“When Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson accepted the reality that they could not effectively govern the nation if they sought re-election to the White House, both men took the moral high ground and decided against running for a new term as president. President Obama is facing a similar reality—and he must reach the same conclusion. ”
The above came from a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by two Democratic pollsters: Patrick Caddell (Jimmy Carter) and Doug Schoen (Bill Clinton). It’s a wonderful little attempt at a Jedi mind trick. Caddell and Schoen are, and have always been, Hillary Clinton supporters. They have argued before (as they readily admit) that Obama should step aside in 2012 in favor of allowing Clinton to run. Somehow I doubt it will happen.
First, the romanticism over Truman and Johnson taking “the moral high ground” is a bit overstated. Both men faced, in my opinion, more difficult electoral scenarios than does Obama. Yes, Obama will likely face 9%+ unemployment and another banking crisis (the euro really is on its last leg), but this pales in comparison to Truman and Johnson. Truman was dealing with the post WWII schizophrenia of McCarthyism, where there was concern that he was harboring communists in his administration and that our freedom, which we just fought a massive war to defend, was still under attack. That was a bad situation – and probably not as bad as what Johnson faced in 1968.
Do you remember ’68? (I don’t – but I have internet access.) The Vietnam war and civil rights movement were, well, let’s say contentious. That, and Johnson was overseeing the fundamental breakup and disintegration of the Democratic party, whose coalitions had started to unravel and despised each other more than the Republicans. (Honestly, did they think that minorities and southern white segregationists were going to form a solid, long term coalition?)
Interesting to note. Both men rose to the presidency via the vice presidency. Both could run their first election only a short duration after the death of their beloved predecessors (Roosevelt and Kennedy). That means each had a huge sympathy vote to carry in their first election. It also means that neither had taken on a national election from the ground up; neither had risen to the job on the strength of their ability to run nationally. (Not to say they didn’t have it – it’s just not how they got there.)
Furthermore, neither Truman nor Johnson quit the race this far out, and neither quit until it was painfully obvious they wouldn’t win. Truman only quit after he lost the New Hampshire primary. Now, historians will say (and they’re probably right) that Truman had already decided not to run but his name was still on the ballot in New Hampshire. Fine, he didn’t announce publicly that he wasn’t running until after he “lost” in New Hampshire. He stepped out of the race officially and publicly on March 29.
Johnson won New Hampshire 49-42 … which was not a good sign and drew in a real challenger only a few days later: Bobby Kennedy. Johnson knew the game was up and stepped out of the race – on March 31.
So, we’re a solid four months early for any such theatrics. Yes, the primaries are earlier this year, but will there be any challengers to make a strong and embarrassing showing? Will any Democrat, who has the smallest clue about electoral politics, dare to challenge the first Black president? I seriously doubt it. Sure, Kucinich will probably be out there talking, but no real challengers.
My point? Obama doesn’t fit the mold of Truman & Johnson. Things aren’t as bad now as they were then. Further, both of those guys rose through the vice presidency and bailed out of the first race where they would have to stand on their own. Obama has already been through that race and won handily. Finally, Truman & Johnson only left when the political situation wouldn’t allow them to win – and Obama faces nothing at all like that. (Schoen and Caddell readily admit that he can still win in 2012, but only by being mean.) I suspect he won’t be stepping aside despite the Obiwan Kenobi hand-waving of two totally unbiased, concerned-for-the-good-of-the-country-and-the-party pollsters.
I don’t mean to pile on Schoen & Caddell. I think their argument has merit, just not the comparisons with Truman and Johnson. For instance, they make a rather interesting point later in the article, noting that by running for reelection, in a highly partisan and contentious atmosphere, Obama will effectively eliminate any chance at government compromise on serious and difficult issues before the election. Further, if he wins, it will be as a result of such a ridiculously negative campaign that he will have no ability at all to govern for the next four years. Meaning, that by not stepping aside Obama could relegate the country to potentially five years of gridlock, or worse – a Republican president.
I still don’t think he’ll step aside, but the argument has some merit. The country faces over a $1 trillion deficit again in 2012. The “super committee” is about to throw in the towel, enacting “automatic cuts” (sometime in the future – we never cut now). It is highly, highly probable that Republicans will control the House and Senate after 2012, and will likely have no real impetus to compromise with a president whose hand is utterly weak. (Who, in turn will gladly veto repeals of his signature legislation.) It really could be gridlock for some time to come.
Now, that’s not really a reason to fear. Government gridlock isn’t always bad – these guys rarely do anything that is good, so doing nothing is preferable. Not a reason to fear, but perhaps a reason to plan. If you’re holding out hope that government solutions to the challenges will come through “in the nick of time” – you may be disappointed.