Both Democratic Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton experienced voter corrections in their second year in office. But the two reacted differently. Clinton moderated his policies, worked with a Republican congress and was re-elected. Jimmy Carter stuck to his guns and was defeated. So which template will it be for Barack Obama? Clinton or Carter?
His staff, whose futures depend on his re-election and his money people, who depend on his power, are even now urging him to follow the Clinton path. And while the liberal world is in a fit of anxiety, warning the president not to back down, his more reasonable constituent leaders will argue the same.
Look, a liberal ideologue can make the case that this president has accomplished more for the liberal left in America than all the other liberal politicians in American history combined. If he can’t get it done, it can’t be done, at least for now, so they can say to their fellow liberals, get behind him, even if he has to moderate a bit to stay in power.
And what about the Carter option? What do we see in President Obama that would lead us to believe he would even consider the Jimmy Carter template?
Well, in fact, there is much.
I interviewed Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter after the election and at one point, Rosalynn stood and said, “If Jimmy had bombed Tehran, he would still be president today.” And she was right. But, of course, the hostages would have died. But Carter would not have blood on his hands.
The point is that this is not just about winning and losing. This is not college football. These leaders have egos and they also have convictions. As a senator, Obama often voted in a minority with four or five others, against everybody else in the Senate, even in his own party. Obama, the ideologue, may repeat Jimmy Carter because it is in his nature. He may repeat because he cannot help himself.
Remember, Carter blamed Watergate and his predecessors for the economy. At times he seemed to blame the American people. He talked about a malaise in the country. It was their fault. And this is a very pronounced theme in Obamaspeak. It’s George’s fault. It’s the gun-toting religious people in Pennsylvania’s fault, it’s a lack of understanding of the American people, it’s Fox News’ fault.
Let’s assume for a moment that the president pursues the Clinton path, that he moves to the middle and works with the new Republican majority in the House, what does he do? How will it work?
Dropping any tax increases seem to be a start. But given this economy, that is not much of a compromise, that is a no-brainer. This is not a time to be discouraging investment.
Will healthcare be repealed? I doubt it. Programs with more government involvement are seldom reversed. Maybe it will be tweaked. And then we will have this parade of legislation that the Senate will block and the president will veto and maybe some of it will get public support and pass.
When it comes time for re-election, if the economy is bad, candidate Obama will blame it on the Republican Congress, if it is good, he will take credit for it. Nothing new. Except the American people, slow to arouse, are finally beginning to catch on.
So will he get re-elected? And did this election seriously damage those chances?
Well, as you know, if you read this column, I have long speculated that he was considering the option of one term from the very beginning, that his radical agenda would make that more likely. He would retire as a great heavyweight champion boxer, retiring without a glove being laid on him. And his afterlife would be unlike that of any former president in history. He would be an international phenomenon.
But then, keep in mind, the whole world can change in 24 hours. So anything can happen. And this president, no matter how out of step he may be with the American people, is nevertheless, a great politician and a great personality. He has most of the national media still behind him. Anything can happen.
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