the national interest

Barack Obama, Bad Presidential Historian

President Obama talks to Steve Kroft in a 60 MINUTES interview conducted at the White House on May 4, 2011. The interview with the president, his first since Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert U.S. military raid on his Pakistan compound, will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, May 8 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television network. Photo: CBS NEWS/?2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. *BEST QUALITY SCREENGRAB*
Maybe stay away from the historical scholarship. Photo: CBS

Liberals are dissatisfied with President Obama because liberals are dissatisfied with pretty much every president. That was the argument in my piece from last month about the history of liberal disillusionment. Unsurprisingly, President Obama agrees. CBS has released a transcript of Obama’s interview with Steve Kroft from a week ago referencing it:


Look, Steve, you know, there was actually a good article written a while back, taking a look at the old press clips from every Democratic president, dating back to Franklin Roosevelt, including Roosevelt. And, you know, nobody was happy with them. Nobody was happy with them. You know?

Bill Clinton, who’s beloved by the Democratic Party, at this point — and I consider to be an extraordinarily successful president — you look at his old press clippings, he was getting beat up with some of the same stuff I was getting beat up with.

Harry Truman, now lionized, you know? “Give ‘em hell, Harry.” At the time, everybody was calling him a complete and utter disaster. F.D.R., people, for the first couple of years of his presidency, were saying, “What he’s doing’s not working.” You know? He was being called a radical by the business community. He was being called a sellout by the left.

So this all comes with the territory, but this isn’t about me.

That’s a pretty accurate summation. But then, later in the interview, Obama’s historical interpretation takes a pretty strange turn:

That’s a pretty accurate summation. But then, later in the interview, Obama’s historical interpretation takes a pretty strange turn:

As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history.

It’s hard to figure out what Obama is saying here. He begins by saying his accomplishments rank ahead of any president except Johnson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, and he lists those as only “possible” exceptions! But then at the end of the sentence, he confines his list to “modern history,” which I think is true – Obama’s record does rank above any president since Roosevelt. But then why was he including Lincoln on that list? Lincoln isn’t modern.

Barack Obama, Bad Presidential Historian