Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Suskind on Presidents and Eras

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind writes in The New York Times Magazine about Presidential eras and the 2008 election.

Not every president gets an era. Bush 41 didn’t. Reagan did, F.D.R. certainly did and L.B.J. did, too, by virtue of having presided during havoc. Clinton yearns for his eight years to be called an era but knows he fell short, and often says that a president needs to have governed during crisis to be considered great. Or at least consequential. Much like Lyndon Johnson’s, George W. Bush’s tenure was the drama of a president devoured by titanic events — forces that overwhelmed best-laid plans and even the soundest of intentions, and magnified errors.

Bush, locked in his Oedipal struggles — father and son, World War II and Vietnam, a faded generation and a fading one — again and again mistook rigidity for fortitude and never really evolved in office, as all presidents must. He rose up, using his innate trust of emotion and impulse, to meet the first challenges of 9/11, but then froze solid. At a time when the nation’s challenges, so fresh, so fast-moving, so startling, demanded constant reappraisal and response, he — the child of a president — thought it was about him: his issues, his battles, his heart. It’s not, at least not now.

In a time of crisis, the American public took hold of its system of self-governance, broken, over many years, by compulsive divisiveness, and said, Let’s try something new — and reach for history’s arc. That’s why they, the people, sent Barack Obama onto the stage. The Bush era ended, officially, the minute he passed that top step and turned his face into the roar of the future. The Obama era? Well, let’s see if he can manage hope.

--Ballard Burgher

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