National Commentary

It’s Not Easy Being President


President Obama’s address to a global television audience Tuesday night about his intent to send 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan was a sobering reminder of the unbelievable mess that he inherited from George W. Bush when he entered the White House last January.

Indeed, when the veil is pulled away from one ugly fiasco after another that was visited upon the planet by the Bush administration, the reaction is downright visceral. “W” has to have been the worst blight ever visited upon the U.S. people and the globe from such a position of power and authority in the nation’s history.

Aside from his criminal neglect responding to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, it was, of course, the President’s unyielding determination to invade and occupy Iraq that represents his single most monumental malevolence. Many of us were jumping up and down screaming that his phoney pretext for the invasion was exactly that. The erroneous claim that “we all thought there were weapons of mass destruction” that has been used to justify Bush’s decision is a downright lie.

In the context of this, operating in the name of “American exceptionalism” (a mantra that smacks of the kind of arrogance of national cultural superiority that justified some very nasty genocide in the last century), Bush turned most of the globe against the U.S. He turned a national surplus into a deep deficit, and his administration ordered blinders on every Wall Street regulator, bringing the entire world, as a consequence, to the brink of a total financial and economic meltdown.

We can blame Bush, or Dick Cheney, or others in the administration, but as a collective effort, they constituted the most dangerous and ill-intentioned pack of thieves in U.S. history.

Regretfully, there remain many in the land who are eager to return to the same path that this crowd followed, as if they learned nothing. Their fixations on the ideology of free markets, low taxes and less government are matched by their unrelenting belief in this “American exceptionalism” garbage that could easily bring the country back to the brink of unthinkable economic and military conflagrations.

It’s no wonder that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office. It reflected the deep planetary sigh of relief felt when Obama was successful in rooting out this menace from the White House. It was deserved for the entirety of his primary and general campaigns to build a national mass movement around a very different approach than that taken by Bush et al.

For over a year leading up to the election, Obama schooled an entire nation, and an eagerly watching world, on the need to retool U.S. foreign policy toward alliance-building, diplomacy and dialogue, and away from the bullying “my way or the highway” approach of Bush.

But since January, given the reins of leadership in the White House, President Obama has faced a different challenge than the one he took up during his campaign.

It’s been an arduous and aggressive effort to undo the damage he inherited from Bush, and it’s not been easy. No longer the prophetic voice preaching from the mountain top, Obama moved inside the temple as its high priest, and his role necessarily shifted as a result.

For some, this means a betrayal of his pre-election values. The impulse for instant gratification has led some groups to, in fact, betray him, urging others to withhold financial support for Democratic candidates. In other cases, such as in Virginia last month, leading Democratic candidates tragically (for themselves, as it turned out) distanced themselves from him. But there is no questioning the monumental effects he’s already had, domestically and internationally.

The nation has averted a worse collapse than the Great Depression, at least for now. It is on the verge of real health care reform for the first time since the advent of Medicare. And now, the president has boldly taken the steps needed to responsibly clean up the messes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s on the jobs front where even bolder steps are now needed. Large-scale national infrastructure projects offering an abundance of WPA-like jobs are essential on an array of levels to become the bedrock of a slow but sustainable economic recovery.

Nicholas Benton may be emailed at