Dear 100 Hour Board,
What were the best and worst things each President did while in office?
-Fly Like an Eagle
Dear Steve Miller,
Sorry it's taken so long to answer your question, but I wanted to make sure I did it right. Please remember that I'm giving you what I believe to be the best and worst things each U.S. president did while in office. I'll do my best to keep political opinions out of the equation, if only to avoid starting a fight.
I had a difficult time with George Washington. He did a lot of things that were excellent, making it difficult to narrow it down to one "best" thing that he did, and it was even more difficult finding something he did that could be construed as worst. The only thing I could think of that really seemed bad was the amount of force he used to stifle the two major rebellions of his presidency (the Whiskey and Shays' Rebellions, although the latter was technically before he took office), but even that was a positive, as he acted quickly and decisively in order to keep the Union intact. The best among the great things he did was leaving office after two terms. He enjoyed such universal acclaim that the presidency was his as long as he wanted it, but by leaving after two terms of office to retire to Mt. Vernon, he reinforced the idea that the presidency needs to rotate among different officeholders and prevented it from becoming a dictatorship. He is unique among leaders of successful revolutions in that he did not permanently seize power upon doing so.
John Adams was a little easier to make sense of. He wasn't a particularly successful president, so I didn't have to look far to find the best thing he did, which was appointing John Marshall to the Supreme Court. Marshall made the Court into the functioning branch of government that it is today, essentially establishing the idea of judicial review. As for the worst thing he did, that was ensuring the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, laws that essentially prevented criticism of the government and expelled foreigners from the country. (They worked as a sort of proto-USA PATRIOT Act of the time.) These acts were unpopular at the time, are almost unilaterally derided now, and virtually assured him of losing the 1800 election.
Thomas Jefferson did many incredible and invaluable things during his lifetime, but virtually none of them took place while he was in office. Interestingly enough, the thing he did that was of greatest value to the country during his term of office was technically unconstitutional. He authorized the Louisiana Purchase, something for which no provision had been made in the Constitution. However, he did so anyway, an act which helped to make the United States into the international power that it is today. His worst act, on the other hand, was the Embargo Act of 1807. By preventing the import of British goods, he not only helped to damage the already-fragile economy of the time, but also accelerated the start of the War of 1812.
James Madison is a largely forgotten president, and for good reason. He presided over the War of 1812, which he himself helped to begin. The war was fought largely without cause other than a greedy desire to possibly conquer Canada. As a result, large portions of the country were occupied and Washington was burned. Not exactly a proud time for the Union. The best thing that can be said about him was a relative lack of partisanship during his term, but that had more to do with his successor than himself. (Madison was the primary author of the Constitution, which would normally be on top of the list, but since he wrote it in 1787, it doesn't qualify for inclusion here.)
James Monroe presided over the Era of Good Feelings, a period unique in American history in that politicians generally didn't argue with each other over partisan issues. Monroe was unopposed when he ran for office, something that can be said for no other president except for Washington. He used this phenomenon to issue the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that territorial and colonial issues in this hemisphere were the right and jurisdiction of the United States, and that European powers should stay out of them. It was an incredibly bold statement for the time, as the country had nowhere near the resources necessary to back that up, but it stuck. Even today, most of the world steers clear of events in the western hemisphere, leaving that to America to resolve. Unfortunately, there was one difficult partisan issue during his term that he wasn't able to satisfactorily resolve. He dealt with the ongoing slavery issue by brokering (along with Henry Clay) the Missouri Compromise in 1820, which permitted slavery beneath the 36°30' north parallel and forbade it above the parallel. It satisfied both sides at the time, but essentially deferred the slavery question to future generations, which culminated in the Civil War. In my mind, anything that continued the slavery of man was a bad thing, so I have no problem putting it on top of the list here.
Then we have John Quincy Adams, America's president with the most famous middle name. Like his father before him, Adams was not a particularly effective or talented president. His most lasting achievement could actually more accurately be attributed to two other politicians of the day, Clay and John C. Calhoun. He helped to institute the American System, under which the infrastructure of the country was greatly improved. Former dirt roads were paved, canals were built, and the somewhat fragile union was more tightly bound. The other two aspects of the American System weren't quite so long-lasting, however, and one of them (the Tariff of Abominations) earned him near-universal scorn and directly led to his being removed from office in the election of 1828. If you haven't already guessed, that was the worst thing he did while in office.
Andrew Jackson is an interesting case. He was unquestionably the strongest president since Washington, but all of the things he did that made him strong (and particularly the way in which he did them) are competitors for the "worst things" list. If I was pressed to choose only one, and I suppose I am, I'd go with his forced evacuation of various Native American tribes to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, but one could choose virtually any of his abuses of power as the "worst" thing he did while in office. His best action came in a similar vein, actually, though it had a much more positive long-term effect. When states like South Carolina announced their intention to nullify any federal laws they felt were unjust, Jackson responded with the Force Bill, a measure that allowed Jackson to use whatever force was necessary to ensure that laws were enforced on a local level. The measures Jackson took to keep the Union intact were extreme, but they were effective, and they forestalled the onset of the Civil War for nearly 30 years.
His successor, Martin Van Buren, isn't quite as interesting. Van Buren was an able politician, effectively creating the Democratic Party himself, but he was an unremarkable president. His single claim to fame was his abolishment of slavery in the District of Columbia. In my mind, anything that leads to less slavery is a good thing, so this is his token "best" action. His "worst" action, however, is somewhat more sinister. Joseph Smith and his colleagues approached Van Buren and described the difficulties they were enduring in Missouri. Van Buren replied, "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you; if I take up for you I shall lose the vote of Missouri." That seems like a pretty bad thing to me.
William Henry Harrison was in office for a total of thirty days before dying of pneumonia. I suppose his best action was taking office, and his worst would have to be insisting on delivering his inaugural address without a coat in March.
John Tyler's best action wasn't so much something that he himself did so much as what he stood for. When Tyler took office upon Harrison's death, he solidified the pattern of succession that is still in place today. Assassinations and deaths of presidents are still bad things, certainly, but now there's no question as to who will take the vacated office. Tyler's actual presidency more or less constitutes the worst thing he did while in office, though. He fought constantly with Whig party members in an effort to create his own agenda. Nothing of note was accomplished during his four years.
The same cannot be said about James K. Polk, however. Polk was the one strong president between Jackson and Lincoln, and the best thing he did while in office was to set an agenda and accomplish every aspect of it. That was impressive. Unfortunately, one of the aspects of his agenda was "seize the whole Southwest from Mexico," by any means necessary. He did so by starting a war with Mexico through questionable means. It worked, and residents of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada (among other states) have Polk to thank for the fact that they're Americans, but it set a dangerous precedent for future presidents. "Because it's there and I want it" should not be a valid pretext for war.
Zachary Taylor was another short-lived president, so it's difficult to find good or bad things that he did. During his year or two as president, though, Taylor was able to improve relations with the British, which had been strained for the last 150 years. That helped to pave the way for the close relations between the British and the Americans that defined the 20th century (and the outcome of both world wars). The only bad thing I can find during his administration was his death during the slavery debate of 1850, which could have gone very differently (Taylor adamantly opposed slavery) had he lived.
Millard Fillmore, while not necessarily pro-slave, was more open to compromise than Taylor, leaving the country with the Compromise of 1850, which not only continued the spread of slavery through the Southwest, but it also strengthened the Fugitive Slave Law, which reduced even freed and escaped slaves to property. Slavery is always bad, no matter how you slice it. The one positive in Fillmore's presidency was his commission of Commodore Matthew Perry to open the nation of Japan, which had secluded itself since the 1600s. The U.S. and Japan have enjoyed close relations ever since, with the obvious exception of 1925-1945.
There's not much to be said for Franklin Pierce. He was a weak president during an era of weak presidents. He did purchase some additional land from Mexico which became southern Arizona and New Mexico (and included Tucson, U of A fans). His worst act was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the subsequent creation of the Bloody Kansas era, which virtually amounted to a civil war before the actual Civil War six years later.
James Buchanan is widely regarded as the worst president to occupy office for any significant amount of time. His inaction while seven states seceded from the Union would be the worst act of his presidency had he not declared war on the Utah Territory over unsubstantiated claims. His best act? That would be when he left the White House in March of 1861 to make way for Abraham Lincoln.
You've heard of him, I assume. While Lincoln is rightly regarded as America's greatest president, it's not nearly as difficult to pick out his greatest act as it was with Washington. Lincoln freed the slaves. End of line. The worst thing he did while in office, in my opinion, was to be assassinated. Clearly, it wasn't his choice, but his death ushered in a contentious era of reconstruction in which the South was punished for the Civil War rather than being welcomed back to the Union. Had Lincoln remained alive, there's an excellent chance he would have been more conciliatory.
Andrew Johnson, his successor, did his best to be fair with the reconstruction process, but that's about the kindest thing you could say about him. His stubbornness after taking office prevented nearly anything worthwhile from happening under his watch. Rather than trying to work with a Republican Congress, he fought them at every turn. Classy.
Ulysses S. Grant, on the other hand, did his best to work together with the legislative branch, and it showed. He crusaded against racism and the KKK in the South and managed to make progress toward more civil rights for former slaves. As I've said before, anything that increases equality qualifies as a "best" thing for me. As nice as that is, however, the rampant government corruption under his watch is just as bad. The Credit Mobilier scandal, while hardly alone during his administration, is an excellent representation of the wretchedness of what happened during his tenure.
Have you heard of Rutherford B. Hayes? If not, don't worry - most people haven't. He wasn't a particularly notable president, and most of the issues he dealt with aren't particularly relevant today, so I'll be brief. His best actions came during his fight to reform civil service appointments; his worst came during his brutal response to the strike of the railroad workers.
If you haven't heard of Hayes, there's an excellent chance you've never heard of James Garfield. He was committed to reforming the civil service system, but he was assassinated only a few months into his presidency. Strangely enough, that was probably the best thing he could have done for America at the time. His assassination caused his successor, Chester A. Arthur, to take up his torch and continue the crusade. As for a worst thing, Garfield wasn't really president long enough to do anything that could really be called "bad." We'll move on.
Chester Arthur was put on the Republican ticket that year to balance out Garfield's desire to reform the civil service system. Garfield was actually assassinated in hopes that the system wouldn't be reformed under Arthur. Yet he did the right thing and completely reformed the system, making way for a meritocracy rather than a spoils system. That's a good thing. Campaigning for legislation that would prevent the Chinese from entering the country? Yeah, racism is probably a bad thing.
Grover Cleveland is interesting, because he famously served two nonconsecutive terms. I decided to go ahead and give you positives and negatives from both of his terms. For his first term, perhaps the best thing he did was provide strong executive leadership by vetoing nearly every bill that came across his desk that he didn't agree with. The veto was a tool virtually unused by previous presidents, but Cleveland used it almost to a fault, showing who was in charge. His worst act of his first term is one I don't know a ton about, admittedly, but it encouraged racism, and I'm always against that. When he removed from consideration a treaty from the Berlin Conference, he opened the door for Belgium to have a free hand in the Congo, leading to a criminally negligent genocide. Genocide's a bad thing, right?
Benjamin Harrison came between both of Cleveland's terms, making him the only president to serve directly before and after the same man. He helped to pass the Sherman Antitrust Act, which laid the foundation for the trust-busting mania from 1900-1920. During an era dominated by captains of industry like Cornelius Vanderbilt and J.D. Rockefeller, it's refreshing to see someone standing up for the common man. However, he did not stand up for the common black man. Lynchings were rampant during this period, and Harrison, despite knowing all about it, opted to do nothing for fear of upsetting the South. Guys, racism is bad.
Cleveland's second term was far less interesting than his first. He tried to demonstrate strong leadership as he did during his first term, but rather than doing so through the veto, he chose to publicly argue with Congress, resulting in years of deadlock. His refusal to abandon his ideals is admirable, sure, but his willingness to sacrifice the government for it isn't so much so. (Objectivists and worshiper of Ayn Rand, feel free to send me scathing emails of disagreement.) The best thing he did during this term might not seem like such a good thing, but when you think about it, you might change your mind. Cleveland was a frequent user of chewing tobacco, and he ended up with mouth cancer during his second term. With the country mired in a pseudo-depression, Cleveland chose to have mouth surgery in private, giving the public an impression of a strong government. Had they known the president was undergoing potentially dangerous surgery, the economy could have further weakened. Something like this would be completely impossible in today's media-crazed world, but Cleveland did it easily. Pretty cool.
William McKinley isn't widely known by most Americans for anything other than the mountain that bears his name. That's because he didn't do much that was noteworthy during his five years as president. He did start war with the Spanish on a flimsy pretext (no one actually knows why the Maine exploded, remember) purely for the sake of going to war. In fact, one could argue that the best thing he did for the nation was actually to be assassinated in 1901. It's a little morbid to think, but once McKinley was out of the way, Theodore Roosevelt took office, cleared out the lingering resentment over the gold vs. silver debate, and began the Progressive Era, making way for things like the FDA, the end (relatively speaking) of an age of corporate dominion over the little man, and lots of other great things. On which I will elaborate in the next paragraph.
Which is about Teddy Roosevelt! Surprise! Roosevelt has become one of America's most beloved presidents, largely because of the adversity he overcame and his fiery spirit. That might actually be the best and worst thing about him. When he went to work on big business and broke apart massive, soul-crushing corporations with zeal and vigor, that was a good thing. His legacy continues today as companies like Microsoft are regulated and prevented from unilaterally dominating the market. However, he applied that same zeal toward imperialism and parading the U.S. military around the world with the Great White Fleet. That legacy also continues today with the U.S. policy of using military might to solve all of our problems. (Trying not to let politics get in the way here.)
If you're like most Americans, you primarily know William Howard Taft, our nation's 27th president, because he famously got stuck in the White House bathtub. He did more than that, of course, such as his "dollar diplomacy" program of spending money to develop third-world countries, but that's just not what we know him for. He also continued (and even escalated!) Roosevelt's trust busting policies. And he did one thing that will have Tea Partiers across the country crucifying him afresh: he helped to pass the 16th Amendment. You know, the one that instituted the income tax.
We'll move along quickly.
Woodrow Wilson brought the Progressive Era to a peak by helping to pass the Clayton Antitrust act, the government's strongest tool to date in breaking apart monolithic corporations. This is the one we still use today to prosecute companies like Microsoft and AT&T when they get a little too big and monopolistic. Wilson used it liberally at the time, and its legacy is still felt today during antitrust suits. That much was fantastic. In fact, most of Wilson's presidency was pretty good, with the exception of the last year or so. Having finished World War I, he tried to create an international organization that would prevent conflicts like that in the future. He called it the League of Nations and it would have been fantastic had it actually come to fruition. Instead, he was never quite able to persuade Congress to agree to it, leaving the U.S. out of the League, effectively crippling it. Which gave us World War II. Which was a bad thing, I think we can agree.
I'm willing to bet you've never heard of Warren G. Harding. He was elected president solely because he looked the part. He did very little of note during his term of office. The best thing I was able to find that he even presided over was the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, which created an internal auditing service to monitor government spending. Unfortunately, he also presided over a massively corrupt cabinet (like Grant, actually) that was packed with close personal friends. The Teapot Dome scandal was the famous one, but there were countless other scandals that eventually drove Harding to an early grave. Poor guy.
Calvin Coolidge took over for Harding and proceeded to take a hands-off approach to the government. The economy was humming along smoothly in the 1920s, so why interfere, right? That seemed great at the time, but the reason the economy was doing so well was because of a massive buildup of consumer debt, purchasing stock on margin, and basically all of the same signs we saw in the years leading up to the current recession. Now, am I saying Calvin Coolidge started the Great Depression? No, since there's no concrete evidence to that conclusion (economic effects are notoriously difficult to tie to specific causes, anyway) and my wife loves Coolidge with a pure love and would destroy me if I said that. But I will say that he played a role, and that's enough to put this on top of his "bad" list. He did, however, take serious steps toward eradicating the KKK, and that's always a good thing in my book.
Herbert Hoover was fortunate enough to preside over the mess Coolidge left him. He did his best to try to steer the country back out of the Depression, but the hole was a little too large for him. Even though he took what were for the time radical steps to fight the Depression, they weren't nearly strong nor expansive enough to make a dent. He did his best, but unfortunately, it qualifies as a "worst" here. The best thing he did, however, is enough to vault him near the top of my list of favorite historical figures. In order for him to stay in shape while in office, he invented a sport called Hooverball, which involves hurling a medicine ball back and forth over a volleyball net. AWESOME. They have a Hooverball tournament each spring in Baltimore. Sign me up, please.
Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of those interesting presidents whose best action while president could also be his worst. The best one's easy. He got us out of the Depression. And before all of you rabid tea partiers start screaming at me that the war actually got us out of the depression, let me just drop a big nuh-uh your way. FDR set up many safeguards that prevented a depression of that magnitude from ever happening again, such as the FDIC, SEC, and the like. His quick actions lowered the unemployment rate from the staggering 25% that it was in 1932. (There's evidence that America was on the brink of a revolution due to that rate of unemployment. If that's true, you could argue that Roosevelt did more to keep the Union intact than any president other than Washington and Lincoln. Impressive.) However, those same actions have left a legacy that continues to imperil the nation today. Roosevelt got us out of the Depression thanks to massive deficit spending. The idea was to pay off the debt once the Depression was over. However, we continued the deficit spending to build up the military, "win" the Cold War (more on that in the Reagan section), and pay for all of the entitlement programs like Social Security. You could argue that the nation's enormous federal debt isn't actually due to Barack Obama (although really, $1 trillion? come on), but rather to Franklin Roosevelt.
Harry S. Truman was left to clean up the aftermath of the war when Roosevelt died suddenly. (Sometimes I wonder how many consecutive terms Roosevelt could have won had he not died in 1945. Five? Six?) He acted swiftly after the war to give aid to western Europe in hopes of staving off the spread of communism. Thanks to the Marshall Plan, exactly that happened. Communism was contained in eastern Europe, and regardless of how you feel about the morality of telling other countries what form of government they ought to have, you can't argue that their economies were bolstered at a difficult time. That's easily his most laudable act, in my opinion. And just the same, you can't argue that his worst act, regardless of the purity of his intentions, was his decision to drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I know it ended the war. I know it likely saved the lives of as many as one million American soldiers. But I still can't bring myself to see the decision to incinerate almost 250,000 people instantly, with hundreds of thousands more slowly dying from the inside out over the following months and years. It's utterly horrifying. If you disagree with me (and you're certainly entitled), try to watch this excerpt from Barefoot Gen, an anime film showing scenes from the Hiroshima bombing (warning: it's cartoony, but still extremely graphic), and then still tell me we did the right thing. I can't. I watched that excerpt nearly five years ago (I couldn't even bring myself to watch it looked it up to get the link), and it still horrifies me. We can never, ever again use nuclear weaponry. Ever. Not on anything.
Shall we move on to a happier topic? How about Dwight Eisenhower? I don't know about you, but I certainly like Ike. He presided over an era that saw the widespread use of cars, and he responded by creating the interstate system, which we very clearly still use today. He helped to bring the nation together through the road and gave us great ad campaigns like "see the USA in your Chevrolet." (Okay, I know he personally didn't make the campaign, but still.) I'd be prepared to include him on my list of best presidents ever, had he not, you know, started the Vietnam War. He decided to slowly get our troops involved, creating a specter that would hang over the next four presidents and twenty years. Thanks, Ike.
John F. Kennedy, no matter what you think of his personal politics or philandering, might have made the most momentous decision of any human in the last two millennia when he announced that by the end of the 1960s, we would place a man on the moon. Barring any unforeseen developments in our future, mankind will still be talking about our trip to the moon in another two thousand years, I think. (There's no way we're going back anytime soon.) I'm no big fan of NASA, and I personally think the money we spend on space exploration could be better spent on, you know, education, but that's a colossally far-reaching act. His worst, on the other hand, is one we'd all like to forget: the Bay of Pigs fiasco. He tried to start a grassroots movement to topple the Castro regime in Cuba, and instead managed to deepen Cuban hostility toward the United States. Marvelous.
Lyndon B. Johnson picked up where Kennedy left off after his assassination and expanded things a bit. He enacted what he called the Great Society, a series of reforms to health care, federal funding, and poverty. It was intended to be in scope what the New Deal was in the 1930s. Some of the programs have been scaled back or repealed, but things like Medicare and Medicaid continue today. As for his worst action, that's easy. He dramatically escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam, miring us in a completely unwinnable war. (Walter Cronkite famously said as much.) Worse, his insistence that the U.S. needed to win the war in order to project a strong message to the world carried over to future wars, most particularly that sticky one in Iraq. Guys, war is always a bad thing.
We all know what Richard Nixon's worst act was, but we might not all know why, exactly. His involvement in the Watergate burglary and subsequent coverup was not only felonious, but it managed to completely shatter any remaining trust the American public had in their government. Before Watergate, we could at least hope that our elected officials had our best interests in mind. Now, we tend to simply assume that they're egomaniacal, self-centered, duplicitous, and generally slimy. We have Richard Nixon to thank for that. And that's a pity, because other than that, Nixon really was an excellent president. (I know, I know. Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?) Nixon extended the olive branch to China by offering aid in the form of wheat shipments, which helped to soften their attitude toward us and distanced them from the Soviet Union. That helped to ease tensions during the Cold War, which helped future presidents to end it once and for all. And all that was overshadowed because he cheated to win an election he would already have won going away.
Which left Gerald Ford in a sticky situation once he resigned. The country was fractured and hurting, and something had to be done to heal its wounds. So Ford decided to do something massively unpopular, but which was the right thing: he pardoned Nixon. Millions screamed of a corrupt bargain, saying there must have been some sort of quid pro quo agreement ending with Ford in the presidency, but really, it allowed America to move on and not have to face the trial of a president. History has vindicated him. While Ford didn't do much else of consequence (like failing to combat stagflation and leaving the country in an energy crisis), that one act to end our long national nightmare was enough.
Jimmy Carter didn't really do much, either. His one positive act, so near as I can tell, was his agreement to give the Panama Canal back to the Panamanians. Sure, you may say that he cost America billions, and possibly even trillions, in revenue with that act, but it helped to create goodwill and also helped to remove our last vestiges of colonialism. Unfortunately, he was just as bad with the mess he created in Iran by trying to oust the hostile government of the Ayatollah. Iran responded by seizing the American embassy and taking 52 citizens hostage. They weren't released until Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.
Reagan was the Great Communicator, and that as much as anything else was what America needed. We weren't looking for someone to take action and be a strong leader during the Cold War. We just needed someone who sounded like they were. Many have credited Reagan with bringing the USSR down, but that was more of a coincidence than anything else. Reagan talked a good game while the Soviet economy and Gorbachev's insistence on swift reform destroyed the government from within. It had nothing to do with Reagan's arms buildups or his famous demand to "tear down this wall." Blame perestroika for that. Of course, under his benevolent facade, Reagan had some unpleasant acts. His involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, whether direct or not, only deepened Americans' mistrust in the government. It's a complicated story, and this response is already long enough, so we'll leave it at that, shall we?
George H. W. Bush's best act was doing what his son couldn't do: he chose not to invade Baghdad and topple the Iraqi government after the Gulf War. He knew enough to see that he didn't have an exit strategy and chose to leave the situation alone. Iraq wasn't a great place to be, but he figured the Iraqis weren't clamoring for a revolution, so why force one on them? His wise actions kept the country out of a protracted war and made him nearly politically invincible for a while. If he had only remembered his campaign promise of "no new taxes" (of which there were plenty), he probably would have held on for a second term.
Chances are if you're reading this, you're a young, conservative Mormon, and chances are even better you have a negative impression of Bill Clinton. Chances are even better that your negative impression is largely due to Clinton's affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, and that's fair. Clinton's slick way of dodging claims that he had an improper relationship with Lewinsky were largely semantic and essentially turned the government into a media circus for months. The office of the president really hasn't been the same since. But, as Democrats are fond of telling you, he did manage to balance the budget for the first (and likely last) time in a long, long time. Take the good with the bad, I suppose.
George W. Bush is still fresh enough in our minds that it's difficult to really sort out the good from the bad, but I'll do my best. As with Franklin Roosevelt, it's possible that his best action may also have been his worst. After the September 11 attacks, Bush demonstrated a strong resolve and galvanized the American people. Only a few hours after the attacks, Bush appeared on national television and simply said, "We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail." They were strong words, and they were exactly what a battered nation needed to hear in a dark hour. Unfortunately, those same words justified years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a completely unwinnable and nebulous war on terror since 2001. You may disagree that the war on terror is unwinnable, but I'm here to tell you that it's just as impossible as winning the war on drugs. Drugs can't fight back. Neither can terror. It's a vague, intangible concept that can't really be defeated, at least not militarily. You're free to think what you will, and I don't expect many reading this will agree with me, but I think we're going about the war on terror by solving the wrong problem. Killing all the terrorists isn't the solution. Stopping hatred and intolerance is, don't you think?
If it's difficult to sort out Bush's historical legacy, it's completely impossible to figure out Barack Obama's, if only because he's still creating it. If anything, here's what we've learned during his two and a half years in office: so far, virtually the only positive impact he's had on the country is that he's helped us to move to a post-racial society. Not only did he manage to be elected president as a black man, but he did so without making a spectacle of that fact. There are many, many people who dislike the job he's doing as president, and it's perfectly within their rights to do so, but almost none of them hate him for being black. In a nation as defined by racism as America, that's remarkable. But while his leadership into a post-racial society is admirable, the fact that he's trying so hard to lead us into a post-partisan society kicking and screaming probably isn't. Our country is deeply divided along political lines, and I highly doubt any political leader, no matter how personally charismatic, will be able to navigate us out of that swamp any time soon. Obama has wasted virtually all of his political capital on trying to end partisan bickering; had he spent that energy on other, more useful projects, we might think of him very differently.
There you are. Nearly 6,000 words answering that question. Was that worth your wait?