Originally Posted by MWM
Just a general question I've always wondered about: how much of a President's legacy is defined by the times he presided over versus actual accomplishments? For example, Bill Clinton's legacy will always be related to the economy of the 1990s (yes, in the long-term folks will forget about Monica). I've stated before that I think Clinton helped create an environment that allowed a 90s type of boom, but it was probably going to happen either way. But, was it even possible for a guy like Clinton to BE a great president through a perioid of peace and prosperity where we weren't faced with the types of challenges we've faced in other periods of time? Most of the challenges came in the form of overseas financial crises that will probably be lost in the history books as non-US problems. But I still wonder what Bill Clinton could have possibly done to be GREAT during his administration.
By contrast we have Geroge W Bush. His years as President have marked a time when we've needed a great leader and the potential for greatness is there for the taking, unlike hte Clinton years. I don't want to say that he's done everything wrong, but I would argue that he's failed and in a pretty big way at steering us through these times. The damage he's done by his foreign policy alone will take years to repair. I've heard many comment that they're glad we don't have Clinton or Gore in the White House now for the war on terror. I might agree on Gore, but I think Bill Clinton would have done very well during this time. Would he have taken on the task with GREATNESS, I don't know, but I think this nation's perception of Bill Clinton would be completely different if he would have been President over the last three years. In contrast, had Reagan come along in 1992 instead of 1980, how would he be viewed?
In general I believe the times/challenges a president is faced with greatly affects how he is regarded by history. Had Reagan defeated Ford for the GOP nomination in 1976 and then defeated Carter for the presidency that fall, while I believe he would have been a better president than Carter, I'm also confident he would not have been nearly as successful as he was in the 1980s. Had Reagan been elected in 1976, it would have been by a very narrow margin, not the landslide he enjoyed in 1980; he would have faced a Congress totally controlled by the Democrats, rather than having a Republican controlled Senate and enough "Reagan Democrats" to allow much of his program to get through the House as was the case in the early 1980s; and he would have lacked any mandate. Most likely Reagan would have then been a one term president, perhaps to be followed by the Ted Kennedy administration in 1980. Reagan was fortunate to lose to Ford in 1976 IMO.
Regardless of how well he did, and regardless of his abilities, Clinton did not face the challenges of a Lincoln or a Franklin Roosevelt or a Truman or even of a Reagan. Had they failed, they wouldn't be regarded as great or near great presidents, but if they hadn't have come to office facing those challenges they would not be regarded as achieving greatness either.