Although a case can be made for Ronald Reagan as our most consequential, and therefore greatest, president of recent times, I disagree too strongly with Reagan's economic consequences to be able to go along with this opinion. My vote goes to Barack Obama as our greatest president since Franklin Roosevelt. FDR was, in turn, surely both our greatest and most consequential president since Abraham Lincoln.
Obama's accomplishments are especially remarkable in view of the Republican opposition that dogged his every move. The GOP's leader once vowed "Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term" (Mitch McConnell, 2010). And that's not to mention racist attacks Obama faced, such as claims he was born in Kenya and secretly practices Islam. Through it all he remained, like Lincoln, poised and thoughtful, appealing to the opposition's better nature, urging compromise and reason.
He was personally quick-witted, remarkably intelligent, an elegant speaker who knew what he was talking about both on and off the cuff, sane, calm, a decent human being, model father, good husband, scandal-free, and he somehow maintained a sense of humor while doing all this as a black man in white America.
He passed the Affordable Care Act providing health insurance to 20 million more Americans. It is not the single-payer universal-coverage plan we need and deserve, but an expansion of health care had been sought unsuccessfully by every Democratic president since Truman, and Obamacare is far better than nothing. He successfully appointed two fine women to the Supreme Court, ended the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy, banned the CIA from using torture, rescued us from financial calamity in 2009, reduced unemployment from over 10 percent in 2009 to under 5 percent today, and presided over a record 78 consecutive months of economic expansion and a significant drop in the violent crime rate. He negotiated a deal that averted a potential war with Iran and kept it from acquiring nuclear weapons and ended 55 years of isolationism toward Cuba.
Regarding war and peace, I can only say that Obama was less foolishly aggressive than previous post-World War II presidents. This is not a high bar.
The area that most caught my eye was science policy. Although love is surely the prime ingredient for a better world, without evidence-based knowledge and rational brainpower, even the most sincere love will go awry.
The man has a high regard for the scientific process. Former National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts says, "He's a real intellectual. I'm not sure we'll ever have another president as intelligent. His whole ethos is scientific. He weighs evidence carefully and uses logic to make decisions."
Obama appointed three of our very best scientists to top positions: Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as energy secretary during 2009 to 2013, nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz as energy secretary since 2013, and most importantly physicist John Holdren as the president's science advisor. I got to know Holdren decades ago in connection with science-and-society issues and am impressed by his humanely oriented scientific talent. According to Alberts, "It's clear to me that [Obama] really trusts Holdren's judgment on things. The relationship that John has had with President Obama has made all the difference in the world."
According to Chu, "There were two things highest on [Obama's] agenda: health care, and energy and climate change." In line with the energy and climate priority, U.S. wind-powered electricity generation has tripled and its cost has fallen 40 percent since Obama took office in 2008; solar-power output soared 30-fold as cost fell by 60 percent; new standards imposed on cars and trucks will double fuel economy and cut greenhouse gas emissions through 2025. Obama's Clean Power Plan will, if maintained by Trump, significantly reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Obama's 2014 agreement in which China pledged to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 led to the 2015 Paris accord on climate change. Obama deserves our thanks for his central role in the 2015 treaty, under which 195 nations promised action against climate change. Obama and 19 other national leaders also committed to double their annual spending on clean-energy research and development.
Obama wanted even more climate action, and did what he could in the face of a determined Republican Party unified behind the likes of Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who ironically chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee and opines that "man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."
I will miss President Obama, a supremely good and talented man.
Commentary on 01/10/2017
Print Headline: The greatest president since FDR