THE EGG-DROP SOUP WAS LIKE DISHWATER
There was a Chinese restaurant in the western suburbs where I used to eat from time to time. Understand that I have a pretty broad affinity for the various things that we end up calling "Chinese" food -- I like a lot of dishes, both authentic and Americanized. But I never really cared for the food at this place.
We went to this particular restaurant because other people in my family liked it. The last time I was there, it was for a birthday dinner.
It was terrible. I mean, just plain awful. My rule of thumb for a Chinese restaurant is to test three things: The Mongolian beef, the egg rolls, and the egg-drop soup. These are such staples that any good restaurant ought to nail them.
Nope. Not this place. The soup was basically a flavorless bowl of dishwater. The egg rolls were soggy. The Mongolian beef tasted like newspaper but had the consistency of a catcher's mitt.
I felt terrible about the experience, because it broke me of ever returning to that place. The staff was friendly and courteous and attentive. The ambience was nice. But the food was so bad that I resolved to catch some kind of 2-hour flu the next time the family was headed to the same establishment.
I must not have been the only one, because this particular place closed up shop about three months after my last visit.
DECENCY ISN'T NECESSARILY THE SOURCE OF RESULTS
The thing is, it's possible to like people and think they're decent and hard-working, and yet still think their work is lousy. It's uncomfortable, but it happens.
In many ways, I feel the same way about the outgoing President as I did about the Chinese restaurant. I think he's a decent human being, a loving father, and a person who's trying to do what he thinks is best for the country and the world. Yet at the same time, I think he's done a terrible job at a lot of key responsibilities.
One of the gravest shortcomings at the top of mind right now is the failure to use the bully pulpit to demonstrate moral leadership.
AFTER EIGHT YEARS, WE ALL KNOW WHERE TO FIND HEALTHCARE.GOV. BUT WHO KNOWS HOW TO HELP THE REFUGEES?
I don't make the accusation lightly. But consider this: The Obama administration did everything -- and I mean everything -- to make sure that everyone in America knew how to sign up for health care policies under the Affordable Care Act. The President sat through that ridiculous "Between Two Ferns" schtick with Zach Galifianakis, for crying out loud. Nothing, but nothing, stood in the way of telling everyone on Planet Earth how to type "healthcare.gov" into a web browser.
But let's ask a simple question: Suppose you, as an American, wanted to do something directly to relieve the suffering of children being attacked by terrorists and their own government in Syria, or starved by the civil war in Yemen, or on the run from the incubating genocide in South Sudan.
Where is the "healthcare.gov" movement for that?
WHERE IS OBAMA'S HERBERT HOOVER?
Herbert Hoover may be relegated to "failed President" status by the history books, but in his own time he was the "great humanitarian". Twice he stepped in to take the leadership of projects to save hundreds of thousands -- perhaps even millions -- of lives. Handed little or nothing by the government other than a mandate, he executed the mass evacuation of Americans from continental Europe at the outset of World War I. Then he orchestrated the relief of starvation in war-blockaded Belgium. Then he managed relief efforts to export food from the United States that saved lives all over Europe.
Who is President Obama's Herbert Hoover? In the words of the UN refugee agency, "An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home." Even if the President didn't himself want to be the focus of the attention, he could have commissioned someone else to do it. He didn't.
While we've been diddling around with signing up for health insurance (at skyrocketing rates), the world has been catching fire.
NOW THAT IT'S OVER, GOD SAVE US FROM WHAT'S NEXT
Like I did with the Chinese restauranteur, I feel sorry for President Obama as he prepares to close up shop. I didn't want the restaurant to fail, but I couldn't support it, either. Similarly, I really do think President Obama is a good human being. But I think he's going to be punished by the lens of history for putting so much of his political energy into the wrong things.
And I shudder to think of what comes next, for I fear that the incoming President is neither as capable as the outgoing one -- nor as basically decent. Ending one thing that fell far short of expectations doesn't mean we're beginning something better.
If there is cause for optimism, it is that we have never had more useful tools at our disposal to make good things happen. We've never had as much knowledge at our beck and call. We've never had more geniuses and we've never had more freedom all over the world. But the tools, the intelligence, and the natural genius that are available to the good are also available to the evil.