The Legacy Of A President

Greg Stokes

If you ask people what they remember about a certain President, most will mention some of the same things. Presidents throughout history leave a legacy of some sort. Some have a great legacy, and some not so great. Let’s go down memory lane for just a minute as we look at the Presidents of the last fifty plus years.

What comes to mind when the name John F. Kennedy is spoken? For me it is his speeches, beginning with his inaugural address in 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” This speech has inspired a generation of men and women to enter public service.  We can also reflect on other memorable moments in his presidency, such as the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban Missile Crisis. But the one event that we remember most is that sad day in November of 1963 when a talented and gifted leader was taken from us by a sniper’s bullet. Kennedy’s legacy was that he was not allowed to have a completed one.

After Kennedy’s death, we entered the Johnson era. This President’s legacy is not as well-known as others, for the simple reason that he had to live in the shadow of a slain President. But there are two things that I remember about this time in history: the Vietnam War and riots in the major cities of America. The war strengthened under Johnson, who micro-managed it from the White House. At home, cities were dealing with their own war, based on race and economic conditions. I can remember being a young boy in the Detroit area in 1967 when the city was being burned and violence was in the streets. It was a time of turmoil and the President was Lyndon B. Johnson.

Next we have Richard Nixon, the once-defeated candidate who ran against Jack Kennedy. He set himself up as the answer to the race problems, the never-ending war, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. But his legacy is wrapped up in one word: Watergate. Nixon was one of the brightest men alive when it came to foreign policy, but that will always be overshadowed by a night when a few zealots decided to break into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate building.

Nixon was replaced by Gerald Ford, who will go down in history as the man who pardoned Nixon. Ford was then put out of office in an election won by Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter’s legacy is high interest rates, gas station lines, and hostages in Iran.  Both of these men were, and are, good men. They were faced with many obstacles, such as a loss of confidence in the office itself.

Then there were the Reagan Years. Ronald Reagan followed Carter and on day one was able to see the hostages released in Iran. What a gift as he began his legacy as President. But there were controversies during Reagan’s time in office. We cannot forget Iran-Contra, Oliver North, and the rebels in Central America. But when Ronald Reagan died, the nation truly mourned a beloved leader. I remember his humor. Even in 1981 when he was shot and at the hospital he joked to the staff, “I hope you are all Republicans.” But I think the legacy of Reagan will be his way of bringing a nation together when our hearts were broken, such as the day the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up and Reagan said that the crew left this world “to touch the face of God.”

After Reagan came George H. W. Bush. President Bush was the quiet Vice-President to Ronald Reagan. He kept out of the spotlight for eight years, until it was time to run for President. What do we remember? We may remember Dan Quayle as his selection for Vice-President. Has anyone heard from Dan lately? Then there was the first Gulf War. I remember the Wednesday night it began. I was in my office, working late and watching the news, when the war broke out to liberate Kuwait. I did not make it home until midnight because I was glued to the TV. But his legacy will also be the shift in the economy and not knowing the price of bread and milk. The last thing that people remember is during the Clinton/Bush/Perot debate when President Bush was caught on camera looking at his watch, as if he had somewhere else to be; that is why most of us now take our watches off during debates.

After President Bush came Bill Clinton, the comeback kid. His legacy can be summed up in one word also: Monica. This will always be the incident that overshadows all his achievements Clinton had in his eight years. He was, and still is, a gifted speaker. Though some will disagree, the economy grew during his time as President. But it all comes back to his personal choices and an intern half his age.

Then there’s the legacy of George W. Bush. From his “Bullhorn Moment” just days after the attacks on 9/11 to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, he will be remembered as the president who, like Franklin D. Roosevelt, had his presidency changed by one act of violence on our country. But George W. Bush’s time as president began with controversy and hanging chads and the greatest legal battle in our nation’s history to determine who won the election of 2000.

That brings us to Barack Obama. President Obama will be remembered in my opinion as the president who changed the policy of health insurance now known as Obamacare. But I also remember the night that the television news station announced that President would be addressing the nation. In our home we speculated on what the address would be about, wondering why the president was interrupting our evening shows. Then the announcement came that a group of highly trained Navy SEALs had found and killed Osama bin Laden. The man who planned the attacks on 9/11 was finally gone from the face of the earth, and the nation finally had some closure.

But, that event would become overshadowed some years later when on the anniversary date of 9/11 members of Ansar al-Sharia attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, resulting in the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens along with three other brave Americans.

A president’s legacy is determined by his actions in times of crisis more than any other reason. How a president handles a national emergency more than how he addresses the common, everyday business of the people will either elevate him to a legacy of greatness or a legacy of despair.

In 2016 the American people elected Donald Trump as their president. His legacy is unwritten at this time and he still has less than two years to select how he will be remembered.

By Greg Stokes
Published on March 7, 2019 at

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