Obama’s Opportunity for Greatness Slipping From Grasp

December 5, 2013 Updated: December 5, 2013

As the first black president in American history, Barack Obama naturally has had very high hopes invested in him. He emulated Abraham Lincoln in at least one respect when he chose to have the best and most able people working for his administration, including Hillary Clinton and Bush-era Sectary of Defense Robert Gates.

Now, almost five years into his presidency, it has gradually become obvious that President Obama will have almost no hope of achieving greatness. Great presidents are those who made fundamental contributions to the long-term health of the nation. Lincoln accomplished many great deeds for his nation, and it is possible that no contemporary or future president will be able achieve even half as much. Lincoln presided over seemingly impossible legislation that ended slavery, yet Obama could not achieve a debt deal without shutting down the government.

President Obama will probably be best remembered for his signature Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare,” and it will be a mixed memory. This law has the potential to transform the American health care system into one that will be very similar to Canada. Big businesses will be very happy to unload their employees’ health care expenses, which will remove this big uncertainty to their bottom line, but small businesses will suffer a lot during this process. The nation has not reached a point of consensus on how to proceed with national health care coverage, and it is still too early for the implementation of “Obamacare.” This will hurt Democrats in coming elections.

The ending of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be remembered as great achievements, because any presidential candidate with any hope of being elected in 2008 would have had to promise to end at least the Iraq war, just as Nixon had to promise in his 1968 campaign to end the war in Vietnam.

Actually Obama’s performance is not his fault, in some respects. To be a great president, you have to be born during great times, when society needs great leaders. “Great times” are times when society faces so many serious problems that the nation faces the danger of social and political revolt. The leader who can save the nation during great times becomes a great politician. Now the United States does not face such danger yet, so no matter how hard Obama tries, he will not be remembered among the greatest presidents in American history. People just placed too much hope in him.

In American history, Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln were truly great politicians. Washington, as general and first president, played the key role in creating the nation, and Jefferson laid the foundation to make sure the nation remained a great one for a long time to come. Lincoln solved the country’s most nagging problem, slavery, while keeping the country in one piece. Although Franklin Roosevelt made important contributions to society, it was actually World War II that ended the Great Depression. External factors helped his presidency.

Why it is so difficult for politicians to concentrate on addressing a potential cancer in the body of our society until the very late stage of the disease, when we face the stark choice of life and death? The reason actually is pretty simple: human beings are selfish by nature and treatment of cancer (either fiscal or social problems) will cause lots of pain in other parts of the body and most people in society do not want to be seriously hurt during the process. Only when the cancer spreads to the whole body and everyone feels the deep pain then will they tolerate the doctor (great politicians) cutting out the tumor and the surrounding toxic flesh.

Now this country has a similar cancer: long-term fiscal health. As in any society that develops toward prosperity, as time goes by, its citizens are living an increasingly good material life and money plays a more prominent role in their daily lives. When people place more weight on material life, they will become shortsighted and their moral standards are not as high as before. The overall moral standards in America today are much lower than in the ’50s and ’60s, and money is playing an ever more prominent role in society. The result is more and more politicians care only about how to obtain the funds sufficient to be elected and re-elected. With their constituents having no wish to suffer pain for the cancer of the society, the result is political deadlock until the last moment when everyone feels real danger.

President Obama has a real chance to become a great American president if he can, working with Congress, pass legislation that fundamentally solves the long-term fiscal threat facing the nation. But given the current political landscape, the chances are slim.

Warren Song is a New York-based financial consultant

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.