Monday, December 30, 2013

Five Years A President

In 1930 shortly after the stock market crash Babe Ruth was asked how he justified his $80,000/year salary which was greater than President Hoover’s $75,000. The Babe replied that he had a better year. Ruth was the highest paid player in the game.

The MINIMUM paycheck for a major league baseball player is now $500,000. This exceeds Obama’s by $100,000. He’s also had a pretty bad year. Yet even with his low approval rating of 28% he is still the most admired man in the world according to a recent Gallup poll.

A ballplayer’s career, on average, is around six years. After that he has to find a way to live on his accumulated millions and stay out of trouble even if it is his middle name. It’s too easy to begrudge athletes their outrageous salaries. The money is there for the grabbing and we put it there by consuming what advertisers tell us to buy.

What to make of Obama’s numbers?  We must think well of the man but regard him ineffectual as chief executive. My sense is that our president will receive higher marks by historians than from our disgruntled left or maniacal right. An objective assessment requires an amplitude of vision and historical sweep.

All our presidents claim credit or bear the brunt of the times they preside over. Hoover didn’t cause the Wall St. crash though his policies after it may have exacerbated the plight of millions. Clinton accomplished very little but emerged in a positive light owing to the end of the Cold War, tech boom, sub-prime housing loans, the illusion of non-existent terrorist threats and a budget surplus. Forgotten are his de-regulation of banks, free trade agreements which contributed to the Rust Belt, tightening of welfare benefits and failure to pass healthcare reform.

Obama Inherited bank failures, oil spills, housing busts, Congressional lynch mobs, auto companies on the brink, two insupportable wars and virulent racism.

His presidency demonstrates the limits of the office.  Our overseas misadventures continue even as he pursues a policy of disengagement. The Pentagon and vast universe it contracts with seems impervious to the direction of its Commander-in-Chief. There is an untold story here.  His over-reach on security measures can be seen, in part, as a function of those forces.

The Affordable Care Act is flawed but perhaps not as much as the Social Security Act of 1935. It was defunded by filibuster (Huey Long) before it got started. There were no employment histories available at first. The Social Security Administration was housed in an old un-heated Coca Cola factory with rats running around. Woman and Blacks were virtually excluded due to state’s rights provisions in the South. And all this with a heavily Democratic Congress.

Presidential rhetoric rarely matches one’s deeds. In Obama’s case he’d have been better advised not to open his mouth at all when pitching his healthcare act or setting red lines regarding Syria. He is clearly not at ease on the Bully Pulpit. He operates without the leverage of LBJ, the charm and duplicity of FDR or the fire-in-the-belly of Theodore Roosevelt. He is, by nature, a conciliator at a time when differences are irreconcilable. My wish is that one day Obama be named to the High Court. If Hillary is elected may it be so. 

The fact that a certain athlete is currently rewarded eighty times the remuneration as the person in the Oval Office speaks volumes about our values as a nation. Even if he had a better year….. and he didn’t.

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