Paul Greenberg

How might a captain's log of the good ship America read? The pages would surely include accounts of halcyon skies and smooth sailing, however turbulent the times seemed at the moment. As well as episodes of peril, even shipwreck, as the grand old lady was tossed and turned, even torn asunder. See 1861-65.

There would be notations in the log by the greatest of her captains and commanders, the Washingtons and Lincolns, whose service to the Republic even now can be summed up by only one word: indispensable.

The roster of skippers would include the near-greats, too, however much they might have veered off course from time to dangerous time, like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, who seem to have taken command just when their vision and leadership -- and spirit -- were most needed.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed of FDR that he may not have had a first-class intellect, but he had a first-class temperament. The same could be said of Ronald Reagan, another Happy Warrior. No wonder both held ship and crew together through many a storm, guiding the old Republic into safe harbor.

Yes, there were glory days -- when the Revolution was won and the nation founded, and its liberty confirmed in law, specifically the Constitution of the United States, which yet endures, however undermined by the never-ceasing ambitions and ideologies of men convinced their ideas are superior to its.

Others besides the great and near-great have occupied the captain's quarters from time to time, and some almost steered the great ship onto the rocks -- disasters like James Buchanan and just drifters like Jimmy Carter.

Our current captain looks increasingly like one of those nondescript Others -- not because his ideology tends to outrun his understanding, though it does, but because, like Jimmy Carter, he doesn't seem to know what he's doing. Which may explain why his Signature Accomplishment is becoming his signature failure. See the continuing misadventures of what is known as Obamacare, which may explain why this captain is constantly issuing course corrections without actually changing course.

If there were charts and maps to consult on this voyage, they might include a notation found on old depictions of the seven treacherous seas: Here There Be Monsters. And yet our heedless captain sails on, like a Columbus without an astrolabe, as the inevitable storms arise.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.