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Steve Kraske: We may have seen our last successful president

The 2016 presidential candidates may see themselves as the fifth face on Mount Rushmore. But is it still possible to be a successful president?
The 2016 presidential candidates may see themselves as the fifth face on Mount Rushmore. But is it still possible to be a successful president? The Kansas City Star

This week, Jeb Bush announced that he’s setting up an exploratory committee to pursue the White House.

Thus begins a two-year hunt for a job that, despite it all, still ranks as the most powerful position on the planet.

Expect Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren, denials and all, to look hard at sticking their toes in the Tidal Basin, too.

All are convinced that they have the magic to boost the country. All see a path forward. There’s a good chance, too, that all see themselves as the fifth face on Mount Rushmore.

But here’s a question that will suck all the holiday spirit out of the room: Is it still possible to be a successful president?

Maybe right now you’re pointing to that photo of Ronald Reagan in your front hall. Or maybe you’re thinking of that official portrait of a smiling Bill Clinton. (That guy is always smiling.)

Or maybe you’re thinking that Barack Obama rings the bell with his rescue of the economy, health care reform, the killing of Osama bin Laden and, in recent weeks, his I’m-still-relevant moves on Cuba and immigration reform.

His job approval? 42 percent.

A growing consensus among pundits is that we may never again see a chief executive who can be branded, even grudgingly, as a president who finished a second term with robust job approval ratings and who might be considered a viable candidate for four more years if they could run again.

“Being president is the most powerful job in the world. At which you will almost certainly fail,” Chris Cillizza wrote in The Washington Post.

It’s too easy to tear down a leader. In fact, the art of the political slash-and-burn has been refined to such a fine point that it’s impossible to imagine any leader thriving in such an environment.

Republicans have proved more adept at this, with the Clinton and Obama presidencies serving as cases in point. Democrats, though, remain highly capable of surgical takedowns.

The country is too divided between red and blue. The presidential bully pulpit disappeared years ago. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle are too unrelenting and unforgiving.

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama all sought to paper over the partisan divide. Each failed spectacularly.

Jeb Bush, Christie and Hillary Clinton are all convinced that they can change the paradigm. But can anybody? You can’t help but wonder what that means for all of us.

To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to skraske@kcstar.com.

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