C-Span has posted the annual list of presidential rankings as viewed by historians. Most of the talk about this is centered around Obama’s absurdly high rank. I don’t disagree with those who criticize the likely bias of the historians. Obama was not a successful president even by his own measure of what he had hoped to accomplish. He didn’t win either of the wars nor did he revitalize the national economy that he (admittedly) inherited from his predecessor.
That’s not to say he didn’t have any achievements, but it’s hard to see where any of the good things that happened wouldn’t necessarily occurred with a different president nor were most of them even associated with his leadership. For example, I do think the bin Laden raid was a great success of his Administration and he deserves credit for green-lighting it. There were tons of risks involved and any hiccup would have seen the mission end in disaster. But would Bush or Trump had made the call too, or even Hillary Clinton? I say they would have. There was nothing special about Obama there. For leadership, he didn’t design nor did he do much of anything with his Administration’s major (and awful) achievement: the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” if you prefer. In fact, he didn’t even like the legislation being referred to with his name attached to it until sometime around 2013. Another example would be LGBT rights. Yes, progress was made for that group during Obama’s term, but only a fool would say any of it was his doing. He was very much a follower.
I certainly wouldn’t rank Obama above Bill Clinton who had major and long-lasting accomplishments such as the Crime Bill, welfare reform, and ending the ex-Yugoslavian genocide with an effective air campaign. I don’t agree with a lot of what Clinton did, but he was always engaged with the issues of the day and always sought to influence the outcome even when he was dealing with a GOP majority. Obama, to me, just seems to have given up on his own leadership after 2012, if he ever really believed in it all, beyond maintaining his status as an inspirational figure to a deluded segment of the population.
If Obama was ever influential, it seems that it only amounted to his ability to influence the American people to believe that he and his party were a catastrophic clusterfuck rather than an ability to advance legislation, reform, or a great movement beyond getting himself elected and re-elected.
In Obama’s defense, I did feel sorry for him that he was ranked lower than Woodrow “Supervillain” Wilson, who dragged us into a European war that wasn’t our problem and then failed in his major effort to secure long-term peace with a just and fair treaty. I have no doubt that many of these historians don’t like Trump very much but it’s amusing to see them give a pass to Wilson whose racism, xenophobia, and militarism would be extreme by the standard of anything we’ve heard Trump say.
Obama also deserves a higher ranking than JFK, if for no other reason than that he wasn’t dumb enough to ride around in a convertible in a state full of people with rifles who didn’t like him that much. Yeah. I said that.
I could nitpick this all day, I guess. For example, James Madison was a great Founding Father but royally sucked as a president. The War of 1812? Ha, no.
Still, it’s interesting to me where the historians do find a consensus. Lincoln always scores at the top while his immediate predecessor James Buchanan always comes in dead last. Leaders who stick to their principles and fight the good fight to the end will find vindication over those who appease, accommodate, and refuse to lead. Obama, sorry to say, played the role of Buchanan for 8 years.
Maybe Trump won’t be a Lincoln, but I can easily see him being a Theodore Roosevelt who uses the bully pulpit to accomplish his ends. All of the top 7 presidents were never shy about being total stubborn bastards to get their way and the current chief executive isn’t either.