I remember attending a panel discussion at the John F. Kennedy Library on the topic of transformative presidencies, at which a pair of Harvard professors and a pair of pundits considered how Barack Obama might find himself up there with Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt as a president who, in Obamas phrase, had changed the trajectory of the nation.
This was in September 2008, two months before Obama was elected. Talk about getting ahead of ourselves.
The recent poll showing that a bare plurality of Americans 33 percent consider Obama the worst president since World War II is silly and easily explained. A closer reading of the results shows Republican respondents were united in choosing Reagan as the best president and Obama as the worst, while Democrats split their best votes between Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy and Obama, their worst between George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, and Reagan.
You can say this for todays Republicans: They agree on a story and stick to it. Some of them were as premature in their judgment of Obama as the panel at the JFK Library. They got ahead of themselves, describing him as the worst president even before he was inaugurated.
In the heat of political battle, its impossible to make a historians clear-eyed assessment of any presidency. America would be better off if people would at least try to remove the blinders of love, hate and partisanship in considering their president. I wouldnt hold my breath waiting for it to happen, but we can at least bring some specifics to the argument.
Based on specifics, Ive made the argument that Obama is the best president since Ive been paying attention. Thats not a real high bar, by the way, since Ive found plenty to criticize in every president.
By some objective measures, Obamas record is far from the worst: He hasnt started any wars or plunged the world into recession; he hasnt suffered any personal scandals; his administration has seen no major indictments; no one from within his party has challenged his leadership. How many other recent presidents can say that?
Obama has had to direct a tactical retreat on foreign policy, one that was necessary because his predecessor left the U.S. dangerously overextended both militarily and rhetorically. The world is a chaotic place, and Obama and most Americans though not many of his opponents in Congress understands that the U.S. cannot fix every troubled nation. But retreats can be messy, presidents rarely get credit for wars they avoid, and the Republicans will never give him credit for anything.
I can still defend Obamacare, the stimulus act, and Obamas efforts to encourage alternative energy and combat climate change. There have been times Obama hasnt gone nearly as far as Id like, but his opponents would have taken us in exactly the wrong direction.
Id also argue that what has been most remarkable about this president has been the relentlessness of his opposition. They have been stubborn, disciplined and destructive. I have a hard time imagining these Republicans working with Obama to solve any problem or with any other Democrat.
But lets drop the defenses a moment and admit it: If Obama was getting the job done, we wouldnt be having this conversation.
If Obama had the ability to unite America like he promised, we wouldnt be so divided today. If he was such a smart politician smart enough to beat the Clinton machine he would have found a way to outsmart the hapless and divided Republicans in Congress.
The best/worst presidents poll is silly because it measures popularity, not performance, and because Obama has more than two more years to raise his score. George W. Bush was judged worst by 34 percent at this point in his presidency, and even Reagans approval ratings had dipped by his sixth year in office. Obamas legacy may yet be shaped by unpredictable events or by seeds hes planted in health policy, energy research or education reform that have yet to bear fruit.
Democrats blind ardor for Obama mostly wore off years ago; they see him as a politician, not a savior. Republicans, unfortunately, still see him as the devil. The country would be better off if everyone stopped getting ahead of themselves and focused specifically on what all the players in Washington should be doing, instead of how much we love or hate the guy in the White House.

Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at rholmes@wickedlocal.com.