Monday, July 7, 2014

The Worst President?

Polls are a snapshot of how people feel at a particular moment, and many Americans aren't happy.  In a Quinnipiac poll, that was released last week, 33% of Americans rated Barack Obama the worst president since World War II.   President George W. Bush was the second worst according to 28% of Americans surveyed.   

The question posed in Quinnipiac's survey was simply, "Thinking about the presidents we have had since World War II, which one would you consider the worst?"   Americans have endured several years of dysfunctional government, primarily brought on by Republicans who vowed on the day Obama was first sworn in to block everything he tries to do.  Their tactics have led to a government shutdown, which cost the taxpayers billions of dollars, endless partisan bickering, and the least productive Congress in memory.

It is perhaps logical that Americans would hold the president responsible for the chaos in Washington, after all, he is the chief executive officer.  President Obama is almost at the midway point of his second term, a period when most two-term presidents see their popularity plummet.  And, let's face it, there are a lot of crises currently brewing, both on the international and domestic fronts.  Right wing talk radio and other conservative outlets have amped up their attacks on the president, and have linked him to several so-called scandals, most of which are not scandals.

Nonetheless, the Quinnipiac poll is a reminder how short America's memory is.  It is hard to believe that Obama would top his predecessor as worst president.  Bush gave the U.S. and the world the worst recession since the Great Depression, which resulted in record unemployment and deficits.  The economy was so badly damaged that six years later recovery remains slow and millions of Americans are still struggling. 

President Bush and his national security team lied to the American public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a pretext for war in 2003.  Consequently, thousands of U.S. servicemen and Iraqi civilians died, and more that $1 trillion in American taxpayer dollars have so far been wasted.  Meanwhile, Bush and his team totally dropped the ball in Afghanistan.  Further, they couldn't catch Al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden.  Bush's foreign policy did more to diminish America on the global stage than any recent president. 

Thankfully, President Bush failed in his attempt to privatize Social Security.  But he did sign into law an unfunded prescription drug plan that has added billions of dollars to the deficit.  By the way, the plan's launch was a monumental disaster.  And, when it comes to disasters, who can forget Bush's poor handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  In Bush's own words, "Heck of a job Brownie."

Americans, inundated with an incessant torrent of partisan criticism, have forgotten that Obama has actually done a lot of good despite GOP intransigence.  Obama's 2009 stimulus plan put the breaks on the crashing economy he inherited from Bush, and put it on the long road to recovery.  Obama also supported bailing out the U.S. auto companies, which now have regained their swagger.  The president signed into law the Affordable Health Care Act, which, despite a rocky roll out and blocking tactics by Republican governors, covers millions of previously uninsured Americans.  Unemployment is now at 6.1% and the stock market is soaring to record heights. 

Obama refocused America's military on Afghanistan as he promised he would in his election campaign, and he is now implementing the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops while working to support a democratic government.  Obama ended America's war with Iraq, according to an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration, but it may be impossible for the Baghdad government to put their country back together again.  An unintended consequence of the Iraq invasion was the emergence of a stronger Iran.  The West is negotiating with Iran over the scope its nuclear program.   

His national security forces killed Al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, and decimated their core leadership. Regretfully, terrorism cells have now arisen in other countries.  Meanwhile, ISIS is ruthlessly killing thousands of innocent people in Syria and Iraq.  Would things have been different had Obama earlier supported a moderate anti-Assad faction in Syria?  Maybe, but at the time the opposition was fractured and it was a tough call as to whom to support.  

For sure, President Obama has made mistakes in office.  However,  the pluses heavily outweigh the minuses.  But even a perfect president would be subject to endless criticism from the opposition.  And it is not easy being a president in an era of 24-hour news and social media.  For opponents, it is so easy to criticize, to pander to one's base, and to get on television with a pithy soundbite.  But, how many of those who are critical, especially with the loudest voices, actually offer solutions?   Most do not because to do so would be politically damaging to their career.  

Today, most Americans are frustrated with Washington, and this Quinnipiac poll reflects the current mood in the country.  Americans are right to demand and expect more from their government and the country's leadership.   But, sadly, there are too many political and economic factors preventing meaningful change and reform.  

Meanwhile, leave it to future historians to judge the historic Obama presidency.     

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