Hear the words Ulysses S. Grant and what immediately comes to mind? Obviously, if you’re like most Americans, you probably think of the Civil War before anything else. Most people know that he was the Union general Lincoln finally hired after a series of terrible choices did botched jobs at leading the Union Army, and that he led the Union to victory over a depleted and ragged Rebel Army in 1865. If you're a nerd, like me, you might know that he was born Hiram, but that he changed his name at West Point.
But what about his presidency? What do you know about his administration? I teach U.S. history, and still every year I have to go back and reread the material, because when I think “Grant,” I normally just think “alcoholic” and “Whisky Ring.” Fact: the only memorable thing about Grant’s two terms in the White House is the fact that there were 11 scandals associated with his administration.
President Grant himself was never directly implicated in any of the scandals. However, his failure to deal with the guilty parties in an effective manner or publicly denounce them has discredited him in our collective memory. Nepotism was rampant during his administration and he was certainly guilty of cronyism.
At this point in his administration, Obama runs the risk of becoming another Grant. First of all, he hasn’t accomplished much so far, so there's not much to distract us with - no shiny objects to wave in front of our faces and say, "Hey! Ignore the man behind the curtain! Look at what I've done with America!" His healthcare reform efforts have been stalled by the challenges being posed in federal court. The economy sucks. Unemployment is high. The deficit soars.
What President Obama has done, however, is preside over several scandals. He may not be directly implicated, but members of his administration are. Eric Holder was subpoenaed today in relation to the Fast and Furious scandal, which is building quickly. This scandal is potentially career-ending (as it should be – it’s a disgrace). The fact that Obama has not commented or distanced himself from Attorney General Holder is disconcerting, but not surprising.
Solyndra and LightSquared are similar cases – whether or not the president can be directly blamed, somebody in his administration should take the heat for these massive (and in the case of Solyndra, expensive) screw ups. The fact that he hasn’t pointed any fingers, fired anybody, or called anyone out is telling. He’s guilty of the same type of cronyism that Ulysses S. Grant was.
So the question is: what will we remember President Obama for? One hundred years from now, when some history teacher is thinking about teaching Obama (hopefully briefly because he had only 1 term) to her class, is she going to have to dig out her book and remind herself the details, because “Obama” is synonymous with “scandal” and nothing else memorable? If he doesn’t clean up his back room, Chicago style politics and get rid of those in his administration responsible for these digressions, then maybe.