Ronald Reagan: The economic turnaround and end of Cold War (1981-1989) When Ronald Reagan assumed office, the country suffered from double digit inflation and unemployment and the Soviet Union ran rough shot around the world. When he left office, the economy continued to expand, unemployment and inflation were under control, and the Soviet Union teetered on the edge. In between, Reagan initiated economic reforms and a military buildup which resulted in the economic turnaround and eventual Soviet collapse.
George H.W. Bush: Gulf War I (1989-1993) The Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. At the same time, the United States emerged as the world’s only superpower with a decisive military victory over Iraq. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 bringing a rapid American response. George Bush led a global coalition against the aggression and attempted to negotiate. Hussein refused to deal in good faith forcing Bush to use the military. After a six week air campaign, the Allied ground offensive lasted 100 hours before Hussein surrendered. For the second time in history, the U.S. and United Nations blunted naked aggression.
Bill Clinton: Impeachment (1993-2001) The 1990s have been described as a “vacation from history.” President Clinton epitomized this as he obsessed over his legacy and engaged in a dalliance in the oval office with an intern 30 years his junior. Clinton became embroiled in several scandals and a sexual harassment lawsuit. Eventually, intern Monica Lewinski was deposed by Independent Prosecutor Kenneth Starr. However, she admitted an affair with the president to her co-worker Linda Tripp. Tripp taped conversations with Lewinsky and turned them over to Starr. Clinton denied the relationship under oath. To the public, Clinton claimed “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” In the end, Starr sent his report to Congress, which decided to impeach the president for perjury and obstruction of justice. For a time, it appeared Clinton would be removed from office. However, he managed to control the spin and changed the topic from obstruction of justice to sex. As a result, the Senate voted to acquit as quickly as possible.
George W. Bush: 911 (2001-2009) On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked American airliners and used them as weapons of mass destruction. They targeted America’s political, economic, and military centers and murdered 3000 people in New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. The terrorists flew two jetliners into the World Trade Center destroying them. They also crashed one plane into the Pentagon doing major damage to a small section of the structure. The fourth plane was brought down by passengers en route to the Capitol building in Washington D.C. President Bush was visiting a school at the time. At first, he continued his visit until it was clear that the country was under attack. At that point, he took to Air Force One to monitor the situation. Eventually, he ordered the plane back to Washington.
In the aftermath of the attack, Bush demonstrated decisive leadership and served as griever-in-chief. At Ground Zero, Bush promised a swift response to those responsible. He reiterated this resolve in an address to a joint session of Congress reminiscent of Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor speech. At home, the president created the Department of Homeland Security designed to integrate America’s intelligence and develop strategies to combat terror threats. In October, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and removed the Taliban government. Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden escaped and became the target of a decade-long manhunt before intelligence agencies tracked him down in Pakistan. As a result of Pakistani duplicity and Afghani corruption, the war lasted over a decade.
In addition to Afghanistan, Bush launched an invasion of Iraq because of fears over Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. At the time, most intelligence agencies and politicians believed Hussein possessed weapons and Hussein himself acted as though he had them. However, the weapons did not materialize after the invasion. The Iraq War became a major controversy and served to drag down the president’s approval rating and the Republican Party in general. Despite this, President Bush received a thunderous ovation at a Ground Zero ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of 911 and has received similar ovations when appearing in public.
Barack Obama: The Great Recession (2009-present) The Great Recession began in 2007 as a result of policies dating to the mid-1990s and ended in June 2008. Prior to the recession’s end, the Obama Administration passed a massive stimulus program designed to fix the economy. However, the $800 billion American Recovery and Investment Act did little to stimulate the economy. It was supposed to initiate “shovel ready projects”, but the president later admitted these projects did not exist. Additionally, it was supposed to prevent unemployment from reaching 8% and result in 6.5% unemployment by the end of 2011. Instead, official unemployment is over 9%. After the act’s passage, the administration ignored the plight of the unemployed to focus on a health care reform bill that most Americans opposed and is of doubtful constitutionality. By the end of 2011, the economy remained in dire straits and the president’s re-election chances looking bleak.
- See Presidential Legacies part VI: Truman to Carter
- See Presidential Legacies part V: Roosevelt to Roosevelt
- Presidential Legacies part IV: Garfield to McKinley
- Presidential Legacies part III: Taylor to Hayes
- Presidential Legacies part II: Adams to Polk
- Presidential Legacies part I: Washington to Monroe