There was definitely a time in President Barack Obama's life in which he looked forward to August. He was, after all, born on Aug. 4. And Hawaii seems like it's maybe the best part of America in which to spend an August. And on Aug. 3, 2004, he was one day away from celebrating his 43rd birthday and basking in his first week of officially becoming what Vice President Joe Biden might refer to as a "big f--king deal," having delivered a historic stemwinder of a keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. "August! Man, this is all right," Obama probably thought at the time.
Flash-forward to Aug. 28, 2014, however, and Obama is found speaking at a very grim press conference, telling the assembled reporters that "we don't have a strategy yet" for ending the violence and terror that's been meted out by ISIS across Iraq and Syria.
The thing is, it may be possible to develop a strategy for ISIS, but there truly is no strategy for August, the Gregorian calendar's most inglorious month. August is, first and foremost, the supposed "slow news month" that almost never, ever ends up being slow. But it's distinct in other ways beyond that. It's not necessarily the most dangerous month or the saddest month or the most tragic month. Rather, it's a cruel month, where boredom and anomie seem to combine in a way that breeds sociopathy.
Many -- perhaps most -- of the most terrible things in human history happened in other months. But August, even when it's lying low, somehow leers at you like a lycanthrope. It's not the month you start that stupid war in Iraq, but it's the month you found the White House Iraq Group to plan the stupid war in Iraq. ("From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," said Andrew Card, of that stupid war in Iraq.) August isn't the Death Star blowing up Alderaan; it's Jack Torrance typing, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," over and over again.
That's what August is: the dull boy. The child who "just ain't right." The distant early warning of coming mischief that somehow is missed. Sometimes, there is a tragic convulsion. More often than not, the ones that occur in August are of the "surely this didn't have to happen" variety.
Whoever came up with "idle hands are the devil's playground" came up with it in August, I assure you.
At any rate, chances are Obama no longer looks forward to August at all because of the six Augusts he's had in the White House, at least three were out-and-out horror shows. Here is the definitive ranking of the president's Augusts, from best to worst.
1. AUGUST 2012
This was maybe Obama's only truly pleasant August. Dick Morris predicted a Mitt Romney landslide, which all but cemented an Obama victory in November. Meanwhile, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul, responding to a rather egregiously deceptive ad from a pro-Obama super PAC, noted that Romney was responsible for enacting a health care reform law in Massachusetts. Saul was deemed to have sinned by pointing this out, and conservatives called for her to be fired.
Also redounding to Obama's benefit was Senate candidate Todd Akin, who gave the world his insights on "legitimate rape" and his theory that women have a magic ability to "shut down" pregnancies that arise from rape. Clint Eastwood sucked whatever seriousness had been generated by the Republican National Convention by speaking incoherently to an empty chair from the convention stage.
Wasn't all ponies and rainbows, though. On Aug. 5, a white supremacist named Wade Michael Page went on a killing spree at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, slaughtering six people. In mid-August, the economic recovery was evaluated as "the feeblest economic recovery since the Great Depression."
2. AUGUST 2009
August 2009 started off optimistically enough. The stimulus had been passed, and a bill addressing health care reform seemed to be slowly cooking. (Too slowly, maybe? More on that in a moment.) In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in for a second term, but the nascent protest movement that spurred to life during his controversial re-election remained unbowed. Obama reappointed Ben Bernanke to a second term at the Federal Reserve. And for a brief, mad moment, it appeared that the president was making some headway in closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, with new sites on the mainland being considered as alternative detention facilities and a slew of deals with other countries to take detainees off America's hands coming together.
But the unemployment rate, then at 9.6 percent, was the highest of Obama's presidency.
And August 2009 would be the month that jeopardized the slowly-coming-together plan to reform health care, as Congresspersons, loosed from their requirements to remain in Washington, returned to their districts to endure a month-long hell of angry, anti-reform activists at town hall meetings. Sen. Max Baucus during this time expressed a fear of people in the crowd, armed "with YouTubes," who wanted to "intimidate, disrupt and not let any meaningful conversation go on." "Death panel" lunacy enjoyed an August heyday, with famed liar Betsy McCaughey returning to prominence and the Bush-era director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives penning an op-ed warning that the Department of Veterans Affairs already had "death panels."
On top of all that, Ted Kennedy, who fought hardest of all during his lifetime to secure a health care reform bill, passed away.
3. AUGUST 2011
August 2011, at times, had the makings of a rare good August for Obama. This was the month that GOP primary battle commenced, and just about every single day of it was something of a boon to Obama. (The post-election "autopsy" report from the RNC spends a lot of time dwelling on this.) Romney got it started by saying, "Corporations are people, my friends."
This was also an August in which things that eventually went really terribly looked like they were going very well. Libya's civil war had entered its seventh month. (By August's end, the United States intervention in Libya would begin its sixth month.) This was the month in which rebel forces would finally enter Tripoli and, by all indications, turned the tide finally, firmly against Gaddafi. For the Obama administration, this would be something of a high-water mark of its involvement in the Libyan conflict. Just over a year later, the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi would reverse the administration's foreign policy standing and plunge the White House into a political miasma.
Similarly, August was the month that Obama signed the Budget Control Act, a moment that looked like progress was finally being made in reaching a bipartisan deficit deal. The idea behind this bill was to create a "Super Committee" of Congresspersons who would come to terms with a budget and deficit agreement by a November deadline, lest this thing called "the sequester" kick in. There was optimism to be had because "the sequester" was a set of budget cuts that were designed to be so severe -- so brain-searingly psychotic, in fact -- that the sheer terror and potential danger of imagining them happening would spur the factionalized Congress to cease all mischief and finally come to terms. Well, guess what happened! Just guess!
Outside the world of politics, things were pretty bad. Hurricane Irene -- whose destruction and costliness is deceptively obscured by 2012's Hurricane Sandy -- hit the United States, causing floods in the Northeast and claiming over 40 lives. Standard & Poor's reacted to the ongoing congressional conflict over raising the debt ceiling by downgrading the United States' credit rating.
Meanwhile, 30 American troops were killed on Aug. 6 when the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan's Wardak province. It was the deadliest day of the war in Afghanistan, leading to that August being the "deadliest month" of the war for U.S. forces, who lost 66 service members during that span.
4. AUGUST 2013
Egypt convulsed again, as a disaffected populace sought to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood regime that had won the elections that were held the last time Egypt convulsed. Hundreds died. Sectarian violence erupted in Iraq; 69 people were killed in a single day during a spate of coordinated car bombings.
Former Obama adviser Jim Messina switched sides in the war over austerity economics, signing on to help U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.
Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people amid the ongoing civil war in Syria. For the better half of a month, war drums beat from the West. Secretary of State John Kerry called Assad's actions a "moral obscenity." Obama mulled retaliating against Assad using airstrikes. The idea was not warmly embraced by many Americans or by many lawmakers in America or by many people in general. Lawmakers in the United Kingdom dampened the enthusiasm for further involvement in Syria by declining to allow David Cameron to get involved. Obama sought similar approval for airstrikes from Congress, which Congress declined to give.
5. AUGUST 2010
Remember Recovery Summer? It was June of 2010, and the White House decided, ahead of the midterm elections, to count to three and close its eyes and gamble that everything that had been done to spur the economy back to health was going to finally start going gangbusters. Obama and Biden were going to crisscross the nation and stand in front of bridges and plants and whoop it up for the recovery. Come on, recovery! Do some recovery things!
Things didn't go as planned. August's unemployment rate was 9.5 percent, just a touch lower than the worst rate of Obama's presidency, notched in 2009.
That was just the start of Obama's storm and stress. Politically speaking, August was when the GOP's midterm wave hit its heights. Gallup recorded a 10-point lead for the Republicans on its "generic ballot" survey, the largest such lead in the survey's history. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill reached its fourth month, and with it came accusations that the White House had spun "a government scientific report into the amount of oil left in the Gulf of Mexico" with a far too rosy estimate.
August 2010 was also the month in which the grotesque argument over the "Ground Zero mosque" (which was neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero) became unavoidable nonsense. During this time, the media decided to turn obscure crackpot Terry Jones -- who had spent all summer threatening to burn some Qurans on the anniversary of 9/11 -- into an important public figure, worthy of lots and lots of attention.
And this is where I'll mention that on Aug. 31, Obama, in an address to the nation, announced that combat operations in Iraq had ended. Let's just say that there were some surprises in store!
6. AUGUST 2014
Surprise! ISIS, the terrorist offshoot of al Qaeda deemed by that death cult to be way too death-culty for them, set up shop in Iraq and Syria, and they had a great August. The success ISIS enjoyed in Iraq led to the scuppering of the Iraqi government and the return of American airstrikes. This didn't exactly rattle ISIS, who went on to expand their reign of nihilism, capturing an airbase in Syria and executing journalist James Foley. ISIS also borrowed a page from Cheney-era America and began doing what the Cheney-era American media referred to as "enhanced interrogation techniques." Obama, in a tan suit that got panned by all the serious people, acknowledged that he had "no strategy" at hand for dealing with ISIS. (Somehow, one gets the funny feeling that when one arises, it will involve a prolonged conflict in Syria.)
The U.N. Climate Report was released, and it was not good. Vladimir Putin slowly invaded Ukraine with the help of the world's most idiotic "rebels." The Israel-Palestine conflict continued apace. There was an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which freaked out Americans for the wrong reasons.
Republicans from the House of Representatives ended any chance at passing comprehensive immigration reform by voting to strip deportation relief from those who benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And, of course, Ferguson, Missouri, resident Michael Brown was shot in the street by a cop, touching off a period in which id-drenched, militarized police forces terrorized demonstrators, while the relevant officials in charge of the situation flopped around haplessly.
Hope, if not lost, hasn't alerted anyone to its whereabouts on Twitter for a long while, basically.
And Obama (probably!) still has two more of these Augusts to endure. That's rough. The only comfort that he, or any other American president, can take is that it is exceedingly difficult for a president to have a worse August in America than the August that an American president had in 1974. (Rhymes with "Blixon blesigns." Look it up.)
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