Thursday, June 23, 2011

A One-Term President Because He Doesn’t Care All That Much about Two

And, more importantly, because it shows.

Yeah, recently he's taken to saying that he's "unstoppable," but his heart doesn't really seem to be in it. 

Back in May 2010, when my readers were in the mid-one figure, I wrote that I didn’t think President Obama much cared about a second term.   My theory was that the President is motivated primarily by academic theory, and he judges success not on whether anyone votes for him, or his party, but whether the theoreticians he admires in the academy (to which he’ll unquestionably return) approve of his policies.

A couple of weeks ago, the President said a couple of extraordinary things that got much less media play than they deserved. I won’t say they prove my point, but they trend that way. In an interview with ABC’s Ann Curry, he said:

“There are days where I say that one term is enough.”

He went on:

“Michelle and the kids are wonderful in that if I said, 'You know, guys, I want to do something different,' they'd be fine. They're not invested in daddy being president or my husband being president.”

How many terms does he want?

That may sound like an offhand expression of mid-term weariness, and it may have been that. But this isn’t a midterm. This is the beginning of his campaign for his second term. This is the beginning of his big fundraising push. Let me ask you: If you had just heard this and the President asked you to write a large check for his campaign, would you?

He’s said things like this before. In January 2010, he told ABC’s Diane Sawyer: "I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.”

Mind you, I’m not being critical of this mindset. It is entirely proper to say “I will govern according to my principles, which I think are really great principles, even if it proves unpopular at the ballot box.”  But I think it says something very important about this puzzling historical figure.  

First, he says he sometimes thinks that “one term is enough.”

Enough because . . . he’s tired? No, couldn’t be. He couldn’t possibly be intending to convey the impression of fatigue to his supporters and financiers.

Enough because . . . that is all he will need to accomplish his goals? Well, we know about the economy and the prospects for recovery before November 2012, so he won’t have improved that over what he inherited. He sometimes talks about his accomplishments, but Obamacare is on the run in the courts, will probably not survive a single-term presidency. His accounts of other “achievements” are frequently misleading; recently, the Washington Post – yes, WaPo – said of his speech extolling the success of the auto industry bailouts “What we found is one of the most misleading collections of assertions we have seen in a short presidential speech.” He got bin Laden, that was good. Excellent, in fact. But compared with his own expectations and those of his voters, it’s pretty thin gruel for three years.  No, hardly anyone thinks he's accomplished much or expects him to accomplish a lot more by November 2012.  And I don't think he believes it, either.

Enough because . . . he knows he cannot enact his social theories into law, at least not for long, and well, OK, he tried, and that’s enough?

Or: Enough because . . . he’s bored?

I think it’s some combination of these last two. Listen to him claiming to make a point about Michelle and the girls, but really making a point about himself (surprise!), suggesting that he might say to them: “You know, you guys, I want to do something different.”

Now think about that for a minute, especially in light of the “one term is enough” suggestion. You’re the President of the United States. What “something different” might you want to do as the end of your first term approaches that would be – I don’t know, more helpful to mankind, more fulfilling, more prestigious?

Look at it another way: What different thing would be better to Barack Obama than being President from 2013 through 2017?  Really, what’s bad about being the American President when you are nothing but a politician?  (Yeah, he taught some law school, but come on.  Guy's done nothing but politics, and has done it pretty darned well.)   I can think of some things: Hard work. Compromising cherished theories to get legislation enacted. Never-ending judgment of your performance. Exposure to a public that is sometimes less than enthralled with who you are, who see you as something other than an extraordinary symbol.

Here’s what I take away from President Obama’s remarks: He views his service in office more as a hobby than a calling. In line with my earlier thoughts, it’s an academic exercise for him. Doesn’t work out, cuts into the golf, people mad at you all the time, middle class just doesn’t understand the theory – fine, I’ll go do something different.

But I think there’s something else. Can’t prove it. Just kind of feel it.

I think Barack Obama just doesn’t think it’s all that big a deal to be President of the United States.

I think he thinks this because he doesn’t think the United States is all that big a deal to be the President of. He seems to take pleasure in suggesting that the U.S. is just another country in a world full of them. He certainly rejects American exceptionalism. He does not have a high regard for the Constitution. (That’s not a Tea Party sentiment – that’s my personal conclusion from his utterances, including this one I noted (scroll down) and others I’ve noted from time to time.) He feels bad about America’s past international initiatives.  He shows absolute unconcern at its slipping status in the world -- along with much of the academy, he thinks it deserves it, and that it is historically inevitable to boot.  And borders -- when you're not much of a country, what difference does it make who lives there? 

So being President of that country, to him, is just one of many “different” things to which he might apply his considerable gifts.  And by no means necessarily the most important one at this stage of his life. So it’s good that Michelle and the kids are so understanding.

I have a feeling that unless the Republicans nominate a diseased marmot or Sarah Palin (of which they are eminently capable), Barack Obama is going to have the chance to do that different, better thing come January 2013. 

Put aside whether his policies are good or bad, or whether or not you like them. 

He's just not that into the gig.


  1. carolyn in chicagoJune 27, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    I think you're right. For all the reasons listed, but especially the BBC comment is what convinces me.

  2. My mistake; should have said "ABC's Ann Curry." Error has been corrected in the text.

  3. It's unclear to me why a guy who supposedly doesn't think it a big deal to be president would (a) run for it in the first place or (b) announce his intention to raise at least one Billion dollars to run for re-election. If he doesn't care whether he stays in office. then who is it who does? Bill Daley? The Chicago machine? Tony Rezko? Auchi? Somebody wants him there.

  4. Big, it's not that he doesn't want to run for, or be, President. For him, so far, it's simply been the path of least resistance. He's been touted for it since even before his spectacular keynote address at the 2004 Democratic convention. His great symbolic value made him a natural Democratic nominee no sweat.

    But he doesn't have the kind of love for the U.S., its history, its principles, that a President should have and the great ones all did. Nor the same vision of its singular position in the world, which he is doing everything he can to erase. It's not that he hates the U.S., it's that he can take it or leave it, and so far, it's easier to take it. Now that the center is on to him, however, it's all a whole lot less fun, and he's been whining. Oh, he's talking a good campaign, but can't you feel that he just hates having to ask for support, when in the past it was so freely given?