An absurd measure of presidential competence

Folks on the right who engage in unrelenting Obama bashing were recently given a new addition for their collection of poison darts, when a Quinnipiac poll ranking American presidents since World War II indicated that Obama was chosen by 33 percent of respondents as the worst of the lot, even “outscoring” George W. Bush for the dubious distinction, Bush getting the nod of 28 percent of those polled. Poll findings in which President Obama is considered doing a poorer job in office than his predecessor give rise to all kinds of questions, seeing as how such results so conspicuously fly in the face of what many of us thought to be rock-solid fact.

George W. Bush’s performance record, while he was president, often ignited speculation that his was one of the least accomplished, and indeed notably blundering, White House stints not just since WW II, but period. Committing the country to what was soon generally recognized to be bogus rationale for invading Iraq, and his administration’s fundamental misread of what that costly action entailed, ensured Bush’s singularly unflattering historical placement. Beyond which, on the domestic front, Bush’s Armageddon was something the entire nation watched in dropped-jaw horror: Hurricane Katrina laying waste to New Orleans and other parts of the South, and the administration’s lame response to it.

It was not uncommon, during and after Bush’s presidential tenure, for historians to reference, analogically, the presidency of James Buchanan, a man who often wound up at the bottom of lists historians compiled in this presidential ranking game. The stars probably just didn’t line up right for a hapless Buchanan who happened to be in office in the immediate run-up to the Civil War and seems to have been considered more or less a non-presence, as far as taking any substantive action(s) to mitigate the impending crisis. Pray tell, how does a guy who invites comparison with a Buchanan type record score more favorably than Obama in any alleged ranking of presidents?

Obama, when he took office in 2009, inherited an economy in the throes of what’s considered the biggest collapse since the Great Depression. You’re not likely to hear anyone from the usual array of Republican hatchet men concede it, but the administration’s efforts in bringing the country back from that doomsday scenario have been a spectacular success. The stimulus package crafted by the administration did what it was supposed to do, naysayers notwithstanding. The auto industry bailout, again despite its carping critics, reportedly saved 1.5 million jobs and proved to be the right call made by the president. Job growth, which has been particularly impressive the past half year, has gotten the unemployment rate to where it has not been since before the meltdown began. The president took his lumps when the Affordable Care Act’s rollout was plagued by system problems, but he organized a fix and has seen the thing welcomed as a positive, even with determined Republican blockers all over the country.

One could be organically resistant to truth like a Dick Cheney and claim with a straight face, as he did when running on the Bush ticket in 2000, that the sound state of the then economy had nothing to do with Clinton administration policies. Or one could come clean and acknowledge that Obama, in the face of unprecedented and vehement opposition, has done one heck of a job to turn the economy around. Truth be told, Wall Streeters, rather than their customary place in lock step with the GOP, should be absolutely gaga over what these latter Obama years have produced.

To his credit, Obama’s attention to foreign policy issues was not short-changed because of the towering economic mess he had to address. He kept his word about bringing combat troops home from the quagmire in Iraq and about winding down operations in Afghanistan. He kept his word about aggressively pursuing and nailing bin Laden. And he seems resolute about unnecessarily committing the country to any conflict abroad, unlike some perennial loudmouths on the other side.

A non-stop cacophony of propaganda doesn’t negate facts. In sum, Obama’s record no way has the sound and feel of the worst president since WWII. Whither this Quinnipiac poll, then? One might want to question the pollsters’ methodology. Yet it’s only fair to readily assume that Quinnipiac University has been in the polling business long enough now to not be on top of its game. Although one other finding might give pause as to whether the sampling of persons polled was a truly representative one – the finding that Ronald Reagan was the best post-war president and that he bested the second-place finisher in this category, Bill Clinton, by a two-to-one margin! Maybe we should just have the jury remain out for a while on these Quinnipiac results, until some high-caliber pollster names weigh in.

But if the Quinnipiac pollsters came by those Obama and Bush numbers totally by the book, what do we make of so absurd a reading of the Obama presidency? The conclusion, disturbingly, looks to be that, as we have seen continuously, ever since he dared to defy conventional wisdom and get elected in 2008, Obama’s ethnicity has marked him to be judged altogether differently by a larger slice of this country than many of us care to admit.

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