Thursday, April 14, 2016


In GQ, Jim Nelson makes a case for why President Obama is "one of the greatest presidents of all time."  Nelson certainly does not stint with his praise:
One of the Greatest? you ask, your thumb emoticon poised to turn up or down on me. The guy haters love to hate with their very best hate game? Like 20-Dollar Bill great? Like Mount Rushmore great?
Yep. (We just won’t build Mount Rushmores anymore.) In so many ways, Obama was better than we imagined, better than the body politic deserved, and far, far better than his enemies will ever concede, but the great thing about being great is that the verdict of enemies doesn’t matter.
While this is all very passionate, I'm obviously much more skeptical about this argument.  I'm especially doubtful about the implications of the statement that President Obama has been "better than the body politic deserved."  In thinking about public figures, it's usually best to think about their obligations to the Republic rather than the Republic's need to fawn over them.

Nelson focuses much of his argument on the importance of the president's rhetoric.
He just flew above it all. And, luckily, he took most of us with him. He was the Leader not only of our country but of our mood and disposition, which is harder to rule. At a time when we became more polarized, our discourse pettier and more poisoned, Obama always came across as the Adult in the Room, the one we wanted to be and follow...

Lastly, there’s the arc of history, bound to bend downward. As our unity becomes more frayed, more tenuous, and the ability for any politician to get anything done more unlikely, the job of president will become less LBJ tactical and less FDR big-dealer. The job will largely be to preside. To unify where and however we can. In this way, too, Obama pointed the way forward.
I agree with Nelson about the importance of unity and that some of the unifying bonds of civil society have been frayed.  However, if we're going to complain about a more polarized nation and the poisoning of our national discourse, President Obama has a significant share of blame in this coarsening.

While the president has offered statements in favor of national unity, he has so often worked to divide the nation.  While he criticized those who "like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states," he also has disparaged those who disagree with his agenda as "bitter" people who "cling to guns or religion."

The Obama administration has chosen, in implementing the Affordable Care Act, to do all that it can to polarize the debate about religious liberty.

Rather than seeking consensus on immigration and other issues, President Obama has embraced the divisive and possibly authoritarian principle that, if Congress won't act, the president somehow gains extra-Constitutional authority to promulgate new domestic legislation.

On countless public issues, the Obama White House has worked to inflame polarizing passions even as it then hypocritically denounces polarization.  There is a great task ahead: strengthening civil integration in order to help secure the promise of liberty.  Unfortunately, the Obama administration has all too often failed to live up to that task.

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