Op-Ed: President Obama, Drop Out Of 2012 Race

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Patrick Caddell, political commentator and co-author of "One And Done" in the Washington Post

The Democrats' overwhelming defeat in the midterm elections leaves President Obama with difficult choices ahead. Patrick Caddell has some advice: He should declare himself a one-term president, and spend the remainder of his time in the White House focusing on national problems, not campaigning.


Now, the Opinion Page. During the 2008 election, you could hardly get through a day without hearing someone, somewhere shouting: Yes, we can. Well, President Obama did win. But now, halfway through his term, some are asking not can he do it again, but should he even try.

Political commentator Patrick Caddell says no. In this weekend's Washington Post, he co-wrote the op-ed "One and Done" with Douglas Schoen. To be truly great, they argued that President Obama should drop out of the 2012 race and spend the next two years focused on the many issues facing America.

We'd like to hear from you. Do you think the president would be more effective if he decided not to run again? Call us at 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website, where you'll also find a link to the op-ed, got to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Patrick Caddell is a political commentator. He's also a pollster and senior adviser to President Jimmy Carter. He joins us from his home in Charleston, South Carolina.


Mr. PATRICK CADDELL (Political Commentator): Well, glad to be with you.

LUDDEN: So it's been two weeks now since the overwhelming defeat of the Democratic Party in the midterms. They clearly - one could say many Americans are dissatisfied with this administration. You argued that Mr. Obama would actually improve his credibility by dropping out of the 2012 race. Explain that.

Mr. CADDELL: Well, Doug and I, what we argued was that it's a very special moment. The president was elected with the promise to bring the country together and to change the way Washington has done business. In many ways, people feel he has failed that. The elections were - let's face it. As a Democrat, I have to admit, there were a vote of no confidence in the president and in the congressional party.

The country faces enormous problems right now, and the country - and there's a great sense of anxiety about crisis and potential decline. We have a huge deficit problem. We have a whole structuring of revenue and deficit that's got to be solved. We have a massive economic problem. We've not been able to produce jobs. We have to do something about this. And we have serious foreign policy challenges.

The problem is very simple. The president - we argue that the president can fulfill his own prescription that he gave at Diane Sawyer about being a - he would rather be a great one-term president than a mediocre two-term president by stepping up and calling for the country to come together in a government of national unity in a time of crisis, expand the government with Democrats, Republicans, independents, businessmen, and to form a coalition - a grand-governing coalition to try to solve some of these problems.

The alternative is armed warfare. We're already seeing that happen. The president himself said we're facing armed, hand-to-hand combat, if you will, if the Republicans won - which they did in the House, overwhelmingly - and that, you know, to be re-elected was going to require a scorched-earth policy. The country can't wait. And we think it's a unique moment in history, and the country would rally with the president. And it would force both political parties to support him. This is what independents and other voters who hold the key have been begging for: some kind of coming together and consensus. And we can only do it if we can get the political class to raise their vision from the kind of struggle of, you know, political warfare and partisan warfare that is dominating America.

LUDDEN: You write that by refusing to run again, Obama would drain the poison from our culture, the polarization and end the resentment and division that have eroded our national identity and common purpose. Really? I mean, that's a lot to ask for.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CADDELL: It's a big moment. I think the country is ready for it. The point is that I think this is a unique moment. I think the country would gather behind the president. I think, then, the idea of a unity government, and we believe that they would force the two parties - the kind of partisans that dominate politics that live inside the Beltway and inside the political world would be forced to go along with the president.

LUDDEN: But what kind of a national unity government? I mean, he does have a Bush-holdover as the head of the Department of Defense. What else would you, you know...

Mr. CADDELL: Well, he's leave that - that secretary is leaving. And, you know, there are no other than Ray LaHood, who has at a very minor post at transportation in Illinois. There are no Republicans. But more importantly, that we need independents, we need businessmen.

The problem of this administration, it's suffering enormously economically and the fact that there is no one in a senior position there's the least number of people in senior position in this government who have had any experience in the private sector at creating jobs and creating growth. And the president is not served by a world filled with just academics and political types.

LUDDEN: But he could certainly bring in some of those types without then declaring that he's not going to run in 2012?

Mr. CADDELL: Well, I our point is that you that to do that, you know, the question is whether they would come. I think if the president raised the seized the high ground - our point is that if he would seize the high ground, he seizes both the imagination and the commitment to the American people, a lot of those people would be forced - they would be inclined out of patriotism to serve. I don't know very many who would serve in a government that was going to conduct political business as usual.

Most importantly is, put the country first and the politics aside. I don't think you can have nonpolitical government but there are moments, as there have been in our history, when we have to set them aside for a larger national consensus. And the only person who can lead us to that is the president.

LUDDEN: All right. Let's get a caller on the line. Jeff is Grand Rapids, Michigan. Go right ahead.

JEFF (Caller): Yes. Thank you for taking my call. I would like to just kind of point that he has been kind of stifled on anything that he's been able to put forth on his platform. And he should push a little bit more toward his policies and get a little bit more help on the other side.

I don't see I see it as a one-way race for the past two years here where we have been in crisis mode. And I am small business runner myself. And it really is not I don't think the assault of, you know, the academics as was just said there. And there are a number of business people that are also on the left that are saying, if we don't raise our votes, you're going to have a much large divide typical of maybe like Latin America or something.

Mr. CADDELL: Well, let me just respond this way - two things. One is, as a Democrat, I think that we the president has been ill-served and he and his administration has been by pursuing by not focusing like a laser on near 10 percent unemployment in this country. With the problems persisting in unemployment, to not have dealt all of your time, first of all focused on getting this economy moving then getting people employed. Instead, we have had a lot of other issues, particularly heath care, which drained a year out of the system, and we have paid a price for that.

And, you know, and I think that, yes, there has been intransigence among Republicans, there has been intransigence on the president's side. It has certainly been - with the congressional leadership when they felt they had the votes to just ram anything through, it has been a problem. And if both everyone there's plenty of blame to go around. This isn't about appointing blame. It's about how do we get to a solution here. And right now, the president has lost the confidence of the country, of a large majority...

JEFF: I agree with what you're saying...

Mr. CADDELL: They had to see...

JEFF: ...that, as Americans, we should move ahead together.

Mr. CADDELL: I agree with that.

JEFF: As Americans...

Mr. CADDELL: (Unintelligible)

JEFF: ...not the partisan stuff.

Mr. CADDELL: I agree.

JEFF: But I do believe he does needs to move his policies further and with a little bit more strength too. I think that you are correct. He did waste too much time on health care reform when that shouldve been just a quick thing and done.

LUDDEN: All right, Jeff. Thank you so much for the call. Patrick Caddell, let me ask you, what is really so different about what you're calling for then, you know, the traditional second term. If a president does get re-elected, does it they traditionally have...

Mr. CADDELL: Well, presidents are automatically in their second term lame ducks, and it doesn't mean they can't be successful. And we have seen that you know, we've seen that in the past. But the point is is that this is a particular environment. It is a moment. This is the time to seize the moment.

What I compare it to I think it's a game changer potentially along the lines of in the category of when Anwar Sadat agreed to go to Jerusalem, which led to the first real peace in the Middle East, Camp David accord with President Carter. It changed the game. It was a dramatic move. It seized the imagination.

And I think that that's what's necessary here. Otherwise, let's face - the 2012 election season has started. We are it is going to be - to win, and we said in our article, the president can win. It's just going to be scorched earth to win.

LUDDEN: All right. All right. We have a tweet here from AlsoThings(ph) who says, I think Obama would be more effective if he stood his ground and fought with a coherent, liberal message. If he were to declare he wasn't running, the opposition would interpret this as a win and be emboldened, causing more gridlock.

All right. Let's take another call as well before we come back to you there, Patrick. Aaron in Miami, Florida.

AARON (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to say that I don't believe it would be in the benefit of the Democratic Party or in liberals in general if President Obama were to drop out of the race. I feel like the failure of the administration has not been in putting forth good ideas and good strategies, but in communicating those strategies to people, to the people who voted for him, to the people who are against him.

I was one of the many people who did vote for him as a college student. And I am also one of the people who wound up voting other direction because I felt there was lack of communication on key points and key things that the administration has done.

Anyone who digs in deep to what the administration has put forth will find that there's a lot of great legislation. But I have not seen a lot coming to the average Joe, the guy who walks down the street and doesn't really, you know, pick up the New York Times, or doesn't listen to NPR. That guy is not going to see what the administration is doing that is so great and that has such long-term positive ramifications.

What we hear is we hear there's no jobs, there's no this, there's no that. What we need to hear more from the administration is what they are doing, what they're going to continue to do and what they're perceived ideas of how it's going to affect the economy now, later, and in the distant future how it's all going to help.

LUDDEN: All right, Aaron, thanks for the call. Patrick Caddell, what about that, a failure of communication?

Mr. CADDELL: Well, you know, listen, I worked with the president in the White House. And, you know, when all White Houses are in trouble, the first thing they say is we didn't communicate well. Look, you can - all they have to do is take health care. The president gave 55 speeches on health care and a number of others. There were many, many more surrogates and much more communication.

When that bill started, we started that process, the country was overwhelmingly in favor of health care reform. At the end of that process, the country was overwhelmingly against what it didn't produced. And you still have a majority of Americans who now want it repealed and felt it was shoved down their throats. Communication isn't the problem here. The problem is - and yes, I agree there are many things that are really good the administration is doing.

The problem is on the fundamental direction that, for instance - let's talk politically - independent voters who voted for President Obama, made him - they are the group that made him president. They voted for him by a large margin. They made a gigantic swing against the president this year, just as our last caller, who I think probably may have been a Democrat but is talking about -they voted otherwise this time. They feel, and they disagree with the direction of the president, the administration.

So this is not simply a process of selling. The problem now is we confront a divided government. And with - and an American people who want solutions, not conflict. And unfortunately, we are headed for conflict.

LUDDEN: All right. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's go to another caller. Karen is in Denver, Colorado. Go right ahead.

KAREN (Caller): Good afternoon. Thank you for taking my call. I could not disagree more with your guest. I don't know if this is just real pie-in-the-sky thinking or if he's being manipulated by someone with another agenda. But he was - if the President didn't run again, he'd be a totally lame duck politician. And I think the recent election was more a mandate on the failure of the Democratic Party to support President Obama and his failure to confront his own party and say we need to institute change.

So if your president goes along with your party structure and fails, that responsibility lies squarely, I think, also with the party. And then to make him a sacrificial lamb for some type of nonpartisan, you know, post-racial -and that's the other issue, too. Black politicians, minority politicians are always held to another standard. And since he couldn't come in from the magic wand and solve all the country's problems...

Mr. CADDELL: Ma'am I have to interrupt you.

KAREN: ...he's defective? I don't think so.

Mr. CADDELL: This is - you know what, I am - you know, the American people overwhelmingly view the president the day he was elected, inaugurated with the joy of what we have accomplished historically. And from that moment on, most -almost all Americans began to judge him as President Obama. I think this is a false thing to keep raising the issue that this problem is somehow inherently racial. The problem...

KAREN: It's not inherently racial. But if you ignore the racial component to it, you're also being disingenuous and dishonest. So when you look at polls that poll completely differently from people of color and from white people from certain brackets or from certain economic and educational brackets, you can't deny the reality of that. And it's...

Mr. CADDELL: That is not necessarily racial (unintelligible) economic and otherwise...

KAREN: ...the love of politics and national politics. And I'll (unintelligible) my answer off the air (unintelligible)...

Mr. CADDELL: You know, ma'am, if you want to think it's racial, then I am sorry. I do think we're...

LUDDEN. Okay, Karen, thank you for your call.

Mr. CADDELL: For 40 years Ive polled the American people. There are - it's an aggregate, no more tolerant - this country has made such progress in race relations. And, you know, this argument and - I'm a white Southerner who came out of the Civil Rights movement as a teenager in the 1960s in the South. I spent much of my political career helping elect black mayors all across the country for the first time in many major cities. I feel very strongly about the progress we have made and I think the president - whatever the problem is, it's not a racial problem here. It is a problem of division of philosophies and parties, and we need to get above that.

LUDDEN: ALL right. Well, Patrick Caddell, you're not getting much love here. I got a couple of emails that are also not agreeing with you here. Let me get your reaction. One writes: Teddy Roosevelt announced he wasn't going to run again early in his first elected term and was considered a lame duck after that. He regretted his decision to go public because he had no power to affect the policy afterward. And let's see, that is from Grace.

And Kate in Portland writes, I think a one-term presidency would be a signal to the current Republican Party that the tactics they've been using for two years now of anger, obstructionism and empty promises work. It would be like rewarding your two-year-old for having a tantrum. We just have a moment left. Bet you want to respond to that.

Mr. CADDELL: Yeah. Well, first of all, Teddy Roosevelt in 1904, he made that decision. His - his selected term was very successful. It wasn't unsuccessful. He was disappointed because he wanted to do more. Also, this is 2010, not 1904 and the problems are different. And the second thing is, if the president galvanized the country - and look, we didn't write this piece to be popular. We wrote it because it was important, to put some - other thinking on the table here.

And the reason for the argument about the Republicans is, if the country galvanized, which I believe they would, around the president, the Republicans would have no choice not to be in trenches. You know, they would pay a major political prize, particularly with independents. So, I disagree with that analysis.

LUDDEN: All right. Patrick Caddell is a political commentator. He was also a pollster and a senior adviser to President Jimmy Carter. He co-wrote the Op-Ed "One and Done" with Douglas Schoen for Sunday's Washington Post, and there's a link to it at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Patrick Caddell joined us from his home in Charlestown, South Carolina. And we thank you so much.

Mr. CADDELL: Great. Thank you. Enjoyed it. Thank you. Appreciate it.

LUDDEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden in Washington.

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