James Hohmann notes that every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt “has left behind a swath of disillusioned lefties when he left office – only to see his image markedly improve among the base after a Republican subsequently took office.”
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Bill Clinton is now remembered fondly by Democrats for presiding over a pre-9/11 period of peace and prosperity, but so many liberals were despondent during his tenure about everything from throwing Zoe Baird under the bus at the beginning to pardoning Marc Rich at the end – as well as shepherding through NAFTA, jacking up mandatory minimums, embracing welfare reform and elevating Dick Morris in between.
Jimmy Carter is remembered now for his post-presidency embrace of humanitarian causes. But he almost got defeated by Ted Kennedy, running at him from the left, in the 1980 Democratic primaries. He never pushed comprehensive health care reform, but he did cut capital gains taxes and deregulate the airline and trucking industries.
Obama was often compared negatively by liberals during the last few years to Lyndon Johnson, a wheeler-dealer who successfully cajoled a Congress dominated by segregationists to pass civil rights and voting rights acts. Most seem to forget that he dropped out of contention for the Democratic nomination in 1968 after liberal opposition, driven mainly by Vietnam, metastasized. He also hardly got anything done in his final two years because of Republican gains in the 1966 midterms.
Harry Truman, now venerated as a liberal fighter who gave ‘em hell, watched as more than a million progressives defected to Henry Wallace in 1948 because they were mad about his record on labor and his failure to expand the New Deal.