Unfortunately for President Obama, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has given rise to a torrent of historian and pundit opinions about JFKs legacy. The timing could not be less propitious for the current White House incumbent. The legacy outpouring inevitably leads to early assessments speculating on the Obama legacy which, at the moment, does not look very good.
Despite the shock of the Kennedy assassination for those of us who were sentient beings on Nov. 22, 1963 it will always be the event most deeply etched on our psyches and the hagiography that accompanies the tragedy of a charismatic, youthful leader struck down at the peak of his powers, JFKs legacy is mixed. He intimidated the steel magnates into pulling back on steel prices, which he argued would damage the economy. He cut taxes across the board. He negotiated the first nuclear test ban treaty. He successfully steered us through the Cuban Missile Crisis and its existential threat. All pluses.
However, Kennedys concealed health problems and the steroids and amphetamines he had been ingesting for more than 20 years probably rendered him unfit for office. What happened as a result was shocking and irresponsible on his part. His drug-induced, virtual sleep-walking performance at the 1961 Vienna summit with his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, emboldened the Soviet leader to put missiles into Cuba. Absent his weak performance at Schonbrunn Palace, there would likely not have been a missile crisis. JFK was no pathfinder when it came to civil rights, and both resisted and resented the efforts of civil rights leaders to press for equal justice for African-Americans. He upped the ante in Vietnam and, despite the assertions of Kennedy apologists, we really dont know if he would have pulled back from entangling the U.S. in the Vietnam tragedy as deeply as his successor.
A measured assessment of JFK probably puts him squarely in the middle of presidential rankings. Similarly, Barack Obama.
Obama deserves considerable credit for pulling the country back from the brink of the economic disaster he inherited from his predecessor. His stimulus program was necessary, albeit inadequate to the task and misallocated. He pulled us out of the catastrophic Iraq adventure that we will be paying for for years to come.
At the same time, by according the highest priority to healthcare reform at the expense of what should have been a laser-like focus on jobs, he showed himself stunningly nave and uninformed about what really mattered to his countrymen. His unwillingness to muck around in the political sludge in order to get his programs (such as they are) enacted is troubling. We hire presidents to do this unpleasant but essential work, not to sit out the battles. And then theres the Obamacare rollout debacle.
Regarding foreign policy, it is a misnomer to say that he has one. If he does, it is impossible to determine exactly what are its guiding principles other than inconsistency and gullibility. It is astonishing that this administration believes that Iranian President Rouhani is anything but a ribbon-cutting figurehead completely under the thumb of the Ayatollahs who run the country. It is disturbing to believe that a nuclear deal with Iran will be honored by the regime or will deter the principal supporter of global Islamic terrorism. The chemical weapons agreement with Syria gives new life to a butcher and his murderous ways. Our intervention in Libya has made that country safe for al-Qaeda. He supported a democratically-elected Egyptian government led by the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood intent on destroying Israel and ultimately the U.S. Afghanistan? No long-term good will come out of our involvement there, but that is by no means entirely Obamas fault. The Taliban and terrorists will come back when we leave, and the opium growers will continue to pollute the West with their product, tacitly and even overtly supported by corrupt regimes in Kabul.
In everything the President does or does not do, he never has a Plan B. Obama has three years left to rehabilitate himself, but the prognosis does not look positive. Looking forward to being saddled with an ineffective, lame duck president for three years deals the public a bad hand, indeed.
Richard Hermann is a part-time Canandaigua resident and Canandaigua Academy graduate. Email him care of Messenger Post Media at messenger@messengerpostmedia.com.