yesterday, "Farewell to the Chief: Our Columnists Assess Obama's Presidency," in which a number of its contributors remarked "on things they will miss, others they will not, and moments that have left a mark no matter what you think of him or his administration."
Of these, Megan McArdle's is predictably smart alecky; Ramesh Ponnuru's is almost deranged (is this the same soft-spoken guy I've seen on MTP Daily?); Eli Lake brings up the "Red Line," of course, which I think was actually one of Obama's best moments (yep, you read that right; how many American lives were spared because the president changed his mind?); but Noah Smith got it just about right as far as I'm concerned: Obama was the greatest president of my lifetime.
Not only was Obama the greatest president of my lifetime, but I'd argue he was also the greatest since at least FDR. (If you want to read more of my praise of the 44th president, just scroll through the posts of this blog, which I began shortly before he was elected in 2008.)
But, as great as I think he was, President Obama was not without his faults. I'd say a couple of them are just personal pet peeves of mine while the third was probably his one true shortcoming as Chief Executive.
The first two (and I've written about all these before; I'm just too lazy right now to find them and provide the links) are:
1) The Obamas didn't send their daughters to public schools; and
2) He chose to carve out land from a public park for his presidential library when there was plenty of open space on the South Side and also chose a New York (!) couple as architects instead of someone right here in Chicago. (It's not like we don't have a distinguished architectural tradition in this town.)
Petty? Yeah, whatever. I said they were personal pet peeves.
But number three is real. And it's that President Obama badly underestimated (or overestimated, depending on how you look at it) the Republicans, in at least his first term. Obama and his wife have to be considered the classiest couple that has ever occupied the White House. (Maybe, just like Jackie Robinson, the first black couple had to be.) He is a gentleman, through and through, and she is a lady. No doubt about it. As human beings, they are just about as admirable in every way as you can get. Full stop.
But, unfortunately, as the first Mayor Daley once said, "Politics ain't beanbag." And it's true. Or, as Anthony Wiener put it, "Democrats tend to bring a library book to a knife fight." And that, I would say, was Obama's one big weakness: unlike FDR or LBJ (or even Hillary, who would have been extremely clear-eyed about the Republicans), he was never willing to abandon the Marquess of Queensberry rules when taking on someone like Mitch McConnell or John Boehner. In fairness, the Speaker may have been willing to cut a deal with the president but was hamstrung by his caucus. McConnell, however, was always out for Mitch McConnell, country or party be damned. (And, to be honest, the Kentucky senator has done an excellent job of managing his career.) But, unfortunately, to be an effective president means sometimes coming down from your pedestal and getting your hands a little dirty. And, although Obama will still go down in history as a great and consequential president, I can only imagine how much more effective he could have been had he not been such an exemplary man.