Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Favorite Presidents

Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite US president, for a number of reasons. Thomas Jefferson's #2 - again, for a number of reasons. Then it gets fuzzier: Lincoln, Truman - they were good guys. But in the modern era, my favorite was Ronald Reagan. And I'm thinking that Barack Obama may turn out to be the best President since Reagan. O my God! Do you hear all my liberal friends freaking out for saying that about Reagan? And all my conservative friends forming a lynch mob for saying that about Obama? That's OK - neither group is exactly known for being able to look at things objectively. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do so....

They say Ronald Reagan was mentally weak and lacked intellectual curiosity - glib and flashy on the outside but with little substance behind the facade; the original "Teflon" President. It was his administration that led us down the path of huge government debt and allowed the rich to extend their wealth to ridiculous levels, always at the expense of average Americans. Ronald Reagan and his policies were a disaster for the country, with negative ramifications that will impact Americans for many years yet to come - the liberals will assure you.

Well, as with most things that are commonly accepted as the truth, there's something behind these sentiments. But also like most other conventional wisdoms, there's more wrong than right with these assertions. I think it's pretty clear that Ronald Reagan was not one of our brightest Presidents. Yet it's also true that the world is absolutely full of really bright people who are big failures, while many of the greatest leaders and doers weren't brainiacs, but merely people who had vision, worked hard, persevered, etc.

Jimmy Carter comes to mind. Carter was surely one of our brightest Presidents. I'm NOT going to call him a failure, because he was a really good man who tried to do good things. But his Presidency WAS a dismal failure; he was the wrong man with the wrong ideas for the time. Reagan, on the other hand, may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he had big ideas, ideas that were right for the times. "Perk up America! We're a great country and we're coming back! Big government? The problem, not the solution! Communism? You're evil, we're going to end you!" Simplistic, jingoistic, perhaps, but right for the times, and effective! So what that he didn't care much for the details, and left them to his staff? Isn't that what a good leader is supposed to do?

Reagan took over an America suffering from debilitating stagflation - a combination of high unemployment and high inflation. That stagflation was compounded by a deep sense of national funk, "malaise" was the word used back then, and stuck in a 40-year old Cold War. But by the end of his presidency, inflation was virtually non-existent, unemployment was nearing multi-decade lows, the stock market was zooming, and the USSR was on it's last legs. Reagan's critics counter that these things weren't all his doing, and that's true. But his footprint is clearly evident in all of these positive results, at least to those who understand what really happened at the time and who have an open mind.

Yes, federal deficits soared during his administration. Worse yet was the mindset, often traced to his administration, that "deficits don't matter", a way of thinking that was sorely abused by the Bush, Jr. administration. Yet as spelled out in my earlier essay "Income Inequality in America", these deficits were only partly Reagan's fault, with an equal or greater fault lying with the Democratic Congress of the time. Additionally, it should be pointed out that the main area for increased federal spending, per Reagan, was for national defense. I like to think, and you're welcome to disagree if you wish, that ending the Cold War was well worth the deficits he caused in that regard. Economists point out how the end-of-the-Cold-War "dividend" was responsible for a lot of the 1990s and early 2000s prosperity, so no - on a cost/benefit analysis, I don't feel that bad about Reagan's big defense spending. And the truth is: guys like Bush went way off the deep end with their deficit spending. That's NOT the kind of thing Reagan would have approved of by any means, IMO.

Then there's Obama. My right-wing friends are convinced he's a full-on Communist, committed to destroying the Constitution, taking away all our guns, and turning over control of the country to the United Nations. Seriously - that's what these guys believe! It doesn't matter that health care in the US is an absolute disaster, that we've clearly needed to make major changes - that require federal involvement - for many years. It doesn't matter that European nations pay HALF of what we do (per person) for health care, and yet Europeans live longer and have fewer health problems than Americans. It doesn't matter because Obama's a socialist and wants to destroy the American way of life with his health care plan! These people, the ones who say this stuff, are on crack! Do you hear me? CRACK!!!

As far as gun control (and the other things the right-wing is acting rabidly about), I just don't see it. I mean, look - I'm a big time gun rights advocate; I've got lots of guns and use them regularly. But I don't see Obama doing anything more than other centrist-liberals have done over the years. Yeah, he's trying to push through a few things I don't really like, but honestly - the end of the world? I just don't think so.

What I think about the guy is that he's really, really smart. Not just book smart, but street smart, politically smart, common-sense smart, and other kinds of good smart. Part of all his smarts is that he knows where everybody's coming from and is willing to try to work with that. I see Barack Obama as a reasonable centrist, not the ultra-liberal as the rabid right tries to paint him. He seems to me like the kind of guy who really listens to people with opinions that differ from his own, and then honestly try to accommodate their points of view. A lot of you may think I'm naive for that, but obviously I don't think that's the case.

Obama's got a tough job; perhaps the toughest job in the world. His popularity ratings are down, along with the economy and problems in Afghanistan. But those aren't really things of his doing; they're things he inherited from prior administrations. Americans can be real idiots in some ways. The guy comes in to some horrific problems, everybody knows it's going to take a long time to fix them. He makes some good policy moves, there's signs of progress, but the American people don't care. A year later and the problems aren't all gone yet? Well hell, "Obama's a failure! Get rid of the bum!" It's embarrassing, really, to hear people forget the context in which Obama has to govern, and say stuff like that.

But it's early in Obama's presidency. Maybe he will turn out to be a liberal, a bum, an inexperienced darkie (what - you don't think there's any racism behind some of those who dislike him?) taking us down the road to communism. But I think he shows greatness, and I think (hope) that he'll turn out to be a real keeper.


Anonymous said...

I would have to agree Ronald Reagan was a great president. He did a good job of ending the cold war or at least trying to end it. The point you say about Ronald Reagan spending the money to end the cold war I think was a step he had to take whether people liked or not. The Soviet Union had to be defeated and he was the guy to do it. He should have thanked the people before him and the Russians who had shot themselves in the foot over the years in the cold war. The points about Obama you said are very true. He is a very good president and like you side the health care system must be fixed in some way. I like how you pointed to about how smart Obama is and how he is street smart. He went to an Ivy League school but had to work for it, which means he knows what adversity is. The idea that Obama came into a bad situation I agree with it and he can do only so much. If he keeps the country from fallen part then it is a success.

Bryce Vickery

calvinjjr said...

Hi Mr.Strebler I enjoyed reading your essay and I like certain points you When you explained how Ronald Reagan was not the smartest of them all, but had great goals and visions which made him a good president. I agree, that some of the "brainiacs" out there have failed in life and were out done by people with a vision or goal.

I like that you stated that Obama was still in his early presidency and may turn out to be a good president, because when I was watching the news about the Massachusetts election, people that were interviewed was saying Obama that Obama had plenty enough time to fix the country but has not. I don't know much about politics but i'm pretty sure it takes more than a year to fix a messed up country.

Jovanna Peterson said...

Wow. I'm the first person to leave a comment. This is exciting!

I'm not that aware of the history of our past presidents so please bare with me.

Overall, I think that in the past we were past presidents guinea pigs so they could see how their bright ideas will effect the people of the U.S. Ronald Regan was mentally weak but flashy on the outside meaning he meaning people may have just saw him as a guy with ideas in office than a president (if that made any sense). At the end of his presidency he was able to decrease the amount of problems that the country had at the time.

The situation with President Obama is another subject that it seems America will never get over. People should really open their eyes.

Anonymous said...

I surprisingly liked this essay a lot. For one reason, I found it good that you weren’t very biased on the political views. In the essay some liberal point of views and conservative point of views were given. It’s good when teachers give different stand points, so the students aren’t influenced by the teachers and they see different sides to the situation.

Angelique Rousset said...

I can't really say much about presidents, because I never studied or had much of an interest in them, so this was an interesting article for me. I'm not sure if the presidents that you picked were really the greatest or not, but the essay did get me thinking about people in general. It made me think about how people are programmed and how they function.

Danny Tran said...

Being at the right place, at the right time, and having the right plan shows weather or not a leader was successful. The Obama being a communist accusation was far-fetched, This was the best one I've read so far. Even if a leader has a good plan, but is not at the right time, everyone thinks their a failure. The average leaders seem to have the most profound results because they know their limits and their possibilities. Naturally gifted leaders tend to overestimate their capabilities. The "average Joe" leader knows his/her boundaries and what is achievable.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this article because it highlighted the idea that it is not only the president, but also the time and context of the presidency that is important. I do not have a very deep knowledge of past presidents but I will take from this article an understanding that to really understand the significance and qualities of a president, I will have to look deeper than their party affiliation and IQ score. I was going to say their college degree, but they all seem to have the same one.

Sabine Hallauer

Bernee Francisco said...

This was a cool article because it reminded me of Reagan's funeral. I went to his funeral or the viewing at least however many years ago and I kept wondering what was so great about Reagan and why we drive a long way to see him, well not even! We saw his coffin and dropped off some jelly beans. My mom told me that he knew how to please the crowd and how, even though times were bad, he was a good president and he stayed calm and he kept his appearance. Maybe it's his celebrity side, but he showed no signs of worry and I feel like he really did put the people first. Sure the federal deficit was pretty bad, but unemployment was not as bad and I'm assuming people had a better way of living. I think that Reagan really must have been a great president.
There was a story my mom told me. Reagan tricked paparazzi sending away his official president car or whatever while he hid and stayed behind. After all the paparazzi was gone he was able to speak to the people one on one and hear directly from them. He even let blind kids touch his face and it may be a cheesy moment in some eyes, but to me I feel like he really did connect and although, yes he probably wasn't the brightest and the most overachieving, he still put the people first and he was definitely sincere.
I feel extremely bad for Bush Jr. He is always put on fire during his presidency and after his presidency and I feel that really isn't fair to him. He is always being put down and made fun of, but really, when he was president, no one would have seen the troubles that were coming his way. He most likely had no idea how to handle the 9/11 incident and in my opinion, very few people do. I would feel so enraged and want to fight back and that's probably what most Americans were feeling too so I don't see why he is blamed for the long time in Iraq and Afghanistan when that's what most people wanted also. I can't imagine how hard the presidency was for him and I would think that he earned some credit by not completely running the country into the ground. With all of the pressure, all the media, all the lives at stake, I do give Bush Jr. props for holding in there and staying for 2 terms.
I feel that Obama is a good president. Yes because he does always appear to be taking in all types of opinions and trying to somehow fit them into his own opinions, but also because he can joke around and try to lighten the mood of a bad situation. Definitely he should take all national problems seriously, but it's nice to know and a little comforting to know that his spirits aren't down. He's not going to let the country run itself into the ground. I think his humor shows everyone that he has perseverance and he is trying.

Zachary Z said...

I compleatly agree to when you said that Reagan wasnt the smartest, but he had the right idea. Because i feel that inteligance is good but terrible if you dont know how to use it. And how you mentioned that even though Jimmy Carter was very smart, he did not have the right ideas for the time he was in. Because like before the ideas are what drive the world. inteligence is also needed to fuel an existing Idea. in the way you cant just have an idea and do nothing with it. But over all i enjoyed reading the article and it was very well writen.

Anonymous said...

Even though your essay is about your favorite president, it mentions that intelligence doesn't always make one a great president, sometimes, it is guts that makes one a great president (ex. Ronald Reagan). Overall, I enjoy reading about your reasons why you chose those certain presidents as your favorite modern presidents although I express some doubt on your choice of Obama.

Alan Tam

Nadia said...

I liked this blog a lot. I never knew much about the US presidents and this blog informed of the basic things that the presidents did. Like Ronald Reagan's creation of the National Debt. I did not know that. I enjoyed the inclusion of both the good and bad actions the presidents committed.