One figure looms large over all his successors as the worst US president ever.
Barack Obama was not the worst president in US history. That honor goes to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was dead before most of us were born. Any education in history threatens to shed light on present conditions, so it’s been eliminated from curricula, replaced with pandering propaganda. Proper instruction would teach that FDR effected the sea change that transformed the US from a melting pot of mostly self-confident, self-reliant, marvelously competent individuals into a bankrupt welfare and warfare state, the majority of whose citizens are jumpy at their own shadows, afraid of their fellow citizens, and terrified of their politicians. Mr. Obama has merely been mop-up relief for the welfare-warfare team’s starter, FDR.
Roosevelt had his forerunners—Lincoln and Wilson—but he presided over the largest agglomeration of power by the US government ever. His tactic was breathtakingly simple: use the government’s failures to expand the government. To address what should have been a garden-variety stock market correction and recession, exacerbated by Hoover’s ineffective nostrums, Roosevelt took economic power away from millions of diffuse individuals and businesses, acting in their own interests, and consolidated it in Washington. It didn’t work. The economic statistics were worse in 1938 than they were when FDR took office in 1933, but failed programs were expanded and new ones added to “solve” the problems created by the earlier programs.
FICTION THAT TELLS THE TRUTH
Power, not effectiveness, was FDR’s lodestone. By 1938 the US government was the most powerful institution on the planet, feeding off of its continuing failure to remedy the Great Depression. Subsistence itself became the government’s responsibility. The coercive extraction of money from some for the benefit of others—formerly known as theft—became the prevailing ideology of Roosevelt’s Democrats. By the time Obama trotted in from the bullpen, both parties and most of the American public unquestioningly believed that a good chunk of GDP should detour to Washington every year, some lining political and bureaucratic pockets, the rest distributed to favored beneficiaries.
An ever-increasing mountain of laws and regulations, reaching into every nook and cranny of American life, has also become an occasionally deplored but never reversed feature of government since the New Deal. When Franklin and Barack’s team wins, everyone not favored by the government loses. The New Deal was really the same Old Deal stretching back centuries: a government expanding its powers to the detriment of the people it rules.
While the New Deal alone would earn Roosevelt a place of honor in the statist hall of fame, the US’s involvement in history’s bloodiest war garners him his very own wing. He had promised during the 1940 campaign to keep the country out of a war he was working assiduously behind the scenes to enter. It’s fair to ask why the US didn’t just stand aside after Germany invaded the USSR and let the two odious dictatorships knock each other out. It’s also fair to ask, as an increasing number of historians have, if Roosevelt maneuvered Japan into the Pearl Harbor attack, knew it was coming, and let it happen to rouse the American public into a war it wanted to avoid. There is plenty of evidence that he did, although Roosevelt partisans still argue that it’s not conclusive.
Randolph Bourne noted that war is the health of the state, and although Roosevelt did not outlive it, World War II left the US government feeling chipper indeed. It had consolidated its control over the economy and business, eroded civil liberties, developed a doomsday bomb, ran up the national debt, and emerged as the leader of a global confederation, a de facto empire. Unfortunately power corrupts and empires crumble; when you’re on top of the world the only direction is down. Seventy-two years later, Roosevelt’s warfare-welfare state is bankrupt, the once vaunted US military has lost a string of wars against ostensibly outmatched opponents, and Russia and China are leading a consortium of nations exiting the US orbit.
Obama, like most of his predecessors since Roosevelt, has made his contribution to the list of soon-to-be insolvent “entitlements. However, Obamacare is only the cherry on the redistributionist sundae concocted by FDR. Also like most of his predecessors, Obama has found trouble spots around the globe into which the government has stuck its nose, but Libya, Syria, Ukraine, other regime change missions, and random drone strikes don’t qualify as skirmishes compared to World War II. The only arena in which Obama, in conjunction with George W. Bush, outshines Roosevelt is restricting civil liberties. Undoubtedly Roosevelt would have availed himself of the surveillance state’s bag of technological tricks had they been available at the time.
All of Roosevelt’s successors have been merely disciples, spreading his gospel of an ever more taxing, indebted, intrusive, arrogant, and powerful government. Those who claim Obama is the worst US president reveal their ignorance of history. Those who rank Roosevelt as the greatest, or one of the greatest, US presidents reveal they’re nothing more than power-worshipping, government-loving nonentities. The greatness of America has never rested with its government, but with its people and what they have done with their freedom. That freedom has dwindled still more during Obama’s reign.
Those who control the government will suffer the fate that has befallen governments and those who control them throughout history: collapse and ruin. Obama has done nothing to forestall it. He is a small man with a small man’s flaws: mendacity, hypocrisy, vanity, vituperative, petty, unprincipled, an outsize ego, preoccupied with image over substance, and an inability to accept responsibility or admit error. Roosevelt had the same flaws, but you get treated better by the historians when you preside over the birth rather than the death throes of an empire. Death is an inevitable consequence of empire, because of a phenomenon as simple as a Newtonian law. As an empire grows linearly larger and more successful, the energy and effort necessary to sustain it grows exponentially. Political and geographic entropy eventually engulf even the best administered regimes.
Obama will enjoy the same historical prominence as Anthemius, Olybrius, Glycerius, Julius Nepos, and Romulus Augustulus, the last five emperors of the Western Roman Empire. Even Roosevelt’s reign will eventually be seen as just another governmental usurpation of power and abridgment of liberty. Nothing special, just what governments do and have done throughout history. Revolting against their arrogant overseers and rejecting Obama’s so-called legacy, the American electorate bestowed an improbable electoral victory on Donald Trump. It remains to be seen what he will do with it, but January 20 cannot come soon enough. Good riddance, Mr. Obama.