When boxing historians rank the greatest prize fighters of all-time, a key measurement is who a particular fighter's contemporaries were. Did the boxer fight in an era that had other great champions? Were they truly tested in epic battles?
Muhammad Ali is considered an all-time great, in part, because his career spanned an era of outstanding heavyweights. Ali fought Floyd Patterson (admittedly, after Floyd's prime), Sonny Liston (twice), Joe Frazier (three times), George Foreman, Ken Norton (twice) and Larry Holmes (after Ali's prime). That's six heavyweight champions right there.
Presidents are also creatures of their times, but their reputations are more likely to be boosted by serving in an era of otherwise weak chief executives. Abraham Lincoln's tenure in the White House during the 1860s came during a stretch of mediocre presidents, both before and after he served.
Lincoln's immediate predecessor was the ineffective James Buchanan. Lincoln was succeeded by Andrew Johnson, a politician from the opposite party with no real political base who barely survived impeachment. After Johnson came U.S. Grant, a brilliant general but the leader of an administration that was best known for corruption.
Lincoln, a man of immense political talent, ambition and vision, would shine in any comparison, no matter when he served. Not all presidents can say that.
Barack Obama has quietly compiled an economic record that is fairly admirable, but does it look good only because the president who came before Obama drove the economy into a ditch?
Take a look at the stock market. The president who detractors enjoy calling a "socialist" presided over a 71.7-percent increase in the Dow Jones Industrial Average during his first four years in office. That's the second best first-term performance since another so-called "socialist" occupied the Oval Office — FDR, according to Dow Jones.
Obama's record on unemployment is admittedly mixed. But first things first. After approximately four years and six months in office, is the unemployment rate better today than it was when Obama took power on Jan. 20, 2009? The answer is yes, barely. George W. Bush left office with an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. The rate for May 2013 was 7.6 percent. The real story is what came between, and for much of Obama's first term, the jobless rate was much higher, reaching the level of 10 percent in October of 2009. From that point on, however, there has been a steady decline as some of the president's policies — including a middle class tax cut — have had the opportunity to take hold.
In the last three years and two months, 6.8 million private sector jobs have been created, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Hard-hit manufacturing has rebounded to a degree, especially since the start of January 2012, as more than a half-million jobs have been added, the strongest growth since 1989.
Page 2 of 2 - Only the most persistent Obama hater would argue that the jobs picture was better in the final months of the Bush years than it is today.
Obama's signature economic achievement, when historians write the story of his presidency, may be the administration's decision to rescue the auto industry. The industry was on the verge of collapsing, which would have resulted in job losses of at least 1 million, according to analysts. That didn't happen, and automakers have added approximately 250,000 positions since June 2009.
Obama helped put a floor under the Great Recession. His administration stopped the bleeding, although the pain lasted much too long and caused real hardship. The last four years have been great for investors, not as great for middle class workers, but conditions are improving. Wild-eye predictions that Obama's policies would lead to the collapse of the U.S. economy have not come to fruition.
Obama has benefited from feeble political opponents and by following a president who was incompetent. If he had compiled that type of record in the boxing ring he would be considered a solid champion, but not an all-time great.