American voters have “hiring and firing authority — and they take it very seriously,” journalist and author Robert Merry tells Newsmax.TV.
“The voters were invited by the Constitution to have judgment, pass judgment on the president in four-year increments, the four-year term,” said Merry in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. “They have hiring and firing authority — and they take it very seriously. So they look at the presidents in four-year increments.”
But historians view presidents differently, explained Merry, a Washington correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.
“Historians tend to look at the president in terms of his overall term in office, his time in service and what did he accomplish during that time.”
The author of “Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians,”
Merry said that most historians seek to compare presidents to one another based on polls as well as their own sense of where presidents rank in history.
“What I’m trying to bring to the equation is a look at what the voters were thinking at the time — a contemporaneous judgment of the electorate,” he explained. “I feel that in some cases, that’s been ignored — and it really shouldn’t be ignored.”
He believes that historians should not elevate themselves above voters in deciding a president’s rightful place in history.
“After all, in presidential politics, as in retailing, the customer is always right,” he insisted.
One such example would be Harry S. Truman, whom Merry says is generally considered by historians to be “a great president” with such successes as the Berlin Air Lift and the Marshall Plan.
“He saved Europe from the Soviet Union,” Merry observed. “He brought about a peaceful and smooth transition from a wartime to a peacetime economy . . . He saved probably a million American lives when he made the agonizing decision to drop the atomic bomb.”
But all of those accomplishments were largely from Truman’s first term, “the inherited term that he got when [Franklin D. Roosevelt] died,” according to Merry.
Had he been judged on his second term, Truman would not be looked upon as fondly.
“It was characterized by a faltering economy, by a war he got into, couldn’t get out of and couldn’t win,” Merry explained. “So the voters were really pretty much tired of Harry Truman by the time he gave up the presidency.”
That might explain why he didn’t run again. “He kind of wanted to run again; he was entitled to, even under the 22nd Amendment, but the party made it very clear that he wouldn’t get the nomination,” observed Merry, who points to Ronald Reagan as a president that is moving toward what he deems to be a “leader of destiny.”
Merry says that a small handful of such presidents had specific qualities “that made it possible for them to transform the political landscape and set America on a new direction.”
They understood their time and possessed an acute understanding of what the country needed and wanted during their time in office.
“They had to have a vision,” he explained. “They had to have an understanding of how the country could be changed and what that changed country would be. That’s not common among politicians, actually.”
In addition, they all had an ability to leverage their authority to get the country moving.
“They had to have an ability to grab hold of the levers of power in an effective way, and pull them, and nudge them, and push them in ways that move the country towards that vision,” he said. “Reagan had all of those.”
Even so, historians have not yet gotten to a point where they consistently rank the Great Communicator into that “great, or near great, category” of presidents.
It is too soon for the likes of Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or even Bill Clinton to be judged fairly by historians.
“It’s really not fair or appropriate to attempt to give what might be considered a definitive historical judgment on any president until at least a generation has passed,” Merry said.
“On the other hand, we can look at what the voters ultimately judged. So what I say about George W. Bush is that his first term was a modest success,” explained Merry.
“The economy was — after he got us through the recession that he inherited from Clinton — it was a mild recession, but a recession nonetheless — he moved the country nicely in economic terms.”
The largely unpopular Iraq War dragged on Bush’s second term.
“The war in Iraq had not really become clearly a quagmire or a difficult situation that it later became after he was re-elected,” Merry said. “So his first term was a modest success. His second term, by any standard, would have to be judged not a success.”
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