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January 27, 2010
What a successful one-term president looks like
In an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC's World News President Obama said:
I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president...
At the 25% point in his first term it may be interesting to compare Mr. Obama to an actual one-term president, who is generally acknowledged as pretty good: James K. Polk. Mr. Polk promised to serve for one term and did not seek a second term. In his four years he accomplished several important goals.
Under Polk the United States replaced its archaic system of banks consisting of the Bank of the United States and a collection of state pet banks that led in part to the Panic of 1837 with an Independent Treasury. The Independent Treasury system had its own problems and was eventually replaced by the Federal Reserve system we have today.
Prior to Polk tariffs were constructed in such a way to favor some sectors over others. Industrial concerns were favored over agricultural ones ostensibly to encourage the growth of industry, but were seen by many at the time as favoring the North over the South. Polk's lower tariffs were retained until lowered again in 1857. Tariffs were not raised again until the Civil War.
Acquisition of the Oregon Territory
Polk negotiated an agreement with Britain setting the US boundary of the Oregon Territory at the 48th parallel. Apart from the occasional millennium bomber that section of the border has remained remarkably free of controversy ever since.
Acquisition of California, New Mexico, and other scenic areas
Polk was really only interested in acquiring California, but when John Slidell arrived in Mexico to negotiate the Mexicans were outraged. They though he was there to offer compensation for the recent loss of Texas. So Polk sent Gen. Zachary Taylor to settle the matter militarily and ended up with the whole southwest instead.
In an odd parallel with recent events, the War with Mexico gave the opposing Whigs an issue, decrying the war of aggression by an out-of-control president abusing his power. They did, however, vote to fund the war in the first place. Funny how some things never change.
What has Mr. Obama done so far? Well, he nearly socialized health care. He almost closed the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. He won a Nobel Prize. He tried to get the Olympics for Chicago. He bowed down before the Saudi King and the Emperor of Japan. He made hundreds of speeches. He acquired a book from Hugo Chavez.
Another odd quirk of history: Polk tried to buy Cuba from Spain, but Spain did not want to sell since they were still making money on it. If Polk had been just a bit more successful there would be no Gitmo to shut down. So there, blame it all on Polk. But that wouldn't be right; Polk was a Democrat.