Obama: Is it too soon to judge his presidency?
The attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) at the start of 2011 provoked knee-jerk reactions among amateur pundits who were all too quick to place the blame on Sarah Palin, who'd posted a map on the Web with cross hairs over 20 congressional districts, including Giffords.' At the time, the editorial board encouraged people to "stop, take a deep breath, listen to the facts." But that's not what happened, the board lamented:
Within minutes, hundreds of commenters were at work across the Web loudly seeking to appropriate the story for their own purposes, in many cases fanning it for maximum fear, and injecting it into the roiling narrative of anger, partisanship and paranoia that has taken over so much of the national political conversation.
We continued to comment on this event and the overheated political rhetoric and hyper-partisanship that it inadvertently called into question. "The right bears the brunt of responsibility for this poisoned atmosphere, but it by no means has a monopoly on hate-inspiring political speech," said an editorial on Jan. 11. "The resulting hyper-partisanship is bad not because it encourages political assassinations but because it debases discourse and fuels anger, incivility and stubbornness."
Editorial board member Jon Healey wrote: "[A]s someone who loves the art of policymaking, I'm disturbed by how the country's continuous election cycle has affected the ability of legislators to seek the best approaches to governing. Ideas get reduced to caricatures. Compromises become violations of principle. And the motives of the folks on the other side are invariably corrupt."
And yet, here we are at the end of 2011, with Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and discussion boards still teeming with intemperate quick takes. President Obama has taken considerable heat this year, but isn't it too soon to accuse him of being an ineffectual leader? Isn't that one lesson from the Tucson incident?
On a Christmas Day episode of "GPS" on CNN, Fareed Zakaria interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, who reminded us that it's too early to cast Obama's legacy in stone. Here's an excerpt from their interview:
I admire him very much, and I think that his -- his time in office presented him with problems such as very few presidents have ever had to address. And given the complexity and the gravity of those problems, I think he's handled himself very well. My -- my hat goes off to him, my heart goes out to him. […]
All of our -- all of our best presidents, without exception, have had a sense of history, and I don't think that's coincidental. And one of the things that a sense of history gives to a person is not just an appreciation, an understanding of what happened before we came along, but the realization that we, too, are a part of history and we, too, are going to be judged by history. […]
And that's extremely important. Today's polls, today's -- tomorrow's headlines, are not going to matter.
Zakaria agreed: "[W]e cannot really tell the quality of a leader judged from the noise of the present. We need time and perspective."
--Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House on Dec. 22. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press