President Barack Obama’s Legacy
Much as been written recently on President Barack Obama’s oratorical and leadership abilities. Along the way, various comparisons have been made to past U.S. presidents in an effort to either boost Obama or, in some instances, dilute his competence. But this appears to be the role of the media in North America – make snap, often rash, judgements in order to present the appearance of having the most political insight and to get ahead of competing news organizations.
It is far too early to make any sort of remote comparison of Obama to previous presidents, let along a definitive conclusion to which previous president he is most closely aligned. Time will tell, and over the next three plus years we will have plenty of opportunity to reflect on his performance and to which U.S. president he may most closely resemble in terms of style.
With that said, President Obama has been compared interestingly enough to not just Franklin Delano Roosevelt but to Ronald Reagan. In fact, many commentators argue that Obama’s style is more reflective of Reagan’s, an interesting observation considering that Reagan was a Republican who espoused small government and lower taxes. This comparison, no doubt, causes many right-wing Republicans to succumb to apoplexy, for such reasons as Obama’s more interventionist government approach, and not to forget proposed higher taxes on the rich.
The parallels between FDR and Obama are somewhat tenuous. As the 32nd president, and one who came from a privileged background, FDR was the last president to serve four consecutive terms (the 22nd Amendment in 1947 changed this to two terms). FDR, struck with polio at the age of 39, served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during WWI, was later governor of New York, created a facility to assist polio victims and helped found the National Institution for Infantile Paralysis, confronted the devastation of the Great Depression by introducing the New Deal, and later led his country during WWII.
FDR certainly had his warts and weaknesses. He was manipulative, vain and focused from an early age to advancing his political career. He has been criticized for creating excessive government bureaucracy and intervention in the nation’s economy during the 1930s. However, his more cosmopolitan background (having lived in Europe) and being well read enabled FDR to understand the inherent dangers of the rise of the Third Reich and Hitler’s ambitions. His ability to develop a strong bond with Churchill, yet delicately balancing U.S. involvement in the early part of WWII by way of support, took tremendous skill and foresight.
Contrast this to Barack Obama. The only similar parallel so far is the financial liquidity and debt crisis that the new President has had to confront. The current economic recession pales in comparison to the Great Depression.
FDR clearly is one of America’s great presidents. Ronald Reagan, who assumed presidency at the close of a decade that battered the country’s reputation and collective morale, presented a calming and reassuring image to Americans. While his strong stance towards the Soviets may have contributed to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (a controversial subject among historians), Reagan emerged at a time when the U.S. was in need of such leadership.
Barack Obama has arrived at a time when, once again, America’s reputation has been badly tarnished. The country’s economy, finances and social fabric face years of rebuilding, along with its international stature. For President Obama to be included in the leagues of FDR and Ronald Reagan, he certainly has his work cut out for him. Time will tell.