Two very low points in American History in my lifetime were the resignation of Richard Nixon and the decision by Lyndon Johnson to not seek reelection. I recently watched the movie Selma. I felt the pain of President Johnson struggling with the Voting Rights Act, knowing that it would lose the South for the Democratic Party for years to come. The office of President of the United States is the most visible and most important role in shaping human destiny, at least since World War I.
I was fortunate to have had a sidewalk vantage point for the inaugural parade of John Kennedy in 1961 when I was 24 after having cast my first vote. In 1993, I watched the inauguration of Bill Clinton from a distance beyond recognition of anyone on the podium, an experience I shared with my 18-year-old daughter. There is excitement in watching the inauguration of your President of choice.
As history is written and revised, former presidents are mocked in ridicule or deified; remembered with belated praise or defamation, and compared to and listed among the best and the worst. There are parallels in the elections of 2000 and 2008. As the Florida Court decided to suspend the count of contested ballots we witnessed the contradiction of the popular and electoral vote majorities. While Democrats were still in a state of denial, we were attacked on 9/11 and the nation rallied behind President Bush. It was one of our highest moments of national unity and spirit of patriotism.
In the ensuing years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we grew war weary. An eight-year reign of a Republican administration, with mounting casualties and impending financial disaster, came to a painful and unpopular end. Our election cycles of four or eight years are chronicles of the rise and fall of heroic figures.
As we begin the seventh year of the Obama administration, we remember the Bush administration. We watch the comparative numbers of approval and disapproval ratings, and surveys of right track or wrong track for the direction our country.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were elected and inaugurated at times when America was angry at itself, or at least angry at each other. In each case we faced the paradox of wishing for, and contributing to, the failure of each President. We have now spent fourteen years dedicated to demeaning and opposing our presidents. We have questioned their intelligence, their religion, the behavior of their children, and ultimately their love of country. We have perpetuated and exaggerated the anger from our reluctant acceptance of losing.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like Vietnam, were prolonged, without a clear purpose, and continue to be costly in deaths and broken bodies. The wars were fought by a voluntary military with multiple deployments and dismal support from a disaffected populace and a hawkish but conservative Congress.
Among the most significant moments in the Obama administration, were the earliest meetings of the Republican Congress and the alleged commitment to make President Obama a one-term president devolving into accusations of negativity and active intent to insure his failure.
In the aftermath of the elections of 2012 and 2014, we have the choice of impasse or compromise. We have listened to the Conservative Political Action Conference and Rudy Giuliani; followed the clash between Speaker Boehner and the President over the invitation of Prime Minister Netanyahu. And we ask, “How can we proclaim our love of country, our patriotism, and our moral integrity, in a sustained effort to promote and find delight in the failures of our Presidents?”