Scenario: Obama Becomes a Great President
As noted previously, I don’t think President Obama’s leadership has been good for the country, his party, or himself; I’m not confident he has it in him to change that; and for those reasons I would rather see him defer to Hillary Clinton in next year’s presidential election. But there is a scenario in which he, being himself as we have come to know him, could yet come to be seen as a great president.
In the scenario I have in mind, the Republican Party continues to present itself as the party of goofiness. In November 2012, the public holds its nose and re-elects Obama, not so much for his positive achievements as for the absence of a credible Republican alternative and for the fear of what Republican policies mean for the public in a steadily worsening economy.
In that case, my previous comparison of Obama to Jimmy Carter fails. Carter lost to Reagan in 1980 because the country wanted to be led by a movie actor who knew how to look presidential — who, as part of that, played the role of the leader much better than Carter did. This time around, a reader of the tea leaves could suggest that the country is less inclined to elect someone just because he looks presidential — not that any of the Republicans in the game at present necessarily do.
I’m not entirely confident of this argument. I think a strong Republican leader, emerging in the next six months, could make Obama look pretty lame. I’m just not seeing much sign of that at present.
At any rate, if Obama squeaks through in 2012, the more apt historical comparison will then be, not Carter, but rather Wilson, the only president who had a PhD. Neither of these two professors, Wilson or Obama, was or is a great politician. But with a second term in hand, Obama could move beyond being a mere cheerleader.
He could, for example, mature into a degree of conviction and determination regarding particular issues. Even if he approaches them from an intellectual rather than political mindset, he could nonetheless come to be perceived as — no, he could actually be — a president whose reasonableness and intelligence eventually heralds the emergence of a new, saner era in Washington politics.
I don’t see that happening on Obama’s own energy, though it’s possible. It is more likely to happen if his wife or his future chief of staff or vice president finds a way to lead him into a more functional understanding of himself and his place in history. I’m giving this possibility about a 15% chance at present. But it does have a chance.
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Tags: 2012, academic, Barack Obama, cerebral, democrat, election, great presidents, hillary clinton, intellectual, jimmy carter, Mitt Romney, politician, president, presidential, professor, republican, ronald reagan, Woodrow Wilson