"The country looks to the President on occasions like this to be reassuring to the nation," Peter Jennings once said. "Some Presidents do it well, some Presidents don't." That's how the late ABC News anchor assessed President George W. Bush's performance on Sept. 11, 2001. The criticism was superficial, shortsighted and unfair, given that President Bush's finest moments came in rallying the country after 9/11 ‹ not scapegoating the previous administration.
Bush didn't spend the next few months claiming that he "inherited" a national security mess nor did he complain about the economy which faltered in two of the final three quarters under President Clinton before contracting again in Bush's first year.
Likewise, President Reagan didn't whine about the soaring unemployment and burgeoning inflation that awaited him after President Carter's tenure. These men understood that they campaigned for the opportunity to serve as President and to lead by making difficult, sometimes unpopular decisions.
That's why President Obama's transformation from a candidate of hope and change to a president of gloom, blame and opportunism is so disappointing - even for those who didn't buy what he was selling as a candidate. His ability to truly inspire 53% of the voters seemed, at least, refreshing.
Now, the Obama team takes every opportunity to complain that they "inherited" a deficit, an "economic crisis," and "a big mess." No hope, just bellyaching.
Despite his messianic aura, Obama didn't mysteriously appear on planet earth a few months ago, whereupon he was thrust into office. He spent four years in the U.S. Senate (between campaign appearances), including two years when his party was in the majority with power to block policies it deemed destructive.
If he and his Democrat allies accept no responsibility for the current mess, it's fair to ask:
Did you see it coming but chose to do nothing, calculating that the ensuing catastrophe would be more beneficial to your political ambitions?
Or were you just as complicit in or oblivious to the financial implosion as those who came before you?
Either Obama put his political agenda ahead of the country's economic wellbeing or he, like those before him, is severely over-matched. Now he has reverted to the form that made him The Most Liberal Member of the U.S. Senate - exploiting economic turmoil to advance an agenda that rapidly expands the size, scope and debt of the federal government.
Americans might have accepted the behemoth $787 billion stimulus as a one-time response to severe economic distress but not as an opening bid on future spending. After all, Obama told us, "When the American people spoke last November, they were . . . looking for a change in the way Washington does business."
Instead, Americans got a Trojan horse that indefinitely expands entitlements and explodes deficits.
Obama promises to cut budget deficits in half. But compared to what? Bush's deficits, prior to 2009, maxed out at $412 billion. Obama's benchmark is the $1.3 trillion deficit for 2009 - the one he "inherited" - which is approaching $2 trillion under his stewardship.
To Bush, 2009 was an aberration in response to a fiscal crisis; Obama sees it as an opportunity to grow government permanently. Even taking Obama's budget at face value, his smallest deficit will be $533 billion in 2013.
Obama's budget includes his own $750 billion banking bailout, a $650 billion carbon tax, a $410 billion omnibus appropriation for 2009 - loaded with 8,570 earmarks. Even Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) said this "only exacerbates the problem."
After vowing to "ban all earmarks" and to "go through the federal budget line-by-line" to cut wasteful spending, Obama is now falling into the same trap that snared President Bush.
No change here, except that Bush seems miserly.
Because I reject his principles, the best I hoped for from President Obama was honesty, responsibility, and a degree of humility. So far, he's 0-for-3.. Worse still, the pathetic tactic of whining about problems you campaigned to solve is beneath the Office of the President.
Memo to President Obama: You may never be a President I can agree with, but put on your "big boy britches" and start acting like one I can respect.
------------------------------ Mark Hillman served as senate majority leader and state treasurer. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com