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A Thought: Should President Obama NOT Run for Re-election?

August 11, 2011

by J. Andrew Zalucky

As a fan of Foreign Policy, I’m always sure to read what David Rothkopf has to say. With a sense of urgency and a penchant for incendiary language, Mr. Rothkopf possesses many of the qualities I look for in an opinionated writer. His recent article, From Bad to Worse, presents a compendium of gloomy scenarios for the world to watch out for. Buried at the end of the piece, he presents a very interesting emollient for our current situation. He says:

My fantasy is that recognizing this, President Obama would do as he once promised he would do, set personal ambition aside and announce he is not running for re-election (my italics). Instead, he would say that he wanted to shrug off the straight jacket of political considerations and focus exclusively on finding bi-partisan solutions to America’s problems.

At first, this idea actually sounds rather sensible. President Obama wants to pursue a variety of initiatives, including measures to fix America’s economic problems, but lacks the actual political will to do so due to the pressures of an upcoming election. Therefore, one could say: “Well, if he wants to get a number of things done that will help the country but be unpopular, then he should do them and not worry about getting re-elected.” Rothkopf provides one such example:

Perhaps he would make a bold gesture, like appointing Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson co-secretaries of the Treasury or, at least, give both economic leadership roles on his team.

Again, this makes sense if you assume that to take a bold step is to become unelectable. But is that not missing the point of public service altogether? Shouldn’t President Obama take such bold steps regardless of his approval ratings? Would that not earn him a significant share of respect? He should be able to do this even in the shadow of a looming election. I am also highly skeptical of Rothkopf’s claim that there are many Democrats who can make a strong pitch in this awful political climate. Sure, the Republican field is incredibly weak and unexciting, but aside from Hillary Clinton (do we really need to revisit THAT possibility?) what Democrat could possibly make a strong pitch for the Presidency?

Now, if the President is genuinely miserable in his role as chief executive, something I have long suspected, that is another matter entirely. But to suggest that he should step aside in order to “fashion a unique legacy for himself” as Rothkopf suggests, sounds a little too cynical to me. I recognize his point and acknowledge that it holds a certain amount of water, especially when one examines the last three years and realizes how much of a weak negotiator President Obama really is. There are certain traits he holds that, while admirable in a diplomat or a newspaper editor, make it unlikely that he will be able to grow in his leadership abilities. Nevertheless, if I was an aide or a political adviser, I would not suggest stepping down in 2012. Bring in an effective chief of staff, get some solid leadership into the departments of the executive branch, and stop trying to find the populist middle ground at the beginning of every debate. And please, please, please hold another televised Q & A session with congressional Republicans.

If you are willing to make a bold move for the good of the country, you should be bold enough to run on it.

Check out David Rothkopf’s piece in Foreign Policy here.

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