What would really help President Barack Obama through the current tough political spell? If he just gave up his foolish desire to be president and announced he would not seek reelection.
That's what Douglas E. Schoen and Patrick H. Caddell suggested in the Washington Post yesterday . Obama should "seize the high ground," they wrote, by announcing that he will not run for reelection in 2012.
We do not come to this conclusion lightly. But it is clear, we believe, that the president has largely lost the consent of the governed. The midterm elections were effectively a referendum on the Obama presidency. And even if it was not an endorsement of a Republican vision for America, the drubbing the Democrats took was certainly a vote of no confidence in Obama and his party. The president has almost no credibility left with Republicans and little with independents.
No, Schoen and Caddell don't come to that conclusion lightly. They come to it dripping with the heaviest, oiliest cynicism imaginable. The Post identifies Schoen as a pollster for Bill Clinton, which is true, but leaves out his more recent work as a
—to say nothing of his work
for an independent presidential run by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. So Schoen has no real identifiable professional or financial interest in propounding the message that Obama is a doomed loser who should just quit, does he?
Caddell, meanwhile, knows how a president should handle sagging popularity and an economic crisis, because he was the staffer who
to give his "
," the address that indelibly established Carter as a feckless failure. Having paved the way for Ronald Reagan's Morning in America campaign, Caddell has now settled into service as a go-to Democratic concern troll for Fox.
Before the midterm election, Schoen and Caddell came up with a piece
and arguing that he "has chosen a strategy of rank division" and that he was "weakening the office of the president." Now, since Obama is Nixon, they're following up with the message that it is time for Nixon to step aside, for the good of the country.
Every word in this opinion piece* is smarmy and insulting to the reader. This passage, for instance:
Obama can and should dispense with the pollsters, the advisers, the consultants and the strategists who dissect all decisions and judgments in terms of their impact on the president's political prospects.
Again, who is writing this? A pair of pollster-adviser-consultant-strategists. But their minds are not on the president's political prospects (because they want him to lose, or failing that, to go away), so that makes them experts on governance. Governance itself—in a governmental system divided among three branches and two parties—is an apolitical activity, naturally.
Schoen and Caddell even stoop to the bygone election's stale phony outrage over the fact that Obama used the word "enemies" while talking to Latino voters, to describe the people who support a program of stopping Latinos to inspect their papers and locking up the ones without documents, for profit .
This is bilge, and the Post specializes in collecting it. Schoen and Caddell have used the op-ed page under Fred Hiatt as a recurring outlet for developing their various messages about why the Democrats are going all wrong, and why the best thing for the party is to give in to the opposition. Now Outlook editor Carlos Lozada is giving them even more space in the Post.
Hiatt seems to believe that people hate his section because he has clung with fearless integrity to his support for invading Iraq —WMD or none, operational ties between Saddam and al Qaeda or none—and because the section's overall politics are to the right of the beliefs of the average reader of the Washington Post. Actually, the reason some of us despise the section is that it consistently chooses to print dishonest garbage, composed by disingenuous partisan hacks, lobbyists, or lobbyist-hacks .*
The Post opinion sections are not a place where serious thinkers work through the issues of the day; they're where professional propagandists float their newest lies, slogans, and
, to see if they can get them to bob into the political mainstream.
Maybe the meanest thing to do is to take the pieces at face value*. So let's ignore the fact that Schoen and Caddell have a professional stake in opposing the president. How are they as political analysts? The thrust of their argument—their surface-level, for-the-good-of-the-nation argument—is that the best way for Obama to lead the country is by voluntarily becoming a lame duck, which will allow him to assemble a unity government to tackle the tough issues.
For this to be good advice, it would help if history were full of presidents who reached the height of their powers and accomplishments after passing the midpoint of their second terms and entering the condition of maximum statesmanship, freed from any need to appeal to voters. That would be when partisan rancor fades and the real work gets done. Remember how bold and commanding George Bush was from 2006 to 2008 ? Or Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2000 ? Or Ronald Reagan from 1986 to 1988 ?
And—I really can't believe I keep having to say this , but people keep writing these sort of things—anyone even remotely familiar with American political history knows that Obama's current situation, a defeat for his party in the midterm Congressional elections, is routine. It is the opposite of a crisis. It happens to everyone.
Yet Schoen and Caddell look at this result—a president whose party controls only one house of Congress—and declare that Obama has "lost the consent of the governed." Do these expert political consultants know what those words mean , or do they just think they sound portentous and emphasize how historically important their opinions are? Because what they are saying, literally, is that the entire American system of government is illegitimate . (There are people who will make that argument, skillfully and forcefully , but they don't write opinion pieces for the Post*.)
Sixty-nine million people, nearly 53 percent of the voting public, cast ballots two years ago to elect Barack Obama to a four-year term as president. These are "the governed." That is what they consented to, under the prevailing understanding of the Constitution. Some of them no doubt will want to vote for someone else in 2012, the next time they are scheduled to vote for a president.
If Schoen and Caddell are not insincere, they are an embarrassment as political experts: hostile to our system of government, ignorant of how it works, and thoroughly unacquainted with history. And that's the charitable view. The uncharitable view is that they do know better, and they're pretending not to. So which is it?* Did the Post want to print this piece because it was stupid, or because it was dishonest?
[*Correction: This item originally and incorrectly blamed Schoen and Caddell's Sunday piece on editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt. That piece ran in the Outlook section, under editor Carlos Lozada. Schoen and Caddell's previous Post opinion piece comparing Obama to Nixon ran in op-ed under Hiatt. The post has been revised at various points to reflect the correction.]