It is becoming apparent for all to see that a man who made his name as a community organizer does not have the skills to be president of these United States. Maybe he could develop the requisite skills as a governor. Possibly, he could develop such skills were he to sit in the Senate for a couple of terms. Yet there are delicate sensitivities: the ability to listen, to learn from mistakes, to stick by your guns, occasionally to remain reticent. These are the fundamentals of a leader, and President Barack Obama has demonstrated that he lacks all of them, most notably reticence. I now think it is clear even to Official Washington that President Obama is the worst president of modern times. President Jimmy Carter is redeemed.
Prof. Alvin Stephen Felzenberg, the author of The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game (reviewed in this issue by John R. Coyne, Jr.) had ranked Jimmy Carter near the bottom of American presidents, along with the likes of James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, and Franklin Pierce. Certainly, Carter ranked at the bottom among modern presidents, but that was until the Prophet Obama rose up among us. Now Professor Felzenberg has good news for Carterites everywhere: at Emory University's famous Carter Center, in Plains, Georgia, where that 13-foot Styrofoam peanut still stands shabby and forlorn before Davis E-Z Shop, at the few remaining Carter fan clubs across the land frequented by eccentrics and university professors. Jimmy was dreadful, as this intellectual review made clear at the time, but Obama is the worst.
Jimmy relied on stimulus policies and other Keynesian mysteries made complicated in a way that only he could make complicated. Yet that was before Ronald Reagan showed us the way through the economic Gobi Desert of stagflation. There is reason to believe that Jimmy might have learned from Reagan. Certainly Bill Clinton did, with Newt Gingrich's Congress to keep him honest. Jimmy's Federal Reserve brought us inflation, high interest rates, and a recession. Nonetheless, Jimmy recognized that something was not working. He installed Paul Volcker, and half the problem was on its way to resolution. He lectured us against our "inordinate fear of communism" but when he noticed Communists engaged in proxy wars all over Africa and Soviet troops in Afghanistan, he "done woke up." He forsook appeasement. He auspicated what was to become Reagan's arms race, the race Reagan won that ended the Cold War without firing a shot in anger. Even Carter's treatment of Iran became for him a teachable moment, as we now say. He began deregulation.
Obama is as incompetent as Carter but he shows no capacity to learn. Carter became the first ex-president to speak ill of a sitting president from foreign soil. Obama became the first president to speak ill of America from foreign soil, and he has done so repeatedly. For him America is a failed state. He has come up with no new policies, but he has tried many that failed for Carter and for Lyndon Johnson. He has pronounced them a success. Even as the economy weakens he calls them a success, and meanwhile the nation faces a budget overhang of colossal proportions and an entitlement catastrophe.
PEOPLE EXPLAIN OBAMA by saying he is a Marxist, a socialist, or a Muslim. Or perhaps he is a Muslim Marxist socialist. It really does not matter. I shall accept his word that he is a Christian of modest statist disposition. What matters is that, unlike Carter, he has not learned from his mistakes. In fact, he is a world apart from former presidents. Consider Franklin Roosevelt. He read his bills before signing them. The Social Security Act was fewer than 40 pages. He read it, and Congress read it. Today's financial bill and the health care bill both weigh in at more than 2,000 pages. It is inconceivable that more than a handful in Congress read it, and it is impossible that Obama did. The press chides Congress, but it has yet to chide Obama. Yet in each bill there are secret passages offering special favors to his special interests. It will take years to weed the mischief out of these bills.
This past August, when at a White House dinner he solemnized the opening of Ramadan, Obama leaped right in to endorse the building of a mosque at Ground Zero. He-a man who has shown no religious fervor during his time in the White House-let out a ringing defense of religious liberty and tolerance. Of a sudden, he was at the center of a growing national controversy and he single-handedly made it worse. It put me in mind of his inability to defuse the controversy over health care. He could have relented, as opposition to health care grew to become the majority position. Any sensible president would have settled for some sort of health care compromise, but not the community-organizer-turned-president. He wanted it all. He lunged on, and created among the electorate a row over national health care that divided the nation, and put some of us in mind of a civil war that continues to rage. What is more, he imperiled his party's margins in both houses. By this fall they will be gone in the House of Representatives and possibly in the Senate.
Notwithstanding his apparent personal insouciance toward religion, he made it clear that the mosque should be built. Who cares about the sensibilities of the loved ones of the 3,000 victims? Or for that matter, of the 68 percent of the American people who according to a CNN poll oppose the mosque? Then, in less than a day, he made things worse. While on a swing through Florida, he claimed that the night before he had not been speaking "on the wisdom" of building the mosque. He was merely commenting on the constitutional right to build the mosque and to practice one's religion. A right "that dates back," the prof allowed, "to our founding. That's what our country is about." Blah, blah, blah-the community-organizer-turned-lecturer at the University of Chicago could not resist. Jimmy would have had the political skills to remain mum on the mosque question. He, for a certitude, would not have contradicted himself overnight. Of course, Jimmy was not a community-organizer-turned-president. He had been a governor and a peanut farmer. He had real-world experience.
Now Obama had a red-hot national controversy on his hands to go along with all his other controversies. It is somewhat like the controversy he created over Professor Henry Louis Gates when he pronounced the Cambridge police's reaction to Gates's truculence "stupid." Or when Obama barged into the Arizona immigration pother. He cannot resist showing the world how smart he is, but at what cost? Every Democrat battling a tight race will be called upon to answer questions about the mosque. It has become an issue even in remote places such as Nevada. There the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, fighting for his seat against a Tea Partier, Sharron Angle, has come out against the president. He announced that it is not a question of right but a question of prudence. He says the mosque should be built elsewhere. How many other Democrats will join him? This could develop into a major rebellion against President Obama's leadership. It could be the beginning of the end of his presidency.
PRESIDENT OBAMA represents the leadership of the sterile elite discussed by Angelo Codevilla in our summer issue. His weird lectures play at the University of Chicago or in the communities he has organized in Chicago, but not among the mainstream of the American electorate. He has united the conservatives and independents in opposition. As Angelo says, he represents the leadership of the Ruling Class. It is not the leadership of the consensus of the American people. That consensus was established in the 1980s by Ronald Reagan. The Gingrich Congress continued it, and George W. Bush abused it. Yet it remained, and now is strong again. It is for limited government, lower taxes, and an end to social engineering.
So what will happen to our worst modern president? Whatever the election holds this fall, he still will have two years in the White House. It is my conclusion that they will be very happy years for the Prophet Obama. He will continue doing what he does best, organizing the community. That is to say, he will be running for president but his community will be smaller. The Democrats are growing restive. My guess is that he will soon be opposed for the nomination and his first opponent will be Hillary. Already, I am told, her friends are spreading the word, "make way for Hillary." Every mistake by the Prophet will be noted. People will peel away. Already Rahm Emanuel has been unusually quiet. Hillary will declare sometime in 2011. Just this August the New York Times ran a ridiculous report on how Bill is on the campaign trail pulling for candidates.
It will be a rerun of the 2008 primary season, which by hindsight looks very close. Yet look again. Hillary always has a solid 40 percent or more of the vote against her. My guess is she will lose the nomination. Once again the Democrats will nominate a community organizer. The question looms: whom will the Republicans nominate? But the good news is that Jimmy Carter can no longer be classified the worst president in modern times. He is only the worst ex-president in modern times, and he will hold that title until 2013 or perhaps 2014, by which time ex-president Obama will have had time to really show his stuff.