For decades we have heard presidents-usually before they are elected-allude, intimate and suggest that they may not seek a second term. Usually these “selfless” avowals come attached to a declaration that the presidency is bigger than any one person. And of course they don’t mean a word of it.
In the entirety of the 20th century only three presidents decided not to seek a second term, they were: Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson. In two of the three cases-Truman and Johnson-poll numbers indicated that reelection was a long shot.
It will come as no surprise to most Americans that President Obama is a bit of an odd bird when stood along side his 43 predecessors. No, I am not referring to his ethnicity, if anything that has been an enormous plus for the President; most Americans are proud to have elected their first African American president. I am referring to Mr. Obama’s seemingly dogged determination achieve his agenda at the potential cost of a second term.
On the Right pundits are baffled, Glenn Beck even going so far as to suggest that the President is following a classic Cloward-Piven strategy, to collapse the Republic into a socialist democracy. And while that is probably an extreme view, there is no question that Obama is far to the left of most Americans.
It can be seen nowhere more clearly than in his judicial philosophy. In his Justice Department, Eric Holder has obstinately flown in the face of the public will on the trying of terrorists and illegal immigration. And a new poll out today suggests that, at least in the Midwest, Obama’s appointment of liberal Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan is not boding well for Democrat reelection bids.
For a president midway into his first term polls are everything. When President Clinton found himself in much the same position as Obama in 1994 he brought in strategist Dick Morris to turn his numbers around; the result was Morris’s now famous triangulation or Third Way strategy. It worked and the President gained a second term.
Obama seems stubbornly adverse to any such move. Yet a Harris Poll out today shows 3-in-5 Americans giving the President a negative job approval score with a full 65 percent saying he is on the wrong track.
Perhaps most baffling, is that many of the issues that seem to loom largest in the public perception, Obama could have almost effortlessly avoided. The 9-11 terrorist trials could have long ago been put to rest by military tribunal; he could have negotiated with House and Senate Republicans and still made giant strides with health care.
Then there is the gaff factor.
His most recent one was sophomoric, in light of the public outcry against the so-called “ground zero mosque”; the President need have merely avoided the issue. Cap and trade is dead meat in the Senate, yet he is determined to pass it; his drop-dead date for withdrawal in Afghanistan is clearly at odds with conventional wisdom, yet he steadfastly holds to it; and the “mishandling” of the Gulf oil spill was almost completely a matter of perception that the President was disengaged.
Most of these issues could have been smoothed over, if not resolved, with a little political savoir-faire.
This President is a is not a fool, but the complexities of the man are mind boggling, when one considers his popularity on his swearing in, in January 2009. Obama is not a dolt when it comes to making himself appealing to voters. Yet, today-according to the Harris Poll cited above-29 percent of Democratic voters give him negative points in job approval. His could almost be summed up as the kamikaze presidency, were that not such and insulting designation.
I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that President Obama will not seek a second term. In making giant strides with his personal agenda not halfway into his first term, much if not most of his goal to move the country to the left has been accomplished. Republicans in Congress are blustering about repealing health care, but they will not succeed, if, indeed, they are even serious. Cap and trade and immigration reform have bipartisan support, and the federal courts have been effectively reshaped for 50 years.
Granted, he still has a little time in which to turn the tables and move to the Clintonian center, but I suspect that he will not. I suspect that Barack Obama’s ideology, unlike any president before him, trumps his political ambitions.