The 35th Worst President Ever?

Obama coffee cup

In case you missed it,  there was a brilliant little political essay  by the brilliant little political essayist Mark Morford at SFGate on July 8 called “The Best Worst President Ever”, eviscerating the oft-heard lament that Barack Obama is “the worst thing that ever happened to this country”, or some such. The Cult Of Obama Hatred is working overtime to drill its mantra into the head of the American citizen: “worst president ever, worst president ever, worst president ever”. Like a broken record, or a record-breakingly inept Republican president wedging “Iraq” and “9-11”  together into the same sentence as frequently as possible, they hope that if they say it long enough and often enough, people will believe it. And it appears to be working, at least for now.

Not long ago, an RRR (rabidly right-wing relative — don’t they make family gatherings fun?) said to me, “Obama has just split this country apart. He’s caused the races to hate each other more when they were beginning to get along, and he’s made the whole nation more divided than it’s ever been before”. Naturally, I was intrigued by this analysis, and I asked him to explain exactly how the president accomplished this. Needless to say, he was unable to name even one thing Obama has done to cause such unprecedented divisiveness. He just knows that somehow, the president has set Americans against each other more than anyone else has ever done, including, say, Jefferson Davis.

I suggested to my RRR that maybe he should consider the possibility that if indeed the nation is more divided than it’s ever been (which is by no means a given) then in fact it has not been Obama but Obama haters who have contributed to it. After all, they’ve churned out the most malicious lies imaginable about the president on a daily basis for the past 6 years, and lies tend to be quite divisive. To which he replied, “Well, you have your opinion, and I have mine.”

This is what we’ve come to in Twenty-First Century America. The difference between lies and truth is dismissed as nothing more than a difference of opinion. And the prevailing opinion is that Obama has “destroyed this country” and “shredded the Constitution” and “mortgaged our children’s future”, or he’s — (insert the popular cookie cutter phrase of your choice), facts and explanations be damned.

Some polls have the president’s popularity at an all-time low. Or as Fox “News” puts it in inimitable Fox fashion, “more people than ever are fed up” with him. In one poll, a plurality (33 percent) of Americans consider Obama the worst president since at least World War II — even topping out George W (28 percent).  Which just goes to show how effective the anti-Obama propaganda has been, and in particular how effective is the technique of sheer repetition. Because reality tells rather a different story.

Determining the best and worst among presidents is necessarily a subjective undertaking to some extent — particularly among members of the contemporary general public, who tend to assess a leader according to how well he conforms to their own ideologies. And since Obama caters to neither the Right or the Left, he’d be getting a double dose of criticism even if he wasn’t the intensive target of Obama Derangement Syndrome. Even Michael Moore declares that he will be remembered only as the first black president. Et tu, Mike?

But future generations won’t care much about present ideological differences, or how the current crop of right-wing radicals detested the current president past all rationality, or how contemporary “liberals” are disappointed that he’s not progressive enough. With a broader perspective, such as that provided by history or even contemporary historians, there are definite objective parameters. It would be hard to call an Abe Lincoln or George Washington or Franklin Roosevelt a bad president, or an Andrew Johnson or Warren Harding or George W. Bush a good one (though some people may try).

A president’s place in history is determined, with pretty decent accuracy, by his cumulative actions in office; and again, there are definite objective parameters. It would be pretty hard to fault, for instance, the Emancipation Proclamation or Social Security or The Peace Corps (though some people certainly try). And it would be pretty hard to praise the intelligence and security failures that allowed 9-11 to happen, or the launching of the Iraqi quagmire based on lies and fraud, or converting a huge surplus into a huge deficit, or shattering Ronald Reagan’s record for presidential vacation time, or muzzling scientific research and playing denial on climate change (though some people certainly try).

And it’s hard to find fault with the retirement of Osama bin Laden; but the Obama haters certainly try — while at the same time trying to credit it to George W. Bush, who’d been out of office more than two years and had long ago given up even looking for bin Laden. But that’s by no means the only one of the current president’s impressive accomplishments.

Among them, of course, is the Affordable Care Act, forever to be spun as “Obamacare”. Surely you’ve heard of it. Socialized medicine. Government takeover of medicine. Nazi medicine. Death panels. Skyrocketing premiums. Doctors jumping ship. Thousands of armed IRS agents ready to enforce it. A dismal catastrophe all around, right? That’s certainly the way it’s being portrayed. And a gullible public gobbles it up.

Yet when you dig beneath the cacophonous layer of Bedlamite frenzy and press the issue, most Americans will quietly if grudgingly admit that “Obamacare” is… (wait for it) actually a success. Most have even seen this for themselves. Yes, even Republicans. Shhhh!!! Don’t tell anyone.

And what about the economy?  That’s certainly an important factor to consider. And the official spin is that Obama’s economic policies have been ineffective if not disastrous. Many Obama haters cite their own change in economic status as “proof”, on the assumption that (a) their own experience typifies the nation’s as a whole — after all, the universe does revolve around them, doesn’t it?, and (b) it’s all Obama’s fault — if and only if they’ve become worse off in the past few years.

Right-wingers have an immutable four-part formula they apply to a president’s impact on the economy: (a) If the president is a Democrat and the economy goes bad, the president is to blame. Period. (b) If the president is a Democrat and the economy improves, it’s due to the Republicans in Congress or the last Republican president, however long ago. (c) If the president is a Republican and the economy improves, it’s all his doing. Period. (d) If the president is a Republican and the economy goes bad, it’s due to the Democrats in Congress or the last Democratic president, however long ago.

Historians and economists, however, are not blessed with such divine insight, and so they have to rely on hard numbers instead. Those numbers almost invariably show that economic improvement coincidentally has a way of occurring when a Democrat is in the White House. And the present president is no exception.

The guys at Motley Fool have compiled tables of how the presidents since 1900 compare in five economic factors. Of 19 administrations, Obama’s ranks fourth in stock market performance, seventh in reducing unemployment, eighth in GDP per capita, and — get this — FIRST in corporate profit growth. The latter isn’t even close: at an annual growth rate of 43.1 percent, Obama’s figure smokes the next closest competitor at 17.7 percent. This, mind you, is a president whom the wingers love to brand a “socialist”. So lopsided is the president’s boon to corporate interests that the Fools suggest, with a perfectly straight face, that maybe he should play fair and bring the percentage down to a more competitive 6.2 by factoring in the final year of the economically disastrous Bush administration. You think I’m making this up?

Okay, so President Obama has plenty of positive things going for him. What about the possibility that there is enough in the minus column to wipe out his assets? Well, it’s really not a realistic possibility at all. Certainly, he’s only human, and he’s exhibited his share of missteps and flaws like any other politician. (And ironically, they tend to be overlooked by the Obama Haters in their rush to circulate nutball rumors.) But contrary to loud and pervasive rumor, there is nothing that promises to make a dent in the history books.

Which certainly hasn’t prevented the haters from trying desperately, comically, to find something. From Benghazi to birtherism to Benghazi to the IRS to Benghazi to the NSA to Benghazi to Fast and Furious to Benghazi to Solyndra to Benghazi. And oh yes, there’s always Benghazi. Failing to gain much traction with these “scandals” they grasp at straws that are excruciatingly silly even by their usual standards.

There is, for example, the “latte salute”. The president’s casual act of saluting two marines while holding a cup of coffee as he exited Air Force One was turned into a tsunami-sized controversy by the hatred industry. The puerile hyperbole over this non-event is perhaps best encapsulated by Karl Rove on Fox “News”:

Are we surprised? After all, we’ve got a chai-swilling, golf-playing, basketball-trash-talking, leading-from-behind, I-got-no-strategy, ‘Osama-bin-Laden-is-dead-GM-is-alive’, community organizer commander-in-chief… It’s not a latte salute, it’s a chai salute because he drinks chai tea. I mean, please! How disrespectful was that?

This thoughtful and mature analysis brought to you by a man who, in many respects, ran the country for 8 years, and is often referred to as “Bush’s Brain”. Hey, let’s all try being as adult and sophisticated as Karl. Hmmm… If he was Bush’s brain, which end would that make Dick Cheney? The reference to “no strategy”, by the way, is a comment taken out of context (a national pastime for Obama haters) and seized upon to advance the myth that the president is weak/ disastrous/ embarrassing in foreign policy. In raising such a hue and cry over the disgraceful latte/ chai salute (Which is it? Makes all the difference in the world, you know.) Fox “News” completely gets its facts wrong  (Fox?? Say it ain’t so!) about the history and protocol of presidential salutes, and asks “Would President Bush ever do this?” The answer to that, it appears, is probably not.

Bush dog salute

Bush salutes several times with a dog, and he’s a patriotic, strong-willed, resolute commander-in-chief. Obama salutes once with a cup of coffee (Or is it tea?  Inquiring minds want to know.) and he’s an embarrassment, a joke, a traitor in league with ISIS who wants to infect you with ebola. But in the interest of being “fair and balanced”, surely Fox soon will launch into a protracted analysis of how Bush’s saluting posture was cowering, wimpy, and quasi-fetal as he clung to the most popular member of his administration, while Obama’s saluting posture is erect, bold, proud and decisive. I’m sure they will. Any day now. Doncha think?

Basically, anything that any other politician could do without raising a Hannity eyebrow becomes a major, major scandal/ outrage/ source of ridicule if Obama does it. Is there anything more worthy of a Lemony Snicket novel than Sarah Palin, that persistent answer to a question nobody is asking, mocking the president for using a teleprompter with a canned one-liner read from a teleprompter?  Considering that nearly all of the media coverage of President Obama is negative, and a great deal of it is deranged and apocalyptic, is it really any wonder that his ratings are so low?

Meanwhile, what gets far less media attention is that a group of 238 presidential scholars has done a periodic ranking of U.S. presidents that placed Obama 15th. That’s 15th BEST, boys and girls, not 15th worst. This, mind you, was after his first year in office and thus before most of his accomplishments. Other surveys of the experts have also rather consistently ranked him highly — as highly as 8th. And highly ranked presidents tend to rise in their rankings after they are out of office.

So, sorry to break the news to you, Obama haters, but posterity promises to be far kinder to Barack Obama than to you. Or to your warped image of him. If you wanted to peg him as, say the 35th worst president ever, then you might have a case. But the worst? Not unless things change very, very drastically. And very, very soon.