Over the past few days, I have been watching a history series on the American Presidents, past to present. The series, which I recorded from the History channel, covers the Presidents in order and includes commentary on their major accomplishments and failures over about eight hours of video.
While it has been quite some time since I’ve taken a history class, the thing that has really struck me about the series is just how imperfect and human all of our Presidents have been. When I was younger, I guess I must have viewed the Presidents as larger than life figures. But now as I have aged, I realize that they are just like the rest of us, trying to do the best they can with imperfect information set against a backdrop of often very unexpected events. As the coverage progressed from still shots, to radio, to black and white and then color television, it was tempting to be lulled into the view that we’ve somehow advanced ourselves as humans, but I’m not so sure. We may have better technology, but I don’t know that it translates into wiser decisions. All Presidents still make good and bad decisions. The only thing that changes is the context and time.
Reagan is largely credited with ushering in the final downfall of Communism, but the seeds had been planted over several Presidencies during the previous twenty years. I wonder what Reagan would think about yesterday’s news from Davos, where capitalist Russians and Chinese blamed the global economic woes on the mismanagement and greed of U.S. capitalists. I hate to say it, but there is an element of truth to their comments. What started as a sub prime mortgage issue in the United States has gone global through a massively complex network of asset securitizations.
How ironic. Just twenty or so years ago, Communism was left for dead as our enemies chose the better path based on capitalism. Now we’re paying for our capitalist mistakes by becoming more socialist ourselves. Certainly capitalism has never claimed perfection, which the mess we’re in can attest.
Like our Presidents, perhaps our own nation isn’t so perfect after all. Fortunately, a little humility never hurt anyone.