Obama

George H.W. Bush: Lessons for Obama


Out of all the political gaffes made in the 20th century, the American public failed itself in 1992 when it did not re-elect George H. Bush President. I am not a Republican (nor am I a Democrat) yet George H. Bush is on of my favorite Presidents of all time. He brought about the most devastating military force the world has ever known and he called out Reagan’s economic policies as early as 1980. Yet, he was not re-elected when he raised taxes. However, economic policies he put in place in 1991-1992 set the stage for balanced budgets of the Clinton era. There are several lessons from Bush’s presidency which any future president can learn from.

Lesson One – Network
George H. Bush is the ultimate schmoozer. Beginning in the 1960s, Bush coveted relationships. Throughout his political career it was those relationships behind the scenes which would allow him to achieve first Operation Desert Shield, then Operation Desert Shield. Whether it was a Congressman, Director of the CIA, RNC Chairman, Envoy to China, or Vice-President, Bush had over 25 years of contacts all around the world when he became President.

For Bush, it was these contacts that made his Presidency. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Bush called upon his 25 years of experience to liberate Kuwait. For Bush, he was not the greatest of public speakers. He was an administrator at heart. And in administrating the war and coalition, he had no equal.

As President Obama gets ready to maneuver American forces around the planet, he would be wise to follow not only Bush’s ability to network, but also his ability to set clear, achievable objectives in the conflict. Now there are some who will say that Desert Storm should have gone to Kuwait. But behind the scenes, the Saudis, who actually paid for the war, said no. To go into Baghdad at that time would have been a mistake. Even Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney agreed with the policy at the time.

Lesson Two – Read My Lips
George H. Bush was not Ronald Reagan’s lackey. he had his own mind and his own beliefs about how the economy worked. In fact, during the 1980 Presidential Campaign, Bush called Reagan’s trickle down theory “Voodoo Economics.” Throughout the 1980s, as the deficit skyrocketed from 300 billion to over 1.2 trillion under Reagan. In fact, Bush campaigned under the promise of no new taxes.

However, the budget problems continued under Bush. He knew something had to be done. He raised taxes in 1991. No matter what Bush did the next year, the American Public did not care. For Bush had broken the promise not to raise taxes. The last year of his presidency spiraled but little did Americans know at the time, the deficit began to shrink. It would continue to do so as the new revenue combined with lowering spending would balance the budget in six years after Bush left office.

What Bush always lacked what he called “the vision thing.” Bush was a great administrator and reactor to events in the world but he was not proactive in the White House. His reaction to events was always sound, but he lacked any sound policy or principle on which to be re-elected. As a result, he was not re-elected.

As for the current Executive, one wonders whether his vision of what America can be will get him re-elected. For everything that Bush wasn’t, Obama is. For everything Bush was, Obama is not. In order for him to avoid the pitfalls of George H. Bush, President Obama will need to learn how to build the coalitions needed in world events yet mesh his vision with the American public’s vision of America.

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush

Woodrow Wilson: Lessons for Obama

Woodrow Wilson always fancied himself as a progressive at heart. Prior to his election in 1912, he had been the head of Princeton and Governor of New Jersey. He considered himself an expert in domestic affairs and a novice at foreign affairs. He often noted it would be a shame if he had to strictly deal with foreign affairs. During Wilson’s eight years, a number of financial and social reforms were passed, including four amendments to the constitution, but it was foreign affairs which dominated his presidency, and thus, his legacy. When one begins to look at what lessons once can draw from Wilson’s eight years in office, it is a cautionary tale of avoidance at all costs.

Lesson One – Get Re-elected
Wilson was originally elected on his pledge for “A New Freedom”. This domestic agenda included financial, currency, income taxes, and trust reform as well as tariff reform. Unfortunately for Wilson, what took up most of his time was the Mexican Revolution. Events south of the border required Wilson to act before it spread onto American soil. Up to this point in time, the United States had operated under the auspices of the Monroe Doctrine that this our hemisphere. Teddy Roosevelt had added his Roosevelt Corollary and his successor, William Howard Taft, just threw money at the problem in what became known as Dollar Diplomacy. As 1913 drew on, Wilson followed a policy of what he called “Watchful Waiting”. He knew with all the players in Mexico (Carranza, Huerta, Obregon, Villa, and Zapata), there was no one to trust.

As events in Mexico began to play themselves out, events in Europe quickly boiled over and a regional conflict in the Balkans blew up like a powder keg and most of Europe was involved in less than a month. Wilson knew the United States could not get involved. He declared the US Neutral. Over the next two and half years, the economic interests of the US collided with the military interests of German U-boats in the North Atlantic. US ships began to be sunk, followed by a pledge, followed by another ship, and followed by a pledge, etc.

When Wilson campaigned for President in 1916, he campaigned and was re-elected on the fact he kept us out of the Great War. However, before he could be sworn in for his second term, Germany ratcheted up war fervor when the Zimmerman Telegram was published. The Telegram warned Mexico that the Germans would unleash unrestricted submarine warfare on the Atlantic . The note also pleaded with the new Mexican government to join Germany in a war against the Americans and in return they would get the Mexican cession back. To most Americans, they were outraged. However, Mexico was having a hard time fighting its own revolution let alone a war overseas. In April of 1917, war fever had spread across the US and the Congress would declare war on Germany.

Regardless of what any first term Presidents wants to do, their first priority is to get re-elected. Wilson proved that. However, once re-elected, all bets and promises are off.

Lesson Two – World Organizations are Bad…Maybe
Americans don’t want anyone telling them what to do. When the Great War was over in 1918, Woodrow Wilson left to go to Paris as part of the Peace Conference. His 14 Points had captured the imagination of the populace and turned him into a rock star President. However, soon after the peace process began, rather than follow his 14 Points, Britain and France wanted revenge for the war. The resulting treaty was brutal towards Germany and helped set up World War II with its reparations and mandates, but it was never passed. The US was never going to give up its autonomy on foreign affairs to some European group. Led by Senator Lodge, the US Senate never approved the treaty and would sign a separate treaty later. The unwillingness of the US to sign the treaty would make the League powerless to stop Hitler some 17 years later.

While Wilson’s 14 Points could have averted another war, we will never know. What we do know is the Versailles Peace Treaty “screwed the pooch”. Whether it was Britain’s and France’s incessant need for revenge or the Lodge reservations need for autonomy, we were no longer living in a world where the Monroe Doctrine would apply. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, America would go in an isolationist frenzy. No matter what we might think, America could no longer stick its head in the sand and ignore what is taking place in the world. The long-term consequences of doing so are too dangerous. After World War II, Wilson’s 14 Points would become a reality in a new United Nations.

Lesson Three – Don’t Tell the People What They Can and Can Not Do
Wilson often fancied himself an expert when it came to his domestic agenda. Only two Presidents passed more legislation in US History, FDR and LBJ. From anti-trust regulation to child labor laws to women’s right to vote to prohibition, Wilson was at the forefront of an idealist time in America. His 14 Points were part of the idealism, but Prohibition was one of America’s biggest mistakes. The amendment that made the manufacture, distribution, and sale of alcohol illegal would be repealed in the early 1930s. However in the years in between, organized crime gained control of the industry and a crime wave unlike any America has ever seen took place.

To legislate morality, or anything for that matter, is to try to control the masses. By stipulating that the citizenry can do this or can not do that is promote tyranny on our shores. Americans have never liked being told what to do and what not to do as far back as the 1760s and the events leading up to the Revolution. Maybe the health care plan will work itself out next year, maybe it won’t. Who knows what will happen. But if you want a clue, look at the reaction of the public during prohibition. It could be that reform and regulation of the Industry might have been the more historically accurate choice rather legislating that every American have health care. We will have to wait and see how it plays out. Otherwise, lesson number one will be for naught.

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush

The Enigma of Reagan – Lessons for Obama

In this continuing historical look at past Presidents and what Obama could glean from them, I have decided to add one more to the list: Ronald Reagan. To me, Reagan is an enigma – a mystery wrapped in a riddle. Here is a man who made Americans feel good about themselves and their country after the “malaise” of the late 1960s and 1970s. Here is a man who Obama even called a “transformative” leader. But the facts of the matter state deficits rose dramatically during the Reagan era, a recession never truly ended, the Iran-Contra scandal rocked our confidence, and jobs for new college graduates dwindled (this author included). His trickle down theory of economics (or what his ice-President called “Voodoo Econmics”) never really worked. However, his policies along with Margaret Thatcher’s paved the way for what would become globalization.

Now Reagan’s vision of less government is something I agree with wholeheartedly -“Government is not the solution. Government is the problem”. Now we will most likely see a trillion dollar deficit next year. To me that is just mind boggling. After 2009, I don’t know how the deficit will look in 2010. But if the economy hasn’t started a turn by 2010, Obama could become a one-termer. However, he could learn a thing or two from Reagan about how to survive, and thrive, during a recession.

1. Character Counts
While Reagan was against government handouts and welfare, he would often write people checks out of his own checkbook to help them out. Not many people know this about him. Despite his penchant for less government, it didn’t mean that he was a cold heartless bastard, rather the opposite. Men born before World War II in this country have a different way of looking at what it means to suffer and help somebody. Self-reliance and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps were how you got out of hard times. Hard work and honor were how you took care of your family. My father was never one to give handouts, you worked your way out things. Today, life is quite different and I tend to lean towards Reagan on this one.

2. Lassez Faire Leadership
How much “hands-off” is too much “hands-off”. I remember junk bond scandal after junk bond scandal in the 1980s along with the Keating Scandal. Today the government has handed over billions in the TARP plan. Unfortunately, they cannot account for where it all went. Obama will have to walk a fine line between regulation/oversight/transparency and the government having too much role in the economy. As a strict free market kind-of-guy, sometimes a President and government has to let some of these companies go under. Let new more efficient companies take their place. Now, the dilemma for Obama will be how much regulation there will be.

3. Communication
Tell it to us straight. We can take it. Don’t sugarcoat the problems. We are Americans and what we do best is rise from tragedy. We only ask for the truth. What Reagan did best was communicate. Obama has shown flashes of brilliance in his 4 years on the national stage. Of all of his strengths, his communication skills have the ability to inspire a generation and to rank with our greatest presidents. The question now becomes a matter of practice over ability.

As for where Reagan stands on my list of top Presidents, I do not have him in my top ten but he is close. 20 years since he left office is way too close to judge the effects of his policies but I do not see him getting much higher than say…12?

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush

JFK and Obama – Lessons

Youth
Inspiration
Larger than life…

The comparisons are too easy to pick out. But when it comes to lessons, the lessons for Obama from John F. Kennedy are a mixture of both good and bad.
1. The Bad
– You can make every possible mistake your first year and still salvage a legacy
– Bay of Pigs – When generals get into politics, it is not a good thing. Curtis LeMay tried to bully Kennedy and he did into this disaster.
– Soviets in Space – Cut them off at the pass.
– Vietnam – Keep your opinions to yourself about governments we are propping up.
– Now despite these failures, Kennedy was able to learn from them and forge ahead his own policy, his own agenda, and his own legacy
2. The Good
– Cuban Missile Crisis – Make the other guy blink
– Peace Corps – Leave a legacy behind that is distinctly you
– West Berlin/Ireland – What most people underestimate is the ability to make a great speech. Hillary discounted Obama’s ability to make a speech, and actually made fun of his ability. But when we look at JFK, his humor and his vision both rise in his speeches in foreign countries. Aside from his inauguration to his man to the moon speech, some of his best speeches were abroad.
– Challenge America – what has America been asked to do since 1961?
– Space – Maybe the economy right now is the best thing for the resurgence of the space program, but where are we going in space? Set some long range and short range goals in space.
– Civil Rights – unfortunately, your election will not heal the wounds of 235 years of slavery, but “it ain’t gonna hurt”.

But the biggest lesson…
It is all about “the vision” thing. Jefferson had it. JFK had it. What is your vision for America at home and abroad.

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush

Eisenhower Lessons for Obama

People look at me strange when I pick Eisenhower as one of my favorite Presidents. It is not controversial, but it sure is arguable. For many reasons, I like Ike. And I like Ike a lot. If you ever read any of correspondence of Ike, you get right away that he is not some lovable lunkhead but a master manager of men and men with different and competing personalities. Here is what Obama can learn from him.

1. Ike’s greatest gift to the American people was a peaceful world. He is not given enough credit for not blowing up the world in the 1950s. He could have easily used the bomb against the Soviets or sent troops into Hungary in 1956 or wherever. He used force as a deterrent to keep the peace. Call it brinkmanship, call it mutual assured destruction, call it whatever you like but we are still here.

2. Infrastructure: Today’s interstate system goes all the way back to Ike’s travels in Germany during the waning days of World War II where the autobahn was the inspiration for the interstate highway system. Now Hitler had gotten the idea of wide pathways from Napoleon who stole them from the Romans – all for military reasons. But it reminded Ike of having to travel across the country as a young officer in the 1920s and it was not pleasant. As a result, the infrastructure laid out the by the Eisenhower interstate system paved the way for economic growth and travel in this country. It is still how goods and people travel in this country. How will Obama upgrade our infrastructure in the years to come which will enable our economy and society to function at a high level for years to come? Will it be an energy infrastructure upgrade or transportation or both?

3. Trust No One

Enough Said…

4. Supreme Court Choices – Eisenhower made 5 choices to the Supreme Court in the 1950s. That is an astronomical number. In doing so, his choices set the stage for many landmark cases in the 1950s and 1960s. Choose wisely. By the looks of this Supreme Court, all but Roberts look like they have one foot in the grave.

5. When judging a President, and I have said this before, it is not so much the actions you make, but rather the effects of the actions over time. Looking at Eisenhower, he was criticized for his choices at the time, but in hindsight, he made all the right ones which lead to one of the most prosperous times in American history.

But above all else, choose wisely…

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush