The most important thing to realize is that every president has probably done the best job he was capable of doing. Warren G. Harding (Rep.) admitted that he never fully grasped the fact that he was the President of the United States. Ulysses S. Grant (Rep.), a brilliant former general who was aware that he was the least president up to his time, wanted a third term just to prove he could do a good job. Nevertheless, none of our presidents set out to deliberately do a bad job.
Even the three Nixonians who brought on major constitutional crises did some good things while in office: 1. Richard (Watergate) Nixon (Rep.) created the Environmental Protection Agency, signed a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with the Soviet Union, and went to China. 2. Ronald (Iran-Contra) Reagan (Rep.) was persuaded not to destroy Social Security, and he signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev. 3. George W. (950-lies-to-invade-Iraq) Bush (Rep.) insisted after 9/11 that all Muslim peoples were not our enemies, and he provided badly needed aid to fight HIV-AIDS in Africa.
Harry S. Truman (Dem.) said that he spent most of his time trying to get Congress to do what it should do without his having to ask. Barack Obama could certainly relate to that. “Give ‘em Hell” Harry also said that any time a president asked what his options were, he was trying to do something other than the right thing. Theoretically, that may be the case, but in a democracy it is important for a president to represent all the people. He must be willing to give something to his loyal opposition to get something that his country needs or that he was elected to deliver.
John F. Kennedy (Dem.), the author of Profiles in Courage and A Nation of Immigrants, was asked by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., to participate in his historians’ poll on “Presidential Greatness” in 1962. JFK declined the offer. He knew the records of his previous presidents, but confessed he wasn’t completely familiar with the alternatives they had. Did they do things that were bad because the other options were even worse, or did they concede something bad to get something else that was good? He wanted to look into that, presumably in his post-presidency, which was not to be.
The current contests to choose our next presidential contenders have been quite surprising. On the Democratic side, the challenge of Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton has made that a race instead of a coronation. On the other side, it’s been downright maddening. During the 2012 campaign, the GOP candidates were described as being like the cast in the bar scene in the first Star Wars film. This time the GOP started out with something like 17 contenders so that they were described as being a clown car from the circus being driven by the Donald. Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire helped reduce the number to 6 so that now an SUV should be able to transport them.
As Abraham Lincoln (Rep.) said, “We are now engaged in a great civil war….” Two outsiders (Trump and Carson) are running against two TEA Party senators (Cruz and Rubio), one Neo-Con ex-governor (Bush) and one semi-establishment incumbent governor (Kasich). It’s no surprise that the so-called GOP establishment can’t find anyone to rally behind – The Neo-Cons, the TEA Party, and Fox “News” have essentially become the establishment.
What used to be the old Republican Party has been taken over by extremists. Fox “News” was established as a propaganda tool for the GOP, but now the GOP tailors its message to satisfy Rupert Murdoch and company. The Koch brothers created the TEA Party to promote small government and the belief that the rich are Taxed Enough Already. The Neo-Cons took control during the Bush-Cheney years to promote perpetual warfare in the Middle East.
All the candidates for the Fox-Republican-TEA Party are essentially the same: 1. Xenophobic – particularly fearing all Muslims and illegal immigrants. 2. Plutocratic – supporting tax cuts for the rich as basic economic policy. 3. Big government – dictating restrictions on women’s rights and gay rights. 4. Small government – de-regulating Big Business to weaken protections for workers, consumers, and the environment. 5. Anti-government – hatred of programs that work well for everyday Americans (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act). And 6. Climate-change deniers – and/or oppose government action to remedy climate change.
Lincoln also said, “If you look for the bad in people, you will surely find it.” Therefore, I propose to follow the lesson taught by the mother of Thumper the rabbit in Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” So let’s look at the current GOP contenders to see what positions set them apart from each other and indicate a possibility of contributing at least one positive accomplishment if he becomes the President of the United States.
Only Donald Trump supports continuing the current Social Security and Medicare, supports lifting the embargo on Cuba, opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement, and opposes the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates of corporate and plutocratic money into campaigns. Trump and John Kasich support colleges and universities being able to use affirmative action for admissions. Trump and Marco Rubio support the use of marijuana as a legal medical option.
Only Kasich, Rubio, and Jeb Bush support undocumented immigrants in the U.S. being allowed to become legal residents and oppose a flat tax on incomes. Only Bush and Ben Carson support an independent Palestinian state. And only Carson and Ted Cruz oppose the collection of phone and Email mega data of U.S. citizens being collected by the National Security Agency.
Just to keep score, that’s 6 admirable positions for Trump; 3 for Kasich, Bush, and Rubio; 2 for Carson; and 1 for Cruz. One of these guys will have a 50-50 chance of being elected president in November. Unless, of course, they have a brokered convention. That may resurrect Mitt Romney because there is no one else to turn to. Unfortunately for the GOP, Mr. Romney’s finest hour as governor of Massachusetts was Romneycare, the model for the Affordable Care Act.
Happy Presidents’ Day
By David Offutt
A version of this essay was published February 14, 2016, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.