Donald Kaul: Every U.S. president hits rough waters
Virtually every president gets on a roll at some time during his administration, generally early on. And while he’s on that roll, every day is a wedding. He gets bills passed, international relations go his way and people love him. It seems he can’t make a bad move.
It happened to Lyndon B. Johnson, whose early years gave promise of giving us the greatest presidency of modern times. And it happened to Richard Nixon, who, much to the consternation of his enemies, seemed to get stronger as his years in office mounted up.
Eventually, the roll ends. Whether it’s Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, the Iran-Contra scandal, the Vietnam War turning sour or the Iranian hostage crisis — every administration hits rough waters.
The president goes into a slide and things are never the same again. Suddenly, he can’t do anything right. Every day brings a new headline that lands like a punch to the stomach.
President Barack Obama is not on a roll.
His good times may not have been spectacular, but he did win re-election by a wide margin and things were looking up. That seems a distant memory now.
If he had nothing more than the disastrous Edward Snowden affair to deal with, it would be enough.
Not only did the youngish intelligence worker reveal that we are building the capability of spying on every man, woman and child in the nation, the documents he released showed we are also spying on our best friends and allies.
Doesn’t everybody do that, you ask? Perhaps, but to have it revealed to the global community via a leak from our most secretive government agency takes "embarrassing" to a new level.
And to have Snowden flee to Russia, of all places, allowing Vladimir (The Thug) Putin to withhold granting asylum unless Snowden promised to stop revealing U.S. intelligence secrets — well, that’s an irony almost beyond endurance.
We have, in short, become a laughingstock in the international community. But that’s not all.
The so-called "Arab Spring," which we welcomed as the healthy introduction of democracy into autocratic Middle Eastern and North African countries, has gone completely off the rails.
The popular uprising in Syria has degenerated into what amounts to a full-scale civil war. We now face the choice of getting involved in it — which we definitely do not want — or looking like a pitiful helpless giant.
Egypt had its own popular uprising against the military strongman (and our ally) Hosni Mubarak, replacing him with an elected Islamic leader.
We weren’t altogether happy about that, but we made approving noises in support of democracy. Within a year, the Islamists had screwed things up so badly that they inspired another popular uprising, followed by a military coup. Naturally, people want Obama to do something about it. They just don’t say what.
If that weren’t enough, the major countries of Europe are threatening to break off important trade negotiations with us because of our spying on everybody.
On the home front, the conservative Supreme Court has just made it easier for states to suppress voting by the poor and people of color. Obstructionist House Republicans are treating the immigration bill, on which Obama has spent so much of his political capital, as their favorite hostage.
I have an old and dear friend, a woman only slightly to the left of Lenin, who recently wrote, "Obama is the worst president we’ve ever had."
I also have a rabid conservative friend. He thinks Dick Cheney is the greatest vice-president we’ve ever had, and he agrees with her.
No, Obama is definitely not on a roll.
Donald Kaul is an OtherWords columnist who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.