The Today Show on Monday had an interview with David Purdam about his Vanity Fair story on the Bush presidency. One comment which struck me was his report that some in the Bush White House had concluded that the Bush presidency was “a wasted opportunity.” They claimed that after 9/11 Bush had an opening to rally Americans for a noble cause, and instead he led us into two foreign wars, did little to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and did even less to halt our current economic crisis.
I remember that “wasted opportunity” was the same thing people were saying at the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, for he had squandered his obvious political skills on not having sex with Monica Lewinsky. “Wasted opportunity” was the same thing they said about George H. W. Bush. His approval ratings were over 90% after the First Gulf War, and yet he was unable to use his popularity to promote programs that might lead us out of a recession (which opened the door for Ross Perot, whose giant “sucking sound” took enough of Bush’s votes to elect Clinton).
I don’t remember precisely (and sadly, neither did he), but they probably said the same thing after Ronald Reagan’s presidency, for the Iran-Contra affair and the possible onset of early dementia hampered his leadership near the end of his second term. Jimmy Carter left office with the economy in a malaise and American hostages in Iran. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, who resigned from office because as it turns out, he actually was a crook. Lyndon Johnson left office after bogging us down in Vietnam, and John Kennedy was assassinated.
All this leads me to a question and a challenge. The question, for you who know American history: when, if ever, did an American president finish his term(s) as a widely considered success? Has every president left office as a disappointment to the majority of Americans?
The challenge: if a successful presidency is hard to come by, then let’s commit ourselves to pray for Barack Obama. He appears to be bucking at least 50 years of bad endings, and we—and the world—desperately need him to succeed.