History Lessons for the President

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement after a briefing on Hurricane Sandy with Richard Serino (L), Deputy Administrator, FEMA, and Craig Fugate (R), Administrator FEMA at FEMA Headquarters. (Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images)

Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and author of Cronkite, explains what the historical precedent is for Obama's second term and for storm response.



Douglas Brinkley

Comments [26]

I would also think that a million machete-murdered Rwandans might disagree with Brinkley's characterization of Clinton as a "GREAT" president.

Nov. 21 2012 12:18 PM

How can Brinkley say Obama didn't get us into any new wars?! That's a flat lie. The US is engaged in wars in Yemen and Africa. The endless drone attacks, which by wide agreement are promoting al-Qaeda recruitment, are going strong, in violation of international law.

On this Brinkley is certainly lying. Or he needs to stop pretending he pays any attention to facts.

Nov. 21 2012 11:31 AM
Jay F.

We are technically still at war with North Korea...

Nov. 21 2012 11:31 AM

Hey, Brinkley!!!

Take the rose-colored glasses off!!

Nov. 21 2012 11:30 AM
Jf from Ny

The government can print money and make inflation illegal and make pollution illegal on the supply side.

Nov. 21 2012 11:30 AM

Isn't something wrong with our system if a President has a four year term but only the 1st 6 months to "get anything done" -- according to Mr. Brinkley? And for a 1st term President, the entire first year is more or less figuring things out and getting his/her administration up and running. Also after Obama was elected in 2008, all the pundit chatter was about the demise of the Republican party -- no one predicted the depth of the economic meltdown, the Republican leadership's decision to oppose anything Obama did, and the rise of the right-wing funded tea party that up ended the 2010 election. So how can anyone really predict 2014 (midterm elections go to the opposition -- except when they don't), much less whether Obama will have a transformational 2nd term when his 1st term isn't even completely finished. I'm beginning to discount all pundits -- even those who are eminent presidential scholars.

Nov. 21 2012 11:29 AM


Never better said.

Nov. 21 2012 11:29 AM
RJ from prospect hts

I'm afraid Mr. Brinkley's definition of "transformational" is rather limited and conservative (small "c"). Pres. Obama has not transformed the American paradigm, only--if you want, call it a "liberal" firewall, though "centrist" would probably be more apt--maintained it. No diminishing of corporate involvement in health care--only, for all the valuable targeted benefits, institutionalized it. Not transformed educational methodology but institutionalized high-stakes testing. What FDR and LBJ did were specific actions--with the behind-the-scenes political negotiations--that fundamentally changed the US contract. Not altered the bad NAFTA anti-labor and -environment provisions of international trade agreements but institutionalized them in other parts of the world. (Why Clinton is seen as the hero he is mystifies me: NAFTA destroyed jobs, the 5-year limit on social supports for the poor that is still hurting primarily single moms ... ) Obama's challenges were not different from theirs but he has been much more timid--or simply better at campaigning for office than campaigning for causes.

Nov. 21 2012 11:28 AM

Douglas Brinkley is _dead wrong_ on Social Security. Either he is ill-informed or he is lying. Social Security is solvent for the next 20+ years. Very modest changes would ensure its solvency for the next century (like eliminating the cap on income subject to FICA). This is _not_ so of Medicare and Medicaid, but problems there are driven by increases in medical expenses, _not_ funding.

If not of the Lewinksy scandal, Clinton would have proceeded on privatizing Social Security (as Robert Rubin and Larry Summers wanted). If that had happened now, Social Security would have gone belly-up with the financial collapse in 2008-09. Obama has given every indication that he agrees with the Clinton line on Social Security.

Brinkley is squarely in the Clinton-Obama camp of wishy-washy middle-of-the-road, pseudo-moderate Democrats. In the age of Nixon, Obama (and Clinton) would have been considered Republicans.

Nov. 21 2012 11:27 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

@ dboy - I surely never believed him ;-)

Nov. 21 2012 11:27 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

Social Security is not a birthright. I've figured I'd get hosed on it since I started working in 1978.

Unfortunately, it looks like I'm right.

Nov. 21 2012 11:26 AM

HughSansom~'re losing me on the Reagan. Unless of course, you're being ironic.

Nov. 21 2012 11:25 AM


Even Jesus took a nap once in a while.

Nov. 21 2012 11:22 AM
john from office

Dboy, Ed still believes in Santa and Martin hates having a schvatza in the white house. PEOPLE MUST KNOW THEIR PLACE, says Martin

Nov. 21 2012 11:21 AM

David from Fredericksburg, VA ~

... INCREDIBLE politician.

Nov. 21 2012 11:21 AM

Clean energy — I guess that's why Obama has been triangulating to ram the Keystone pipeline down people's throats.

Which presidents are in the first tier of great presidents? Lincoln, Washington, FDR? Then Jefferson and TR. Then who? Regardless of what people think of Reagan (I despise him), he certainly presided over a time of transformation.

What is Obama overseeing? The great victory of the 1%. The final demolition of labor. The ongoing demolition of public education. The ongoing decay of American infrastructure. Four years and going of recession (despite the official economic accounts). A wishy washy health care reform that will leave most of the gimmicks available to health insurers. An _unprecedented_ set of attacks on civil liberties, on the right to due process, on protections against domestic spying.

Some transformation. Some president.

Nov. 21 2012 11:21 AM

HughSansom ~

Thanks for typing out my exact thoughts on Brinkley's characterization of Clinton as "GREAT" president.

Nov. 21 2012 11:19 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

Clinton was not a great president. A great politician, yes. A great president, no (not to say he was awful, just not great).

Nov. 21 2012 11:18 AM

Douglas Brinkley is the _first_ person I've heard refer to Bill Clinton as a "great president". Most of the commentary from actual historians (as opposed, again, to hagiographers) look on Clinton as the president who gave us the final deregulation crimes that lead to the financial meltdown.

Nov. 21 2012 11:15 AM

For Obama to be a "transformational" president, he'd have to be someone of a mind to do great things. He isn't. Contrary to the hagiographies of people like Douglas Brinkley, Obama is an opportunist constantly triangulating in a time when his main opposition — a right-wing Republican party — is even more vilely opportunistic than he is.

Nov. 21 2012 11:14 AM

Mr. Chuzzlewit just cant get over the fact that a "schvartzer" accurately categorized his hero, Bibi Netanyahu as a pathological lier.

Nov. 21 2012 11:11 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Hasn't started too well, with Sandy and now with a Middle East War. Not to mention Europe. President Obama supports evil things, and the principle is that if a person supports evil things, disaster will follow for that person. And if a society votes for evil, disaster will follow for that society. So, we'll see.

Nov. 21 2012 11:04 AM

Chuzzlewit = perpetually irrelevant

Nov. 21 2012 10:59 AM
john from office

I had hoped that the Obama election, by a land slide, would have put a stake throgh the heart of the Martin monster. Sadly that is not the case. I will note the Romney has put a stake through his own party's heart.

I take great pleasure in the election of Mr. Obama and the rejection of the party of fear, lies and various nuts, like Martin.

Nov. 21 2012 10:26 AM
amalgam from NYC by day, NJ by night

@ Chuzz - What are you campaigning for because Obama is done campaigning for office the rest of his life. To wit; your point is moot.

And I think that Obama will take his own advice, as will many Congressional Republicans, because compromise will occur for the mere fact that there are no other governing options considering the great number of policy decisions that must be made.

Wait, what was your argument again?

Nov. 21 2012 10:17 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan


Here is a bit of second term historical analysis of Presidential behavior/congressional relations from Barry (50.4%) Obama HIMSELF (writing on George Bush’s second term) in his 2006 book “Audacity of Hope”:

"Maybe peace would have broken out with a different kind of White House, one less committed to waging a perpetual campaign--a White House that would see a 51-48 victory as a call to humility and compromise rather than an irrefutable mandate." (Page 20 - link below)

Wow! I would have thought that was Rush Limbaugh referring to the perpetual campaigner Obama.

Would Mr. Brinkley please tell Obama to take his own advice?

Nov. 21 2012 09:33 AM

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