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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A successful one-term president

President Obama has told ABC News that he'd prefer to be a "really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."

Well, that's a pretty high bar. Our history doesn't have a long list of presidents who would be termed "really good." Look at C-Span's survey of presidential leadership. John F. Kennedy is ranked sixth. I suspect that a good part of his high rating is his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, probably not the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Obama has time to demonstrate his abilities in a crisis, but so far, his handling of the Christmas bomber does not inspire confidence. And there is nothing else in his handling of foreign affairs to give such confidence. If you count Truman and LBJ as one-term presidents given that they only faced election once, you'd have some more examples. While Obama has certainly tried to emulate LBJ on the domestic side, he wouldn't want to follow Johnson's foreign policy experiences. Probably, he would think the same about Truman.

You'd have to go to Polk to find a president regarded as a successful one-term president. Once again we have a wartime president. Historians will continue to argue about the justice of the Mexican American War, but Polk was a terrible commander-in-chief, interfering with the conduct of the war for crass political purposes to weaken Whig generals like Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. I suspect that Polk's expansionism isn't a model Obama would prefer to follow, though the political maneuvering behind the scenes is something I wouldn't be totally surprised at from this administration.

The ambition to be a very good one-term president might be fine, but he left out the third, and more probable option. He could be a mediocre one-termer. We've had a lot more of those in our history. And after Obama's first year, mediocrity would be an improvement.

11 comments:

Pat Patterson said...

Slight problem with that goal is that Pres Obama hasn't really given much indication that he will ever be considered a good one-term President. Maybe he'll end up like George McGovern and walk into a big Democratic gathering and find that unlike some other ex-presidents or ex-candidates his oversized photo will not be displayed.

Mark said...

The terms "successful" and "one-term president" are an oxymoron. While there are plenty of mediocre two-term presidents in American history, I would argue that no president should be regarded as successful if they last only one term. If mediocre men can make it to two terms, what does that say about one-termers?

tfhr said...

Obama is currently meandering through Jimmy Carter's second term but I don't buy his one term meme at all unless this is his way to declare himself as a lame duck.

Simply saying that he is willing to flame out in his first term is serving notice to all of his party colleagues in the House and Senate that he will not protect them, so why should they work for him? Incumbents will do what incumbents must to keep those cushy jobs in Congress. In fact, such a statement has surely moved a few presidential aspirants, those that crave more, to consider their own designs for 2012.

Do you wonder if Obama has had a conversation like this [interview question] with Hillary?

Pat Patterson said...

Would Theodore Roosevelt count as a one term president? He did run twice but he had declined to run for a second term in 1908. And his second attempt was as an independent not as a seated president.

Sokmnkee said...

This sounds like a thinly-veiled acknowledgement that he knows he sucks like a Hoover at this job. If I could borrow his own term, he's waaayyy "above his pay-grade."

His hatred of free enterprise is as obvious as the nose on your face. You don't create jobs by penalizing the people who provide them. I only do well if my bosses do well. Obama's not the Amazing Kreskin. He can pull jobs out of thin air. Heck, he probably doesn't even tie his own shoelaces in the morning. Someone probably cuts his waffles up for him.

ic said...

tfhr: Are you sure his is Carter's 2nd, not Hoover's 2nd?

fritz said...

For a four year period we actually did have a successful one-term president who, unlike Polk, actually ran and lost a second term--Grover Cleveland. Of course, he was a conservative Democrat.

Bachbone said...

I see this in a different light. Last week, in an interview (with Chris Matthews, I believe), Axelrod tossed out a line (paraphrasing), "If [Obama] decides to run again in 2012..." And now Obama uses a similar line?

Obama can't speak even to elementary students without using a teleprompter. So injecting this pseudo-doubt about his running again, when it's clear from everything known about his background and his first year as president that his ego has no bounds, looks like a distractor, not something seruously considered. Like the Clintons (confirmed by Dick Morris), these guys don't do anything without poll testing it first.) It's just a line designed to move your eye away from where his real action is taking place. Just like his talk about freezing non-defense spending; when one looks into what the subtext includes, it's all talk. Nothing serious. Tons of non-defense spending still goes on.

Skay said...

Obama likes the perks--not the job. It would be more fun being King and not having to run for office at all.
It's just that darn Contitution/Bill of Rights thing.

Brad said...

There are only two ways one becomes a "successful" one term President:

1) A wildly successful President doesn't run for re-election for some reason; or

2) A President who loses his re-election bid is later adjudged by history to have been "successful."

Obama's ego would never let him walk away (never mind the "fat chance" of him being 'wildly successful'), so option #1 is out.

equitus said...

or...

3) redefine "successful" to mean that he served all 1461 days.