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  • "What Went Wrong?"--Assessing Obama's Legacy

    • Posted on Aug 18, 2015
    This appeared in Sunday's (8-16) Waterloo Courier, and probably is the first of two installments, as you'll see if you read to the end.  Yes, Obama didn't do what he might have done, but. . . 

    *************************
    Now that the end of President Obama’s second term looms, pundits of all persuasions have begun to ponder his presidency.  How good is/was he? 

     Did he fix problems?  Did he create new ones?  In what ways has he been good and bad for the country?  Did he forsake more promises then he fulfilled?    

     Granted, answers to these questions will no doubt change over the years. Presidents’ reputations rise and fall depending on unpredictable events and issues.  So current assessments of Barack Obama’s presidency are tentative at best. 

     Still, pundits need to work, and Presidents’ policies and personalities provide it, nonstop.  This applies especially to Obama, our first Black president, and a man whose actions have been endlessly scrutinized by a deeply hostile opposition.   

     The latest and most interesting assessment comes from David Bromwich, a Yale English Professor and political commentator.  His essay in the June Harper’s magazine,  “What Went Wrong?” offers a critical analysis of Obama, and deserves reading, especially for the President’s longtime supporters. 


     
    Bromwich is no hard left or right ideologue, as so many political commentators seem to be.  He offers a balanced, serious, and important analysis of Obama’s “centrist” approach to issues and problems.  

    Very likely, “What Went Wrong” will serve as a reference point for future historians looking to assess Obama’s legacy.  

    Essentially, Bromwich measures the President against an implied ideal leader—and Obama inevitably falls short.   For Bromwich, events since 2008 called for a decisive personality with no fear of conflict and political manipulation.  

    The ideal Obama would have handled an obstructionist GOP immediately, raised hackles to the skies, and proceeded through political mayhem to get a single payer health care system, closing down Guantanamo, and would have avoided getting bogged down Afghanistan.   

    That’s the powerful, decisive Obama who never appeared, insists Bromwich.  
    Instead, his unshakeable belief in working from consensus and agreement led to paralysis and indecision with too little follow-through, which would have taken serious political courage. 

     Issues like gun control and climate change have gone by the wayside because of vicious and organized political opposition that he might have confronted, especially during his first two years, when Democrats controlled both houses.   

     Bromwich ends his analysis with the damning assertion that . . .”Much as
    one would like to admire a leader so good at showing that he means well, and so earnest in projecting the good intentions of his country as the equivalent of his own, it would be a false consolation to pretend that the years of the Obama presidency have not been a large lost chance.”

    Because Bromwich compares Obama to what so many voters expected and wanted, rather than what we got, he falls short, and this frustrates supporters as much as detractors. 

    Yet there’s another way to measure him, and that has to do with comparing him to what he actually did accomplish.   That comparison yields a different result. 

     As an example of comparing ideal vs. real, consider measuring America by its ideals—its rebellion against an oppressive regime and founding documents based on enlightenment ideas of freedom, rights, equality, and justice. A shining city on a hill indeed.  

     But measured by how it actually treated indigenous peoples, slaves, women, and non-propertied citizens, it’s no better than any other country, and in some ways worse. 

    Ideal vs. real always yields such different results.   So too with Obama.   

     In fact, Bromwich himself asserts at beginning of “What Went Wrong?”   “His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.”

     So compared to recent past and near-future Presidents, Obama stands tall. 
    Indeed, I would hope for another article soon from another pundit, “What Went Right?”  

    Plenty did, in spite of a shamelessly hostile GOP.  






     
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  • Donald Trump for President

    • Posted on Aug 02, 2015
    Here's this morning's Courier column--my take on Donald Trump and why he 
    would make a great president.  

    Satire, anyone? 

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
     Universal agreement is as rare as humility these days, but lately seems to have emerged from pundits and politicians alike.   All agree: Trump will never serve as our 45th President. 

     No Air Force Trump/One.  No White House with “TRUMP” emblazoned above it in 20-foot neon letters.   No parade of Trump-ettes as First Ladies.   

     Even the GOP, not known for its rational and level-headed candidates, agrees that their party is not suicidal enough to nominate him.  

     He’s never held office, he has no real political allies, he doesn’t seem to know how to delegate, his power stems from wealth, not respect, they cluck.   

     Picky, picky, picky.  

     Come on, people.   Trump would make a great American President.  

     Why?  Let me count the ways: 

    (1) He’s the loudest candidate ever.  He doesn’t talk so much as bellow. A typical American, let’s face it.  Or rather, stereotypical. 

     Travelers in every country I’ve visited, and I’ve visited plenty, comment on how Americans raise noise levels.  I’ve noticed it myself. Enter around a quiet bistro in Paris, a sedate pub in London, a street corner in Munich, and if there’s a group of people shouting, laughing, hollering, and goofing off—who will they be?  Invariably, Americans. 

    We’re the world’s noisiest people, and Trump’s the loudest of all.  We deserve a President who’s more like us than we are.   

    (2) He shoots from the hip, or in his case, the lip.  Again, that’s America at its core:  shoot first, ask questions later.  

     The cowboy mentality is the most beloved and most common image of America we project, from the Marlboro man to Billy the Kid to Jesse James—outlaws and rogues all, and folk heroes to boot.  All action, no reflection.   

    They’re cousins to gangsters, another American type who provoke the world’s envy and anxiety—an unbeatable combination when it comes to grabbing headlines.  That’s where Trump usually resides.   

     A gangster cowboy President.  Yeeehaah.  

    (3) He’s richer than Croesus, the ancient billionaire Greek king who was eventually burned alive. 

     Never mind, that won’t happen to President Trump.  Americans admire wealth, they seek it, they consider themselves millionaires-in-waiting.  
    They’re sure that really smart people who work hard get rich. The richer they get, the smarter and more hard-working they must be.  Hence, they love Trump, and a Trump presidency would represent American wealth-worshippers perfectly.   

     How much is Trump worth?  Depends on who’s counting.  Trump says at least ten billion, whereas real accountants say fewer than three billion.  That’s still real wealth, no matter who’s counting.   

    (4) He answers to no one, thanks to his billions.    As his campaign proves, he can say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whomever he wants, and not worry about going broke or to jail.  Billionaires live in an ego bubble where everyone tells them what they want to hear.  Those who question him get bullied off his stage, immediately, with name-calling and semi-false assertions spoken as full truth.    

     We’d have a true bully-pulpit President.    

    (5) Finally, and the best reason:  Full-bore, all-out pride.  Donald Trump, without doubt, is probably the proudest Presidential candidate in history.  He trumpets his wealth, his accomplishments, his intelligence, his certainty that he’s right.   

     What a relief and contrast he presents to Obama, the diffident consensus-seeker. 
    That alone will make him attractive to Obama haters.  

     Of course some will object that pride means hubris, and that’s the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Pooh-pooh. 

     Pride is what made America exceptional, and Trump’s pride will infuse America with a powerful national ego, a new insistence that we’re the best, the most, the richest, the smartest, the utter center of the universe.  

     If the GOP wakes up and actually nominates him, he’d likely win based on pride alone.   

     President Trump would then make America grate again.  
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