Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Twentieth Century Presidency is Often One of Apparent Failure

President Elect Obama assumes office on January 20, 2009. We have only one President and wish him great success for the sake of the country and the global economy. If he succeeds over the next 4 or 8 years, he will deserve all the acclaim, encomiums, honors, kudos, praise and rewards to be bestowed upon him.

However, the history of the Twentieth Century American Presidency is not one of optimism. Lyndon Baines Johnson did not stand for reelection in 1968. The Great Society could not save him from Vietnam.

Richard Nixon resigned prior to impeachment. Watergate doomed his Presidency.

Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter, and Bush I were defeated for reelection.

Clinton, The Man from Hope, served two scandal ridden terms, never received a majority vote in either election, was impeached by the House, acquitted by the Senate, but Monica Lewinsky, the albatross of Clinton, was too great a hurdle for Vice President Gore to oversome.

Indeed, as with Vice President Gore, VP’s pay for the sins of their Presidents. Ford I is the only sitting Vice President since Martin Van Buren in 1836 to be elected President. Both Van Buren and Ford I were defeated for reelection. Vice Presidents Nixon and Humphrey lost their bids to succeed Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson.

Nixon provided the Democrats unfathomable majorities in Congress. Clinton returned the favor three decades later by giving the Republicans the House, Senate, state houses, and state legislatures. Bush II has flipped these seats back to the Democrats.

Reagan was dogged by Iran Contra in his second term, but left office with his head held high.

Harding looked like a Senator and President, and was exceedingly popular when he died. Truman did not look like either a Senator or President, and was as unpopular when he left office as Bush II today.

Wilson, a great Populist president for 6 years, was crippled by a stroke in October 1919 and was a failure in his final two years in office with the League of Nations going down in flames.

McKinley and JFK were assassinated in office. Theodore Roosevelt succeeded McKinley in 1901 and was reelected President in 1904. He stepped aside for Taft in 1908, but was later defeated for the Presidency on the Bull Moose Ticket in 1912, splitting the Republican vote and giving a narrow victory for Wilson.

No one remembers anything about “Silent” Calvin Coolidge, but Coolidge, Wilson. FDR, IKE, Reagan and Clinton were the only six to serve two full terms. Bush II is a 21st Century President.

FDR has, of course, been sainted, but the dying FDR never should have run for reelection in 1944.

The problem is not necessarily with the Presidents, but in the nature of our expectations for the President. He must be perfect in office, and clearly not run for reelection with problems in the economy.

Obama represents an epochal change in American politics. Whether or not he changes the modern Presidency remains to be seen.

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