Susan Walsh / AP
Tuesday, July 21, 2015 | 2 a.m.
I’ve never written a column like this. Readers rarely believe it, but I am not on any political team. Generosity toward the high and mighty isn’t among my few virtues. But this needs to be said: Americans are lucky to have Barack Obama as president, and we should wake up and appreciate it while we can.
Obama will go down in history as an extraordinary president, probably a great one. He will have done this in an era that doesn’t aggrandize leaders and presidents, but shrinks them. All presidents have had profound opposition, vicious enemies and colossal failures. A few were beloved and others deeply respected in their day, but none in the modern era, and certainly not Obama.
Why? Marcus Aurelius said, “Man is puny in the face of destiny.” If the stoic king were writing about modern, democratic sovereigns, he might say, “Kings are puny in a world blind to destiny, a world seen through the sacred screens of televisions and computers that can view only the puny.”
Many presidents fared better in history than in office. But it would be a morale booster and a sign of civic maturity if more Americans appreciated what an exceptional president they have right now. It could be a long wait for the next one.
One can hate Democrats, disagree with Obama on big issues, dislike his style or be disappointed the excitement of his election didn’t last. But his accomplishments, ambitious goals, dignity and honesty under tough circumstances demand admiration and appreciation.
This is, of course, perverse liberal-media propaganda to conservative Obama-haters. It’s wobbly centrism to a left-flank frustrated Obama hasn’t done more for them. And it’s naïve hot air to Washington’s political clans that think Obama doesn’t play the game well.
Changing minds with a keypad is a fool’s errand; I’m surely a fool, but not on that count. I simply offer some points for the open-minded to ponder:
• The Iran deal: Time will reveal if the deal worked, not today’s talking/tweeting heads. What cannot be in dispute is this was a momentous initiative, a gutsy political risk, a diplomatic success and, potentially, a giant step in defusing a long-ticking time bomb.
• Obamacare: In the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression, Obama delivered one of the most important domestic programs since the New Deal. Only LBJ’s Great Society laws compare. Obamacare has survived two challenges in the Supreme Court and constant, kabuki-style congressional votes to repeal. It’s now off life support. Key goals are being met. It will evolve and improve. One day it will be taken for granted and people will say, “Keep the government out of my Obamacare.”
• The financial meltdown: Obama inherited it, then managed the recovery to the degree possible in the global economy. The recovery has been steady, though slow. The worst-case predictions didn’t happen. He began to reverse the deregulation of the financial industry. He delivered a significant Asian trade deal. Yet, few give Obama much credit.
• The first: Becoming the first black president is itself an epic triumph. Obama doesn’t get much goodwill for that any more. We properly canonize Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King. Of Obama, we ask, “What have you done for me lately?” That’s fair; he’s president. He doesn’t ask for credit for being the first black one. He and his family are at risk every day, and we take their courage for granted.
• Dignity and honesty: Obama’s administration has been as free of corruption and, well, peccadillo as any in memory. It’s the first two-term presidency not to be derailed by scandal since Eisenhower. A few will stay in paranoid lather about Benghazi or Fast and Furious, but those pseudo-scandals don’t compare to Watergate, Iran-Contra, Bill Clinton’s carnal antics or the phony evidence used to justify attacking Iraq.
Obama has weathered a recession, invisible racism, a reckless Republican Congress, a lily-livered Democratic Party, attacks from the richest pressure groups ever (super PACs) and a 24/7, ADHD press corps under existential pressure to deliver page views and Nielsen ratings. He has done it with the “No Drama Obama” style that befits the office.
Obama isn’t a performer like Reagan or a preacher like Clinton. He’s head over heart, cool over warm. Yet, he did his pastoral duties after Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon and Charleston. He wasn’t a catalyst for same-sex marriage but nourished the culture that made it possible.
It is harder than ever to see the big canvas and thus find fresh perspectives. We view current events as puny rivers of tweets, not grand chapters in the ultimate story — history.
In that longer view, we should feel well served. So, Mr. President, on behalf of an ungrateful nation, thank you.
Dick Meyer is chief Washington correspondent for the Scripps Washington Bureau and DecodeDC.