Watching Barack Obama speak from the Oval Office Tuesday evening, I was reminded of a remark he made back in January: “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.” At the moment, he is on track to be neither, but I have often wondered just what he meant.
Does Obama believe he has been really good thus far? If so, in what area? Certainly not the Gulf Coast oil spill, which occasioned his Tuesday speech (if Obama wants that second term, it’s a good thing pelicans don’t vote).
Health care? He forced a trillion-dollar overhaul through Congress, which 63 percent of the American people want to see repealed.
The economy? He is adding more to America’s national debt than all 43 previous presidents combined.
Foreign policy? He laid down fewer conditions for meeting with the president of Iran than with the CEO of British Petroleum, and both oil-rich entities remain troublesome.
After taking office, Obama’s approval rating fell faster than any first-year president in the history of modern polling. When they voted for him in 2008, Americans wanted to believe they were electing a moderate, outcome-oriented, problem-solver.
Instead, Obama has turned out to be what those knuckle-dragging, book-burning, typical white people who opposed him warned: a garden-variety leftist. Like it or lump it, America is a centre-right country, and Obama’s prescription of stern lectures and statism is incompatible with the public mood.
But those are just facts and opinions. Truth be told, I think Obama does feel he’s been successful. The oil spill is not his fault and, unpopular as the new health care law and enormous debt may be, I expect Obama genuinely believes his policies are in America’s best interests. To give the man his due, he is loyal to his convictions.
Fundamentally, though, Obama does not seem to be enjoying his job. Like many liberals, he sees government as central to all human endeavours, which makes the American presidency the grand prize in the game of life. Now that he has the pressures and problems of that portfolio, however, he appears nonplussed.
Which leads us back to that one-term business. If I had to guess, I’d say Obama will not run for re-election in 2012.
The last two presidents who were eligible to run for re-election and chose not to do so, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, were also Democrats who had grown unpopular with the American people. Johnson, in particular, faced opposition from within his own party, as Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy mounted primary challenges. How does this history apply to Obama?
Does anyone remember Hillary Clinton? There were, and are, about a zillion excellent reasons why she should not be president, but not in Newt Gingrich’s wildest dreams could she have done worse than Obama. She may run for the Democratic nomination again, perhaps under the slogan, “Told ya so.”
Who will run for the Republicans? Gingrich? Mitt Romney? Mitch Daniels? We don’t know, and at the moment, it doesn’t much matter. As the adage goes, elections are referenda on the party in power and, although Obama may not be on the ticket, the Democrats will be holding the White House.
In 2008, Americans wanted fresh ideas and a new start. In 2012, they may actually get it.