EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – JUNE 25, 2008
By Rich Trzupek
What are we to make of this President?
He came into office at a time of crisis, or – more properly – the crisis followed closely behind. At first, he was applauded for his leadership, as all Presidents are during the first throes of national emergency.
But, as is almost always equally the case, the applause soon settled into a stony, impatient silence that evolved into mumbling and grumbling, followed quickly by the inevitable cries of despair and, above all, rage.
He was universally reviled by the opposition party and by many of his fellow Republicans as well. What were once electable virtues became, upon further examination by his many critics, damnable failings.
He was transformed (almost overnight it seemed) from a plain-spoken, inherently honest everyman, full of common sense, into something at best laughable and, at worst, sinister.
The nation lamented for not seeing it sooner. The opposition reveled in his discomfort, or rather, what they assumed to be his discomfort, for it was never clear that he cared about popular approval. He had a mission and he was single-minded about achieving it. Nothing would dissuade him from his goal, a fact that he would freely admit. His critics saw this as vanity. His supporters, few as they were, called it perseverance.
The media had a field day with this President. He was routinely mocked by editorial writers and opinion makers. They mocked his manner of speech, his dress, his wife, his faith and his birthplace. They questioned his military service, with some writers openly wondering if he had even served at all.
He never claimed to have been in combat, and this was further evidence of his arrogance. How could he send young men to die when he had never been close to a battlefield himself?
Cartoonists sometimes portrayed him as a primate, and although every public figure is surely fair game for caricature (with the exception of a certain middle-eastern prophet, of course), there was something especially mean-spirited – sadly so – in these drawings.
He was variously portrayed as an imbecile and as a huckster, sometimes both, which is an impossible combination, at least in my book. He was criticized as a speaker as well, and many Americans were embarrassed to have such a boor quoted in overseas capitals.
Others said that he was in fact clever, in his own way, but that this cleverness did not equate to wisdom. Rather, his was a mean, sniveling shrewdness; he had both the skills and morals of a con-man, they said. Just look at the way he surrounds himself with other darkly shrewd men. His bumbling “country boy” persona was all an act, they assured us. It was just cover for the calculating evil that lay within.
He routinely flouted the Constitution, as part of combating the crisis. People were imprisoned, though they had not been charged with a crime. The Supreme Court ordered him to produce writs of Habeas Corpus or let these prisoners go. He ignored the judges. He employed a cadre of spies to determine the intentions of his enemies and, in some cases, of his friends.
His told his critics that a President had both the right and the duty to bend parts of the Constitution in order to protect liberty in desperate times. They despaired to hear it. His actions, they were certain, would not protect freedom, but were the first step on the road to a totalitarian state.
They were especially incensed when he seemed to play a shell game with the very reason for entering into the conflict in the first place. At first he said that the safety of the nation was at stake. Then, a couple years into the conflict, it wasn’t that at all. He now explained that this war was a crusade to bring freedom to an oppressed people.
“See what a liar he is!” the critics cried. “He can’t even decide why we’re fighting. He’s a fraud!” The President patiently tried to explain that the two goals were not mutually exclusive – that the spread of freedom would better secure the foundations of the nation – that the latter goal complimented the former, it did not supersede it. Few people paid attention to such convoluted logic.
It was war time and, as they always do in war time, merchants got rich. Many were honest, some were not and, inevitably some of the dishonest ones had ties of this sort or that to the President or his inner circle. There were military failures, as there are always are in a protracted conflict, and there were bad generals, incompetent advisors and mistakes in strategy. There were, in other words, all of the usual impediments and mistakes that democracies face when they go to war and, as they always have been, these failures and perceived failures were placed – justly – at the feet of the President.
He corrected what he could and endured what he must, knowing that the one contribution that he had to make, that indeed he alone could make, was to exert his will to bring the conflict to a successful conclusion, no matter how long it took. He was indifferent to the cries of party, the nation and the heads of state across the seas who all assured him that the bloodshed could end, and should end, if only he would stop fighting. Once America withdrew, America would have peace.
This he would not do, and he was hated for it.
Elected by a minority of the electorate in his first term, he was not expected to win a second, so badly had he mismanaged the conflict, in the eyes of his many, many critics. Somehow, he was re-elected though, to the amazement and despair of his legions of enemies.
We will leave his story there, for you probably know the rest of it. And I’m not sure how you feel about this particular President but, in my opinion, this man – Abraham Lincoln – was one helluva leader.
“No arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.” Ronald Wilson Reagan