The sublime irony of today's prevailing discussions of President Obama's "rescue"--just in the nick of time--by President Clinton is an obvious one, perhaps too obvious to qualify as true "irony," but which I'll qualify anyway. And the irony is this:
In roughly 10 years, Obama, I would wager, will be ranked by presidential historians as "near great," while Clinton will retain his ranking of "average." In 50 years, Obama well may achieve "great" status, joining the likes of Franklin Roosevelt; Clinton, however, will remain average, as average as Taft.
Some of Obama's "greatness" will emerge from the deliberate and determined: healthcare reform, for example, was, until Obama, a mere presidential aspiration for a century--now it's the groundwork for achieving true universal coverage and a vital overhaul of America's insanely expensive healthcare system. Dramatic improvements in that system will take years to materialize and be recognized by historians, however, just as the long-term benefits of Obama's deliverance of the auto industry or pulling us from the brink of another Great Depression will settle in the historical mind only over time, lots of time.
And Obama, almost certainly, still has another term to go, one in which he also may well preside over the total disintegration of the nearly two-century-old Republican Party.
Meanwhile, Clinton's place in presidential history is essentially fixed. Yes, he balanced the budget and oversaw a booming economy. So did Calvin Coolidge.
In short, Barack Obama will be remembered as a great or near-great president (again, that's just my bet, but there you have it). Bill Clinton, on the other hand, though surely remembered as a pol's pol, much like a Henry Clay, will be--presidentially speaking--largely forgotten by future generations.
The irony of rescues and reputations, then, becomes pretty obvious.