the final responsibility for what happened in his two terms is his. Whether he is seen as a good or bad leader will be partly determined by how good and bad is defined in the future.
And in 100 years?
My guess is that like Reagan, he will gain in respect. I have liberal friends who hated Reagan who now speak respectfully because he is gone and no longer a threat. I think that will happen with Obama for different reasons, partly because he is African American and we are still living down a legacy of slavery in our history. People will find other ways to argue policies and even conservatives will treat him nicely when he is gone and no longer a threat. That’s my suspicion.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way. You don’t really believe that the American people are going to elect three out of the last five presidents from the same immediate family do you? Ain’t gonna happen. The American people are in a somnolent trance right now. It hasn’t registered..
Yes, it’s true that there might have been three presidents from the Adams family. (See how Charles Francis Adams might have been elected president.) But that stretched out over 100 years.
Doug Wead on Neil Cavuto, February 2, 2015.
Each president is different. In their own way, each has impacted the office. What may be an accurate theatrical representation of one president will differ greatly from another and both may be right or wrong. In recent years, the office has become forced into a more consistent template, this because of the demands of security and technology.Almost any movie or tv portrayal of a president is flawed. but some are more accurate than others. West Wing had some accurate moments. Although the constant rushing about – shuffling paper – and the extra large, movie set offices were far-fetched and distracting. The open, team oriented president is also unlikely. Presidents quickly become corrupted and become more private. Because of the nature of the office, all of them become isolated. This leads to moments like Katrina for George W. Bush and Paris for Obama. These are moments when presidents lose touch with reality..Some movies are literally scripted by history. Oliver Stone’s W used many historical events and real life conversations, with some very notable exceptions. (They had Karl Rove advising GWB back in the 80’s. I never saw Karl or even heard of him back them and was with GWB almost every day.) But even with accurate conversations the movie still managed to portray GWB as “the dummy” characterized by Saturday Night Live, which was inaccurate. I guess you would call that art mimicking art. Ha..The movie Lincoln also stuck to real events recorded by history and like a good newspaper editor, they didn’t use a conversation unless confirmed by more than one source. The exception were the private conversations between Abe and Mary, which only Mary gives us in her recollections..It was a great movie that was ruined by one stark, totally unnecessary, inaccurate scene at the very beginning. Lincoln is sitting with soldiers, black and white and they are reciting back to him the Gettysburg Address. I promise you that nothing like that ever happened. It would be like someone reciting back to President Obama or Reagan a speech they had just given a few months before. At that time in history, no one memorized the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln, himself, could not have quoted his own Gettysburg Address, let alone soldiers in his army..Kevin Costner played in Roger Donaldson’s Thirteen Days. He was a special assistant to the president. The portrayal of this character was too confident, too relaxed, to glib in the president’s presence. He was the hero, not JFK. In fact, a presidential assistant is in constant danger of the machinations of other staffers. If he was anything other than servile and deferential to the president he would be gone fast..Movie producers almost always underestimate the power of the president’s celebrity. No one but the president can be the center of attention. He dominates the room. Every room. And almost every conversation..Depictions of the sycophants around the president are almost always poorly done. They are subtle and accomplished beyond anything one sees in the office or the corporate world..The most accurate theatrical moments, to me, have been in the House of Cards because they have captured the art of politics at work. I have literally put the show on pause and told my children stories from real life that mimic exactly what is going on. The only thing that is different from real life, is that all of the players, not just Frank and Claire Underwood, can likewise be manipulative. (And, of course, presidents don’t personally commit murder.) Picture the White House with 100 Frank and Claire Underwoods on staff and you get a little idea of what life is like there..And in the House of Cards, the media is often seen as the victim when they are just as likely the predator as the politician..Presidents of the nation, like presidents of corporations, never have to say what they want or spell it out. Although, comically, sometimes it happens like the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, who was wiretapped speculating on the sale of appointing a new Senator. The staff is competing to please them and anticipating what they want. The president can grunt or groan or role his eyes or sometimes just remain silent and wait and his staff will figure out what he wants. And sometimes they will do it without his knowledge to protect him. And they will all use lofty language, the good of the people, the nation comes first, etc..Power corrupts..Finally. The best, recent, presidential movie, the most accurate from history, IMHO, is probably Hyde Park on the Hudson, starring Bill Murray. It was a small but complicated piece of neglected history that I had been researching and it was done exceptionally well. Historians, spoon fed from the FDR propaganda machine have usually portrayed him as sexually impotent. We now know better.PostScript: This blog was written before the third season of House of Cards in which the accuracy of life in the White House, especially the role of the Chief of Staff, was very much diminished. It’s too bad. That was a good part of its charm. The theatrical appeal of the series is still somewhat compelling but the producers clearly decided to save some money by cutting much needed input from real live participants who have “been there and done that.” The author of the original British series, who took great pains to get it right, was probably horrified..See: Presidents in the movies.
An insiders transcript leaked from the Jeb Bush – Mitt Romney summit. (A parody)
Thursday, January 22, 2015, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Romney: Jan, would you get the Governor some coffee?
Bush: Oh no thanks, bottled water is fine.
Romney: Well Governor that will do you some good in Nevada. (Chuckles)
Bush: Governor, the last time we talked you told me if you ever said you were running for president again to shoot you. (Laughter)
Romney: And you’re here to do the job?
Romney: And the last time we talked you said a Bush could never be elected president again. And I think I agree with you. (Laughter.)
It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep will do.
Bush: Have you seen this? (Passes over some polling data.)
Romney: Oh yeah, Rand Paul.
Bush: It’s a very real possibility.
Romney: Yes it is.
Bush: There is only one way to stop Rand Paul and that is a ton of money. And if we are divided we split the advantage we have. Let’s face it; we carry on our backs the established order of doing business in this country. If I can raise money like my brother did I can win Iowa, will win New Hampshire with Boston TV buys. Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham is getting into the race for one purpose, to stop Rand Paul in South Carolina. If I am ahead by then he will pull out and I can finish him in Florida.
Romney: Well I did win in Iowa and New Hampshire. You have to win the general my friend. (Romney did not actually win the GOP caucuses in Iowa.) And you left out one thing… Nevada. No matter how small you think Nevada may be it comes before South Carolina and it would be a powerful sequential win for Rand Paul. Three in a row. The race might not even get to your Lindsey Graham. And I am the only one who can effectively stop Rand Paul in Nevada because the LDS like Rand Paul. If I am not in the race, he will sweep their vote.
Bush: Yeah, I’ve seen the polling. What do Mormons like about Paul?
Romney: They see the Constitution as “hanging by a thread” and the Paul’s are all Constitution.
Bush: If we fight each other it will be brutal. We both will have a lot of money.
Romney: Well, I’ve already talked to my supporters and they are not going to go away.
Bush: Both of us will be destroyed.
Romney: If we turn our PACS lose there will never be another Bush in the White House. You need to think about that. Your son has a future.
Bush: Governor, let me ask you, why now? You’ve already run twice, three times really.
Romney: Because I will never be closer. The polls show I would win the same race with Obama if we did it again. You are younger you have time.
Bush: I am the only candidate who is right now carrying any of the battleground states against Hillary.
Romney: Really? Texas and Florida? But you can never win any of the others. Why are you in such a rush?
Bush: This is the only chance I’ve got. I would be running against Hillary Clinton. It neutralizes the political dynasty issue. The media can’t attack a Bush as an insider without attacking a Clinton for the same thing.
Romney: Governor, in all fairness, you have had a father and a brother who have already served as president. And you have a son who has a great future, I understand George P. is going to be Texas Land Commissioner, congratulations, but it is just a bit disingenuous for you to come here talking about your “only chance” when two out of the last four presidents have been Bushes. I would think that you would be deferring to your son, he has a chance, when the legacy of your brother has had a little more distance. You understand, that even if I drop out of the race, the super PACs of your opponents are going to link – for all time – the Bush family name to the disaster in the Middle East and disaster in the economy?
Bush: Which is another reason to run now, to show another Bush, a more acceptable Bush, to give young Georgie a chance.
Romney: Not to mention what Hillary Clinton would do in a general election if you win the nomination.
Bush: You have seen the list of major donors who are coming on board?
Romney: I’ve also seen the list of donors who haven’t. And remember, my biggest donor is sitting across the table from you right now.
Bush: Look. We are on the same side. The American economy is depending on us to get this settled. I don’t have to tell you that at least one of the major television executives is having second thoughts about the FED. We have to solve this soon. We need some sort of accommodation. There must be something that I can do that is legal and proper, something to help the Church, something for you and your family.
Romney: We are agreed that it is in both of our interests to solve this. And you can be sure that Anne will argue in your behalf when you are gone. (Laughs).
Jan: Gentlemen, the lunch is ready.
(Romney and Bush stand. This ended a private time together. They now join a luncheon with staff.)
Romney: (Greeting the group.) Okay, what’s to eat? The governor from Florida is hungry! (Laughter.)
Having worked for the man I can tell you that George H.W. Bush is no pushover. When Manuel Noriega rattled his swords and waged his drug war against the USA, Bush descended on Panama like a thunderstorm, without warning, bringing the villain back in chains. When Saddam Hussein invaded his neighbor, Bush organized the entire world against him. It was an unprecedented moment. “This shall not stand,” Bush said. And it didn’t. Bush, not Reagan, was the man who stood watch over the collapse of the Soviet Union. And many forget that the Berlin Wall came down when he was in the White House. Even so, what endures from those who know him personally and from those who have studied the presidency, is that George H.W. Bush may be the nicest man to ever sit in the Oval Office.
Presidents, like all leaders, are often known for their ruthlessness. “A great Prime Minister,” Gladstone once mused, “must be a good butcher.” Bush, not Theodore Roosevelt, was the president who walked softly and carried a big stick.
Presidential power within a family sometimes reaches tragic proportions. Accustomed to fawning subordinates at work, the presidents often expect the family to likewise cater to their egos at home. John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, told his namesake and son, John Adams II, that he would not attend his Harvard graduation unless the boy worked his way into the top five graduating students. When the son prevailed the father moved the goal posts. If the boy was not number one, he said, he still wouldn’t come. The son, John Adams II, got drunk and was expelled from Harvard.
Abraham Lincoln had a mean, stubborn streak that left him estranged from both his father and his first born son. He refused to attend his father’s funeral. Lincoln oversaw the massive slaughter of a generation of young men. More Americans died in the Civil War than in all other modern wars combined.
Theodore Roosevelt invaded Columbia and invented Panama. It was an illegal, arguably immoral war, but it got us the Panama Canal. Roosevelt once said, “Every generation of young manhood should experience a war.” It Hitler were to say such a thing we would rightly rebuke it. Theodore Roosevelt only makes us chuckle.
Franklin D. Roosevelt interned thousands of Japanese families living in the USA during World War Two. And he too could be quite tough on his own family. When son, Jimmy Roosevelt, complained to his mother that he could never talk to his father she suggested he get an appointment. “That’s what I do,” she said.
Lyndon Johnson could be cruel to staffers and rivals alike, even physically intimidating them. Richard Nixon had his blacklist. New audiotapes show John Kennedy viciously excoriating subordinates.
Sexual abuse seems to be a rite of passage for men of power. Again, FDR comes to mind. Missy LeHand faithfully served him for years, living with him alone when he was forgotten, even crawling in the mud on the beaches of Florida with him as he tried to affect a quack homeopathic cure for his polio. Some of the president’s sons remember her, wearing a nightgown, sitting on his lap, in the private quarters of the White House. But when she, herself, had a stroke and developed a paralysis, he threw her out and took a new “friend.” John Kennedy’s sexual abuse of staff and friends has become legendary.
Sadly, there is no better understanding of the leadership skill of George H.W. Bush than a comparison of the two Gulf Wars. George H.W. Bush defeated Saddam Hussein but left him in place. His son, Bush the younger, conquered Iraq and stayed until both Saddam Hussein and his two sons were killed.
In the first Gulf War many people often asked, “Why didn’t the president finish it off? Why didn’t he take Baghdad?” It is not very often that we can see what would have happened if things had been done differently. But now we can. If Bush, Sr. had taken complete control of Iraq and deposed or killed Saddam Hussein, the whole Sunni-Shia balance of power in the Middle East would have collapsed. The region would have erupted into bloodshed. Terrorism would have proliferated. Radical Islam would have toppled established governments. Christian communities, who trace their lineage back to the time of the Apostles would have been butchered, their centuries old churches burnt to the ground. We know it would have happened because it is exactly what happened when his son, President George W. Bush, decided to give it a try.
Now, we know the genius and the patient calculation of George H. W. Bush and the gifts he brought to the presidency. He is nice. But it has a purpose.