In my lifetime, there have been the following Presidents: Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush and Obama.
Looking at this list, one has to admit it is not a strong field, but clearly, the best by a country mile has been Barack Obama.
Much as I liked Kennedy and was wowed by his glamour and humor, truth be told, he did not accomplish much and the one big issue which confronted him, Civil Rights, paralyzed him, mostly because his party was comprised of an unworkable alliance of Dixiecrats and liberals.
Johnson would have been a great president but for a little thing called Vietnam, but that's like saying the play at Ford's Theater would have been a great success had it not been for that assassination.
Carter was well intentioned but ineffectual, for whatever reasons.
Clinton squandered his opportunity by, inexplicably, spending his political capital on gays in the military, a good cause, perhaps, but not nearly as important as healthcare, which he handed off to his wife and Ira Magaziner, who were simply not adequate to the task--they were the classic case of ineptitude packaged in academic splendor untested by actual accomplishment which required real world competence. He might have recovered from that, but he had this little problem with libido and he discovered he could not be as reckless in the 1990's as Kennedy had been in the 1960's.
Richard Nixon, when you look at what he actually did, was more liberal than Kennedy or Carter and but for his personal history of Commie baiting and his generally sleazy personality, he did finally manage to get us out of Vietnam, however belatedly. But look at the legislation he signed, and you'd think he was the best Democratic President in a generation.
Obama focused on the most important thing, healthcare, and spent his political capital there--and he accomplished something which had eluded every President who cared about it, going back to Roosevelt. He also tried to staunch that fetid abscess called Gitmo, but then the roof fell in and he was stabbed in the back by even Democrats, including the Senator Schumer from New York, and he never had another Congress he could work with.
As important as any other accomplishment, Mr. Obama did get the right people in place to save us from diving into the chasm of the next great world wide Depession, which the banks and the masters of the universe on Wall Street and Main Street, selfish capitalists all, nearly steered us into as they gunned their engines toward personal financial gain. President Obama grabbed the controls of the airplane hurtling toward a fiery crash and pulled us out of the tail spin and finally got the thing righted and rising again.
And he had the insight to know there was still unfinished business with Osma Bin Laden and he had the guts to call the shot when he had the chance, knowing if he missed the shot he would be repeating the Jimmy Carter thing with the helicopters in the Iranian dust storm and he could kiss good by to a second term. He took his risk and he took his shot. The guy has guts.
Having said all that, President Obama has been a failure in some ways:
1/ He took way too long to pull out of the Middle East, especially Afghanistan.
2/ He allowed the criminals of the banking community and Wall Street to walk away from the crimes they committed and sent nobody to jail for crimes far more consequential than the crimes 90% of the prison population currently incarcerated is serving time for.
3/ He has embraced what can only be described as untested liberal dogma without applying his famous analytical, dispassionate inclinations--to wit, he has embraced the idea that somehow raising college enrollment and graduation will be good for individuals and for the economy, when, in fact, any real scrutiny of manpower and the needs of industry will reveal that we do not need more college graduates who have spent four years drinking beer on fraternity porches majoring in English, but we do need more machinists and technically trained people, people who can program and who are trained for vocations, which could happen in high school and at most, at community colleges.
4/ He has pushed for trade agreements which may not be, by themselves a bad thing, but which do seem to have ignored the injury to American workers wrought by NAFTA and now he is applying this same approach the the Pacific trade agreement.
As Paul Theroux points out in today's New York Times, American capitalists have ruthlessly calculated it will be more profitable to close shop in America and ship the jobs to China and in doing so, have raised large number of Chinese out of poverty but plunged large numbers of Americans into despair.
It is not the job of the capitalist to worry about the effect of his business decision on the local community, but it is the job of the federal government to worry about American workers. It may be that the global economy is such that those jobs would inevitably have been lost, but I'm not convinced of that. I am not sure what the answer is to those lost American jobs making shoes and shirts and furniture--would it have been tariffs and trade wars and military wars? I'm just not sure all the options were thought through and I am sure it's not enough to say, well, we just need to retrain the man who makes shoes to wrote software or the woman who sews dresses to operate a computer driven power lathe.
5/ He has been understandably all too human in response to the cavalcade of mass murders which was with us before his term and will be with us afterward--he keeps calling for legislation to deal with these deviant shooter types, when there is no real evidence there is any legislation which will help.
Just look at the New York Times chart in today's paper showing the type of gun used and the time of purchase to use and you come away with the strong impression no legislation would help. Only once was an assault rifle the weapon of choice--more often hand guns and even shotguns. And the crazy often bought the gun months before he used it, but most often had access to the guns from supplies owned by family members or others.
If 1/3 of American homes have guns and if 250 million guns are out there in the land of the free and the home of the brave and the fully armed, what good will background checks and point of purchase control do?
For the most part, his failings have not been failure of his character, which is exemplary, or his intellect, which is unquestionable, but the failings of his presidency have been the consequence of things beyond the control of any president--after all, Lincoln failed to keep the country out of the Civil War, but we hardly can blame him for that any more than we can blame the crossing guard for the drunk driver who runs off the road into the schoolchildren standing on the corner.
Like President Lincoln, President Obama's problems have been directly attributable to the categorical obstinance of those who oppose him.
And why do they oppose him?
I've tried to examine the various types of people who oppose him, from Bible thumpers to Right Wing Talkers like Ann Coulter to economic conservatives, to Rush Limbaugh blow hards to Red State businessmen, and I can find no unifying principle, save one.
It was most evident in that conversation I had with the Tennessee Republican who could not point to a single policy which he thought Obama had wrong. Obama was simply a "bad man, a dishonest man." And what, exactly, made this white Tennessee Republican say that? "Well, I can't rightly say. He just is... bad, that is."
Which is to say, "Black, that is."
From Ann Coulter to Charles Krauthammer to Rush Limbaugh to Mike Huccabee to Donald Trump to Joe Sixpack to John Boehner to Mitch McConnell to Eric Cantor to Carly Fiorini they all share that, on some level. When you really listen to them, you do not hear them point to any specific, substantive points--it's just really all hate. Resentment and hate. Fear and hate. Frustration and hate. But mostly, hate, that is.
There may be people who do not care about Mr. Obama's not being white, people like Jeb Bush who simply wants his job and are willing to take support from whomever.
On thing you can say for John McCain, who is, it must be agreed, not the sharpest blade in the drawer--a man who would love to send another American Army of half a million to the Middle East to re fight Vietnam and to stay there for 20 years if necessary--but when that woman at his town hall meeting said Obama was some alien of questionable provenance, Mr. McCain rose to the level of Duty/Honor/Country and slapped her down. "He is an honorable man. A family man. I just disagree with him."
In that single remark John McCain distinguished himself from about 40% of our fellow citizens, who look at Mr. Obama and can't say why they don't like him, they just know, somehow they don't.
Does it take a scientist to figure that one out?
One thing about racial hate, I find intriguing--I can't be sure, never having been in the military, but my sense is that white men who have served in the military with Black me have less racial animosity than others. It all goes back to getting to know people. There is the famous example of the white colonel who commanded one of the first Black regiments during the Civil War. His initial letters home to his wife were filled with racial prejudice, but after a few engagements he was writing his wife saying he felt honored to serve with such fine men.
All I can say, with a year left in his presidency is every day I hear the man on the radio, or see him on TV I say, "Thank you, Lord."