My favorite presidents are Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. What these presidents had in common were a very turbulent presidency, the skills to work behind the scene with an often hostile congress to barter for legislation important to them, and figuring how best to get very difficult things done. They were less idealistic than strong and determined realists who knew what their priorities were, didn’t give up, and often had to sacrifice things very important to them and their party for the better good of the nation. They were in the best sense of the meaning the epitome of our greatest American politicians.
The burdens these three presidents faced were far greater than any President Obama ever had to face. Each was embroiled in huge wars costing unimaginable losses of life. Presidents Lincoln and Roosevelt were also faced with huge economic calamities and Johnson with civil rights and antiwar social turmoil and riots. But each was up to the task of accomplishing great and lasting legacies worthy of the label greatest American political leaders of their time. Such leaders come once every 50-60 years. So we are due for another one soon.
Politicians have a bad name because so many are so bad at politics. Today there are Congressional representatives who are simply unwilling or unable to take part in political statesmanship: the art of networking, compromise, negotiation, and decision-making. The ultra-conservative Tea Party has had a progressively greater stranglehold on the Republican Party over the length of President Obama’s presidency which now is the majority party of the House who have vowed to alienate any congress member who votes contrary to the conservative party lines. This is a no-compromise congress. Their objective is clear: to take any opportunity to destroy President Obama’s credibility even if he does something they agree with such as declaring war against ISIL.
But such extreme hostility did not always exist. I have been a strong supporter of Obama in the past so what I’m about to say is with a heavy heart. When President Obama was first elected he had a much less hostile congress to work with. He was able to pass the Affordable Care Act, something other presidents had failed to do. But Obama was not known for crossing the aisle to network and negotiate legislation. He was not know for his skill at giving up something to get something more important in return. His skills were far more adept at going out to the public to ask for their approval and support. This won him the Presidency in two elections. But this alienated him from Congress.
Legislation is at the heart of making government work which Congress owns. In order for the President to accomplish many of his goals he needed to take the lead in pressing for the passage of key legislation. However when President Obama wanted the passage of tough legislation he spend much time traveling the nation talking to the people in town hall meeting, etc. instead of spending more time talking behind the scenes to Congressional leaders. He is too much of a consensus president unwilling to stick out his neck too far to take big chances. He is too much a lawyer at heart trying to plead his case to a public jury when he should be working with the governing Congress. This made the already hostile Republican Congress feel even more alienated and belittled fueling further hostility and resentment.
To his credit he did try earlier in his first term to work with Congress but became discouraged for lack of results. Yet he could have been far more persistent. It’s extremely hard work requiring experience to gauge how much to push people and know what people really wanted in order to change their minds. He is very smart and could have learned. The only way to get experience is to bite the bullet and do the work and keep on doing it even when repeatedly failing. Practice makes perfect and learning from ones mistakes is part of the learning process.
So the naturally hostile Republican House leadership started to gravitate towards the more vocal and extreme conservative Tea Party whose solution was to form the Republican Party into a powerful united and uncompromising voting block to oppose him at every opportunity and it seems to have worked. President Obama’s lack of political prowess has been largely responsible for the conservative faction of the Republican Party coming into power.
He has failed as a political leader by totally alienated the Republican Party. He has failed as a peacemaker to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East, instead is escalating hostile actions against ISIL, admittedly another long drawn-out war. He did contribute to our recovery from the most devastating economic collapse in recent history but he failed to make any fundamental changes to prevent this from happening again. There are many things he would like to have done in education, the environment, energy, poverty, taxes, transportation and many other things but he has not been able to get Congress to cooperate. He simply lacks conviction and persistence. I had such high hope for him.