BY MICHAEL P. RETHMAN – President Barack Obama rated himself as the 4th best president in U.S. history, behind only Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. Many observers were left scratching their heads regarding what could possibly have motivated Obama to rank himself so highly after only three years atop an America that remains mired in a severe economic recession that accompanies unsustainable growth in the federal debt.
And how could Obama rank himself higher than the indispensible George Washington, the indefatigable John Adams, Thomas Jefferson (the main author of the Declaration of Independence), James Madison (who along with John Jay, laid the philosophical bases for the U.S. Constitution), James Monroe, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan to name a few?
Does Obama somehow not know that our first three presidents risked their fortunes, their physical lives and their families to establish and maintain the United States against extraordinary odds? And that they did this not to gain fame or fortune, but because they knew it was what honorable and civilized men and women ought to do? Does Obama somehow not know that James Monroe established the United States as the super-power of the New World? Does Obama not know that Theo. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson — in the first decades of the 20th Century – fought and won wars while defining what modern America would become? Is Obama somehow unaware that an untested politician-haberdasher (Truman) from rural Missouri inherited the responsibility of fighting and winning WWII (and defining the post-WWII interval) in an era where many Americans had no adult memory of any president other than FDR (who served into his fourth term before dying in office)? Does Obama not remember a president (Eisenhower) who – as the top Allied general saved the free world from Fascism, Nazism and the Empire of Japan? And who, not long after, presided over eight years of an economic boom in a war-weary America – a run that some term the “good old days?” Can Obama somehow not recall a recent president (Reagan) who inherited a nation in severe recession and gagging on a prime rate of over 20%, who successfully cut taxes and regulations to orchestrate an economic boom – while simultaneously forcing the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the liberation of half of Europe?
Most contemporary observers with memories of the chaotic 1960’s have no trouble understanding Lincoln and FDR making (a larger) list of great presidents. However, most marvel that Obama could rate Lyndon Johnson highly. The same Lyndon Johnson who lost over 50,000 American lives as he led the United States into America’s only defeat in war in its history (Vietnam)? A president who quit rather than run for a second full term?
As odd as Obama’s very short list of his betters may seem, it’s not at all bizarre in light of the man who constructed the list. Consider what Lincoln, FDR and Johnson most have in common. Lincoln, FDR and Johnson – arguably these three more than any other presidents including Obama himself (so far anyhow) oversaw massive increases in the relative size and power of the federal government with regard to domestic life in America. These three presidents – like Obama today — marketed their efforts, rightly or wrongly, in the name of the downtrodden, society’s have-nots. Today it’s clear that in the case of Lincoln, the Civil War and slavery, a truly remarkable president made the correct decisions. However the profound and lasting effects of FDR’s and Johnson’s domestic legacies remain unclear. But what is clear is that Obama’s reverence for these three presidents suggests that he has been unable to grow philosophically beyond his young-adult years as a community organizer in Chicago – a job that consisted of the organized arm-twisting of businesses while slopping at the federal and state troughs in the name of a perpetual underclass — but with side benefits of fame, fortune and votes for the special few, such as Barack Obama himself.