The Washington Post

Outlook: To be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012

Nov 15, 2010

Douglas E. Schoen, a pollster who worked for President Bill Clinton and the author of 'Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System,' will be online Monday, Nov. 15, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article titled 'To be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012.

The chat will begin momentarily.

Obama's 2008 win was obviously assisted by enormous support by the 18-24 year old crowd, but do you think his decision to disregard his plan to start troop removal in Afghanistan in 2011 for a 2014 date will hurt his standing with the young voters? As someone within that age range who voted for Obama, I find that news of a 2014 pullout date as not only disheartening but dangerous, and for that I do not know if I can vote again for a man who so easily breaks his word not even a year later.

President Obama's backtracking on  his plan to start troop removal in Aghanistan in 2011 for a 2014 date will hurt his standing with the entire left -- not just the 18-24 age bracket. 

I think the concept is intriguing, but is it plausible? If President Obama did declare his intention not to run, why wouldn't that undermine his clout? Why would anyone even listen to him either here or abroad? The argument that he could bridge divides and push for reconciliation seems to fly in the face of reality.

The answer is he doesn't have any clout at this point.   He has lost the consent of the governed.  This will help restore the stature of his campaign. 

How, exactly, will declaring that he is a one-term president enable President Obama to do more for the country than he would otherwise, in light of the opposition he receives from the Republican Party?

The President would galvanize the country behind him in a way that we have not seen in years.  He would be able to bring all voices together in a way that becomes compelling. 



Do you think that if Obama declares that he will not be running for another term as president, it will be perceived as cutting his loses, given the political climate and circumstances, because he will be unlikely to win if he does run? Given the political and economic environment when Obama took office, comparisons cannot help but be made to Jimmy Carter. Is it better for the party if he just sacrifices himself now, as not to repeat history and lose the presidency altogether?

The answer is simple.  It is not about politics or the Democratic party right now -- it is about the country.


The economic and political environment is not getting better.  We are heading toward gridlock and partisan bickering right now. There is a need to take the higher ground. 

Given that David Axelrod announced his departure in early 2011 to lead President Obama's 2012 campaign, how likely is it that the president will take your advice and not seek re-election?

The conventional wisdom would be that the advice we gave would have little if any impact on what the President does.  That is typically the conventional wisdom until unexpected decisions are made like LBJ's decision not to seek reelection in 1968.  


That being said, I believe that the President may very well honor his pledge to Diane Sawyer that he would rather be a great one term President than a mediocre two-term President. 

I am a Democratic activist who has worked on campaigns for over 20 years and I agree completely with the ideas expressed in this article. My question is what can Democrats like me do to help make the president and his campaign machine understand that this is the best idea for Obama. the nation and the party?

You have to make your voice heard.  People need to tell the political class in Washington and in the media how we feel.  That is the only way they will grasp the importance of the concept we put forward. 

How did you come to the conclusion that he should not seek reelection?

Both of us reached the conclusions separately for similar reasons. 

The piece reflects our worldview that he needs to govern as a centrist, and work on a non-partisan basis to solve the country's problems. 

Seems to me you are forgetting your history. Remember Teddy Roosevelt, who announced he wouldn't seek reelection, immediately becoming an ineffective lame duck for his second term? He regretted that decision to his grave.

First of all, we disagree that Teddy Roosevelt was a lame duck President -- rather, he regretted his decisions because there was more he wanted to accomplish.  Moreover, this is 2010-2011 not 1904 -- and our country is facing unprecedented gridlock and partisan division.  

Your assertion that declining a reelection bid won't make the president a lame duck is very lacking in support. If Obama were to make such a ridiculous decision, he would immediately lose all influence. The 2012 campaign would immediately begin, and Senate Democrats would be positioning themselves for a run--not helping Obama pass anything.

The 2012 campaign has begun.

President Obama already lacks influence.

And we wrote this article in the hopes that President Obama would put country first -- and our nation's problems ahead of its politics. 

Just wanted to say that the idea that Republicans will suddenly be open to bipartisan compromise if Obama does this is completely laughable.

If the President were to do this he would capture the country in a way that we haven't seen since his election.  The Republicans would be forced to compromise because the country would demand it.


If the President were to bring business leaders and Republicans into government the Republicans in Congress would be forced to compromise. 

Please expand on the following key assertion: "Forgoing another term would not render Obama a lame duck... [It] would grant him much greater leverage with Republicans and would make it harder for opponents... to be uncooperative." How so? Why exactly would the president have greater leverage?

He would have greater leverage because he would put the country first.

In  "hand to hand combat" or a political war where Mitch McConnell says that his top priority is making sure President Obama does not win the 2012 election, everyone loses.

If Obama were to follow through and announce that he's not running, his influence with the most obdurate portion of government, his own party in the House, would be gone. do you agree?

No again, we believe they would realize that the best thing they have going right now would be working for what is best for the country and supporting the President. 


The House Democrats would discover that the way to regain their position with the American public --which was severely repudiated in the midterm elections -- would be to put the country first. 

I loved your article and it seems like it could really help the nation. How feasible do you think this is though? Do you really see Obama giving up his legacy in hopes that the GOP falls in line and works with him?

We think it would enhance his legacy if he rose above politics.  It enhanced his candidacy during the campaign and will enhance his legacy as president if he does it now.  

This is a comment, not a question. I believe you are essentially correct in your assessment. Although I am not an Obama fan, I think he could GOVERN exactly the way you suggest, WITHOUT announcing his intent to not run, and IF he succeeded in achieving the things you discuss, he would be then be in the best possible position TO RUN.

Our larger message in this piece is that Barack Obama has lost consent of the governed.  Our broader recommendation is to govern as a centrist. 

We happen to believe that not seeking reelection will be the best way to regain the consent of the governed. 

I seem to recall from classes I've taken on the economy that the president doesn't have that much to do with how the economic outcome. What affects the economy is his policies? Do you believe his policies are not centrist policies?

We believe his policies have been ineffective.

It is different for a Democrat to reconcile with nearly 10% unemployment, and an agenda that appears to put everything else far above economic growth and jobs. 


The President's problem with economic policy is the same that we have seen on his recent Asian trip.


  The only way to move the economy forward is to seize the high ground that we are recommending and act for the best interest of America. 

Would you not agree that, should the president choose not to run for a second term, that he'd be surrendering to the extreme bullying of the Republicans and essentially granting them victory in their main objective--denying the president a second term?

The whole purpose of our piece is to rise above politics. And if the President is able to implement the type of agenda we've advocated, he would essentially succeed in beating the Republicans, beating the Democrats, and establishing his own legacy forevermore. 

Assuming Obama chose not to run for re-election, doesn't this greatly strengthen the Republicans' chances for a win in 2012? It's hard to believe a Democrat could win the general election if the president gives up, which is how most people will see it. It's easy to believe that a Republican president would dismantle any accomplishments Obama might make in the next two years.

We disagree.  The fact is that if the President were to do this and was successful, he would enhance the chance of a Democrat winning in 2012. 

The larger issue is that we need to put politics aside and do what is best for America.  The most important point is that we need a game changer in a huge way.  We must break the political gridlock and poisonous political environment in America. 

The only way we can do this is if the President were to eschew politics. 

Opinion | One and done: To be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012

When the opposing party reflexively rejects just about everything Obama proposes, even when these jibe with positions the party took under Bush, is it really fair to blame the gridlock on Obama? From what I've seen, he has repeatedly tried compromising and the other side hasn't budged.

Our point is that both sides are at fault.

We are not looking to point fingers at either the Democrats or the Republicans, there is more than enough blame to go around. 


Our point is that President Obama has not lived up to his promise during the campaign to rise above politics and do what is best for the country. 

If not, why do you think it applies to Obama alone?

It's not a question of a one-term President applying universally.  We are offering a unique proposal for a unique situation at a unique time.    It is necessary during this specific time of unprecedented crisis and division for the President to rise above politics and put the country first. 

Thanks for taking questions today and for your provocative article. If Obama would follow your advice (which is extremely unlikely), wouldn't that just push up the campaign process even more? Already we have the jockeying for position (see Pawlenty, Palin, Gingrich, etc.)...if Obama took himself out of the running, 2012 would be all we would hear about. Whatever "higher ground" he would achieve would be quickly drowned out by both parties.

The campaign has begun regardless of what President Obama has done.


We believe he would set the right example for both parties by putting politics second, principle first, and the vexatious problems our country is facing paramount.  

Would you suggest that Obama nominate or suggest a potential successor, or should he just leave the decision to a massive squabble or power fight amongst the Democratic leadership?

If President Obama were to pursue the course we recommend, he would not get involved in the politics. 


We believe that he would be best served in pursuing this course, and shaping the succession to the presidency by the success that he has -- not in naming his successor. 

If Obama were to announce he wasn't running for a second term what motivation would Republicans have for working with him? How did you come to this, in my opinion, rather strange conclusion? Wouldn't Republicans and Democrats who covet the presidency just position themselves to run? Wouldn't that just create more gridlock?

It would force the Republicans to do what they say -- to put principle ahead of partisan maneuvering.  It would also force the Republicans to make tough decisions about cutting spending and balancing the budget. 

This now concludes the chat with Douglas Schoen and Patrick Caddell.  Thank you for joining in.

In This Chat
Douglas E. Schoen and Pat Caddell
Douglas E. Schoen, a pollster who worked for President Bill Clinton, is the author of 'Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System.' Patrick Caddell is a political commentator and former pollster.
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