Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Moving from Worst to Best…

It is a question that has been floating around the “blogosphere” for years. From there it migrated to bumper stickers, t-shirts and buttons. Yet this past week, the question of whether George W. Bush is the “worst president” in American history made the leap from web pages in the left lane of information superhighway to the pages of the Washington Post. Finally making its way to the talking heads of cable television and talk radio.

It is a particularly American habit, this business of wanting to classify the best and worst of something. We are nation obsessed with statistical rankings. Be it who is “the sexiest man alive”, or who made the best/worst dressed lists. Our popular culture abounds with David Letterman’s top ten lists and Keith Olberman’s “worst person in the world”. What fan of college football or basketball doesn’t start the day without checking their team’s standing in the top 25 coaches and press polls? We have a real need as a nation to not just quantify, but also to qualify both our successes and our failures.

To call someone the “worst” of anything can be a dangerous generalization. Yet when talking about the American Presidency, the question itself is not so much the issue, as are the reasons for asking it.

The presidency of George W. Bush has had far more failure than success. During his time in the White House George W. Bush has excelled at dividing this nation, perfecting a strategy of “ fifty percent plus one.” It is a strategy that won him and his party three elections. Yet aside from that electoral record, it has produced no real accomplishments while governing .

Presidents at this point in their terms, especially their second term, find themselves obsessed with the idea of “legacy”. The legacy of George W. Bush can be summed up in one word: Iraq. It is his war. A war that for the majority of Americans, the President’s reasons for it remain suspect, his conduct of it remains dubious, and the end of it remains unclear. Under the banner of “Keeping America Safe”, we are now a nation isolated from our allies, faced with emboldened adversaries, and bereft of the diplomatic credibility and strategic influence needed to deal with both the threats and opportunities of a post 9-11 world.

This administration’s one notable domestic achievement , the Medicare prescription drug plan, is a complicated maze of red tape mired in what appears to be a way for drug companies to avoid the forces of a free market. The impending collapse of both Social Security and Medicare, while great fodder for his party’s campaign ads, proved “too hard” to deal with in the reality of governing.

The problem with asking if any President is the “worst”, is the implication that the success or failure of our republic hangs on the abilities and flaws of a single human being. Our country has faced the consequences of our leader’s failings many times before, and has survived. As we face the end of this flawed presidency, the question is not was this the “worst” President, but rather what do we as nation want from our next President? Therein lays a vision for what a “best” Presidency would look like.
That vision is not hard to find.. You need look no farther than a few lines from an old song…

O beautiful for patriot dream

That sees beyond the years

The best President would have a sense of stewardship, not ownership of the presidency. The best President would strive not just to make life easier for “the base”, but ensure a better life for all our citizens, and the generations of Americans yet to come.

Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

The best President would never accept that any American lives in hopelessness, or lacks the opportunity to learn in safe schools, or live in safe neighborhoods. The best President would never accept that Americans should be forced to compete on an economic field that is anything but fair and level. The best President would see the environment not as a resource to be exploited, but as a legacy to be protected. The best President would never accept that any American would have to choose between health care and economic survival.

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee

The best President would never invoke God as a tool of division. The best President would never use religion as way to marginalize groups of our own citizens. The best President would never seek to codify religion into civil law as a way to score political points. The best President would not wear faith on his sleeve while disregarding the most basic tenets of that faith. The best President would live his faith far more loudly than he would talk about it.

And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

The best President would understand that true homeland security is collective. Strong friendships are the best defense against strong adversaries . The best President would see our freedoms as our strength not our weakness. The best President would see war as the very last resort to defend our nation’s vital interests, not the first resort to advance any one constituency’s political or economic interests.

The best President would embody our hopes, advance our dreams and embrace our diversity , our “E Pluribus Unum”. The best President would listen, would learn and would lead.

Using this simple standard, we find that the Washington Post is asking the wrong question. The question is not “is George W. Bush the worst President?”. The real question is, when will we as nation, stop settling for anything less than the best?

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