Imagine a schoolroom filling with 25 adolescent boys gathering for a history class. The scene rests in my memory library of experiences that have influenced me through my life. Mr. Silbert, substituting for a week because our regular teacher was ill, calmly brought us boisterous young charges to respectful silence by beginning to speak in a low, well-modulated voice. It didn’t take long for us to quiet down and listen.
He spoke of the relative importance in life of talent, health, athletic ability, intellect, faith, all those things that shape us into adults, make us who are. But he emphasized that one’s good character is more important than any of these and advised us to start immediately to work on developing it. I have never forgotten this man’s brief but earnest lesson.
I am reminded of his advice as President Barack Obama prepares to leave office in six days. I believe that history will confirm his excellent character and show that he is one of America’s greatest presidents. I am sure of this.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president for the first 11 years of my life, and I consider him one of our greatest leaders. In his first 100 days in office, he pushed a record number of bills through Congress to provide immediate relief to tens of millions of people who lost their jobs during the Great Depression. He created the Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration and Tennessee Valley Authority, which hired hundreds of thousands of unemployed men to work on rural local projects. He protected the livelihoods of laborers and farmers through the National Labor Relations Act and Agricultural Adjustment Administration. He established Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), all of which continue to serve Americans to this day. During his time in office, unemployment dropped from 25 percent to 2 percent.
Barack Obama has been president for the past eight years. He also inherited a deep recession from the previous administration. By the end of President Obama’s first year, the economy created and sustained more than two million jobs. More jobs were created in 2010 alone than had been created during all of George W. Bush’s eight years. As of October 2016, the U.S. has experienced a record 73 consecutive months of overall job growth. As of September 2016, new unemployment claims were at 43-year lows, lower than at any time during Reagan’s administration. President Obama implemented an auto industry rescue plan that saved at least 1 million jobs and possibly the entire auto industry. He reduced the federal budget deficit from 9.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2009 under Bush, to 2.5 percent of GDP in 2015.
And that’s just economic progress. There isn’t sufficient space or time to list his many other significant accomplishments, all of them aimed at making life better for you and me, including making affordable health insurance available to every American. During these eight years, this honest, accessible, down-to-earth, brilliant man has been subjected to constant battering by a racist public and a Congress whose main goal has been to block him from accomplishing any efforts to make our lives better.
I am profoundly grateful to this man, our president, for all of this and for always choosing the high road when others have tried to draw him down to their levels in ugly political street fights. Barack Obama, his spectacular wife Michelle and their exceptional daughters Malia and Sasha have beyond measure improved our White House and all of our lives with grace and dignity.
History will remember. So will we.