September 12, 2011

NYT gets dishonest on one-term presidents

In a column about how one-term presidents can still do good, Julian E. Zelizer, who is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton, stacks the deck. And, if he's a Princeton history prof, he knows better.

He focuses on semi-successful to successful one-term presidents to bolster the case that, crappy economy aside, Obama can still make his mark, or whatever.

The only really successful one-term president, whom Zelizer notes, is Polk. He also looks at LBJ, who was indeed successful, if we ignore what he called "that bitch of a war."

From there, third on his list is George H.W. Bush, who gets some credibility for starting to cut the budget deficit and being the last national Republican to care about that.

After that? If you're citing Jimmy Carter, whom these pages have compared to Obama before and vice versa, as an example of a semi-successful one-term president, er, you're flailing. Even more so if you feel compelled to mention Herbert Hoover, whom these pages have also compared to Obama before and vice versa, as another example for Dear Leader.

But, despite the column showing John Adams' pic as the first one-term president, Zelizer doesn't mention him, when his persecution of alien residents and breaking of civil liberties marks him as the first of many bad one-term presidents.

That list would also include Quincy Adams, somewhat Martin Van Buren, John Tyler (at least on political grounds), Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford Hayes and possibly Benjamin Harrison in the 19th century. In a pre-imperial presidency, mediocre or worse presidents found it harder to use the trappings of office to even get renominated, let alone re-elected.

The 20th century has a few clunkers, too. Harding, certainly. Hoover, despite creating the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, for showing a lack of larger vision. Gerald Ford, starting with his pardon of Dick Nixon.

So, just as Obama set history as the first black man elected president, he can set further history as the first one-term president of the 21st century. Or, if the anecdote MoJo Dowd reports about his work habits is correct, maybe his emulation of Ronald Reagan goes further than we thought.

And, her pick-up is worth noting:
He’s eternally the gifted and sometimes indolent student who has to be wooed and pressured into making the game-winning shot. As one aide joked, “We work 6 to 9 and he works 9 to 6.” 
With a habit like that, the Obama quote Zelizer uses to start his column becomes ... not quite ironic, but maybe zaftig?
“I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president,” President Obama confessed to ABC News’ Diane Sawyer last year. Other than the “really good” part, Republicans would be happy to see this wish fulfilled.
Speaker of the House Thomas B. "Czar" Reed told one Representative who said, "I'd rather be right than be president" that he would be neither. I say the same about Obama's options.

No comments: