Would Barack Obama be a stronger president if he announced today that he will not run for re-election in 2012? Democratic strategists Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen say the answer is yes.
“If the president goes down the reelection road, we are guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it,” Caddell and Schoen write in Sunday's Washington Post. “But by explicitly saying he will be a one-term president, Obama can deliver on his central campaign promise of 2008, draining the poison from our culture of polarization and ending the resentment and division that have eroded our national identity and common purpose.”
You might think that by announcing he will not run, Obama would be telling the world that he is too weak even to try for re-election. Not so, say Caddell and Schoen. “Forgoing another term would not render Obama a lame duck,” they write. “Paradoxically, it would grant him much greater leverage with Republicans and would make it harder for opponents such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who has flatly asserted that his highest priority is to make Obama a one-term president — to be uncooperative.”
Do you believe that? I don't. If Obama were to announce he is not running in '12, Republicans would react precisely the way Democrats would react were the parties reversed. They would take it as a sign of fatal weakness and would attempt to run over Obama on matters big and small. And if they couldn't run over Obama on a given issue, they would wait him out, knowing that there will soon be a new president. Obama's would be a dead-in-the-water presidency. (Of course, it might be already, but it would definitely be if he passed up the 2012 race.) What political strength Obama has now stems from the possibility — to Republicans, the threat — that he can come back and win re-election. Give that up and he has nothing except the institutional powers — executive orders, commander-in-chief, etc. — of the presidency.
Surely Caddell and Schoen, two veterans with a deep understanding of politics, know that. Assuming they do, and in light of recent election results, it seems more likely that what they are really saying to Obama is: Please leave before you destroy the Democratic party. It's a reasonable request, but they're not going to get what they want.