LOS ANGELES, Calif, March 9, 2014 − There is a common conservative critique that President Obama is the worst president in modern American history, in large part because he is the most liberal, or the most extreme, president in modern American history. The criticism itself, of course, is extreme, and mirrors the intensity of criticisms and attacks from progressives several years ago who charged George W. Bush with being the worst, and most ideologically extreme, president in modern times.
There is certainly a wide basis upon which one can justifiably criticize both men, and one can certainly make the case that neither of these men were or are good presidents. But the allegation that these men are significantly more ideologically extreme than other American presidents is a claim more extreme than reality.
President George W. Bush, like Barack Obama today, was ridiculed and attacked as a uniquely dangerous chief executive, owing to the notion that he ascribed to a Neo-Conservative, hegemonic ideology that sought the dominance of corporate elites at home and the dominance of, not merely the United States but a fundamentalist Christian worldview, abroad and in the middle east. With the enactment of such constitutionally dubious domestic surveillance legislation as the Patriot Act, the adoption of significant war powers and the intimidation of the populace perceived as emanating from the propaganda outlets of talk radio and Fox News, President Bush was seen as practicing a purist sort of conservatism that veered into Facism, where the interests of the dominant political party trumped the rule of law.
With President Obama it is different, and yet very much the same. He is seen as the advocate of an unfettered leftism; a “Manchurian” president very possibly subscribing to the faith of America’s worst enemies. This President is seen by many as fighting for the dominance of the state over the lives of the American people. His desire, it is believed, is to erode and eradicate the constitution upon which our nation was founded through executive order and dubious legislation, to submit us to the financial control of foreign powers via our growing debt and to assimilate our nation into the baleful power structure of an international consort of governing elites, fracturing the American people through the skillful exploitation of racial and class based animosity to bring this agenda to fruition. His, therefore, is a radical liberalism, morphing before our eyes into a grim manifestation of international communism.
But if we are to judge presidents according to the actions and conduct of their peers in history, we find that neither of these men are radically out of step with precedents set by previous occupants of the oval office. In two presidencies riddled with scandal and controversy, the most divisive decisions made in these administrations were the decision to invade Iraq and then the passage of what’s generally called Obamacare. These are very different initiatives, but what they have in common is that they were bold decisions that would have far reaching consequences for the American people (and the international community in the former case) for years to come.
The extreme impact of these policies, the seemingly deceptive manner in which they were justified, and the fact that the American people generally had difficulty understanding or believing in their necessity, guaranteed that the people would often seek an explanation for these policies in the villainous intentions of their authors. Some will never believe that the decision to invade Iraq was made with the sincere intention of securing the long-term safety of the American people. Likewise, some will never believe that the Affordable Care Act was a sincere attempt to extend health coverage to millions of Americans who were in need of it.
But even if each of these decisions were severely misguided, neither makes Bush or Obama uniquely extreme in the pantheon of presidents. The Vietnam War was a military undertaking base upon similarly dubious premises that had a far more terrible impact on American society than did the Iraqi War, for which multiple presidents (Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon) share in the blame. And while Obamacare is indeed expansive of government on a massive scale, it is not incomparable with Medicare and Social Security before it, and absolutely similar to the universal health care plan Bill Clinton attempted to pass in his first term.
The Bush tax cuts, compared with the Reagan tax cuts, were mild. Roosevelt never mandated Americans purchased particular products like health insurance but he did ban private ownership of as fundamentally important a commodity as gold. It is not so much that Bush or Obama have been extreme than it has been the case that the times are extreme. With economic and national security threats having become far more complex and unpredictable than ever before, the response to problems from our most recent Democratic and Republican presidents have been excessive, sometimes deviating from the will of the American people and the safe parameters of the constitution.
Thus, they continue in the tradition of many presidents before them.