Barack Obama and History

Every President ends up being measured against history.  Whether the measurement winds up looking positive or negative is based on a combination of what the President does, what fate hands him, and the political outlook of the person doing the measuring.  Liberals said that if Bill Clinton had gotten national health care reform passed, he would have been “the next FDR.”  Conservatives wanted both Bushes to be the next Reagan.

Who will Barack Obama be?  It’s too early to really tell of course, but that doesn’t stop people from passing judgment.  Liberals look at the current President and see visions of JFK.  Conservatives see a cross between unflattering sides of FDR and Jimmy Carter.  While conceding again that it is premature to etch anything in stone, so far I see Woodrow Wilson.

As President, Wilson remarked, “It would be an irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.”  Wilson was a progressive who had several strongly held ideas and goals concerning domestic policies.  He believed that the government could reshape some major things in American society that he was convinced needed reshaping.  President Obama is similarly oriented.  Our current President wants to reform health care and make our economy more environmentally friendly, among other things.  Will foreign affairs (or even a domestic one like high unemployment) re-orient his agenda?  We’ll see.

What was ironic about Wilson, and his famous quotation, was that he was President during what became the biggest foreign policy issue in American history up to that point–World War One.  Wilson wanted to keep us out of the war and focus on other things, but eventually felt compelled to ask Congress to declare war on the Central Powers.

President Obama’s candidacy was propelled forward by his early and vocal opposition to the Second Iraq War.  He frequently expressed his support for the war effort in Afghanistan, but that was more easily done, given the international co-operation there and given how manageable the situation seemed.

Now the military experts are calling for an expansion of our efforts there.  Meanwhile, the President’s approach to North Korea and Iran, characterized by a more conciliatory attitude than his immediate predecessor, is not exactly paying dividends yet.

Will the President be a reluctant warrior who gets the job done, like Woodrow Wilson; or will Obama be a non-warrior like Jimmy Carter?  Perhaps President Obama will fashion his own approach, and future Presidents will be compared to him.

One final comparison between our current President and our leader during World War One: they both won a Nobel Peace Prize.  Wilson got his for helping bring World War One to an end militarily and for getting the leaders of the Allies to buy into aspects of his grand vision for a lasting peace.  Honestly, I’m not sure why President Obama won.  He’s given some speeches about how nice it would be to live in a world without nuclear weapons, but I’m not sure he changed any minds in North Korea or Iran.

Who is President Obama, and how will history judge him?  Time will tell.