There was a startling op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal today by Pat Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen. I had to look at the bottom to see who Schoen was, but Pat Caddell was Jimmy Carter’s pollster, a member of the team that brought him from obscurity to the White House in 1976. (Schoen was Bill Clinton’s pollster.)
They were urging President Obama to step aside and let Hillary Clinton replace him on the Democratic ticket next year.
It was bizarre. And perhaps no passage in the piece was more bizarre than when they compared the current situation with LBJ’s in 1968, to which I can only say, “Say what?”
I was in the ninth grade at the time, so my political perception was nowhere near what it would be later, but these guys write as though they didn’t live through that time at all.
The convulsions the Democratic Party was going through in ’68, the highs and lows both, were titanic by comparison to what’s happening intraparty now. Everything was bigger. LBJ had had much, much greater success early in his tenure — historic success – but then his re-election ran into the greatest internal conflict that party has suffered in the past century: Vietnam.
Yeah, today Barack Obama presides over an economic situation that is upside-down from the 60s, the worst economy since what FDR faced. But how many Democrats — as opposed to Republicans — actually blame him for that the way the McCarthy faction blamed Lyndon “How Many Kids Did You Kill Today” Johnson? LBJ was blamed specifically for what he had done (escalate the war), not for what he had failed to do (rescue us from the crash that started during the previous administration).
LBJ pulled out after suffering actual primary setbacks (a strong showing by McCarthy in New Hampshire, the decision by Bobby Kennedy to jump in) at the hands of insurgents in his own party. If Obama stepped aside, he’d be doing it because Caddell and Schoen and whoever else they speak for were dissatisfied with him. Which is pretty thin stuff, by comparison.
Finally, let’s look at how that turned out for the Democrats — with the election of Richard “He’s Back!” Nixon.
Caddell should think harder about another example from history: The challenge mounted by Teddy Kennedy to his man Carter in 1980. That insurrection was put down, but it weakened Carter further, and we know how that turned out.
Finally, it gets weirdest of all when the authors twice offer the argument that Barack Obama is… too partisan… and that the cure to that ailment is… and here the mind reels… Hillary Clinton. See this excerpt:
One year ago in these pages, we warned that if President Obama continued down his overly partisan road, the nation would be “guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it.” The result has been exactly as we predicted: stalemate in Washington, fights over the debt ceiling, an inability to tackle the debt and deficit, and paralysis exacerbating market turmoil and economic decline….
What? A year ago was way before Obama turned partisan. Less than a year ago was when he, at least temporarily, gave Republicans what they wanted on continuing tax cuts. I’m really missing something here.
And then there’s this part:
By going down the re-election road and into partisan mode, the president has effectively guaranteed that the remainder of his term will be marred by the resentment and division that have eroded our national identity, common purpose, and most of all, our economic strength. If he continues on this course it is certain that the 2012 campaign will exacerbate the divisions in our country and weaken our national identity to such a degree that the scorched-earth campaign that President George W. Bush ran in the 2002 midterms and the 2004 presidential election will pale in comparison…
Just to review how we got to where we are today… In 2008, Barack Obama was the cure to the hyper, bitter, partisanship of the Clintonistas. The most partisan Democrats didn’t like his conciliatory tone, which is one reason the Clinton campaign was as long-lived as it was: The partisans didn’t want to settle for the nice, reasonable guy.
Those same people have griped about, and undermined, the Obama presidency since Day One. Finally (and I can remember Jimmy Carter doing something similar to please the red-meat crowd in his party), he’s gone on the attack, after extremists in the Republican Party have led us to a downgrade in the U.S. credit rating. So the partisans in his own party are cheering, and these guys pick this moment to turn against their president, and moan about him being too partisan?
These guys can fret over their numbers all day, but the one individual who is actually running for president who has the best chance of being elected right now is Barack Obama. As much dissension as there has been among Democrats, it’s nothing compared to the lurching fragmentation going on in the GOP, which looks good in a poll against the president except when you substitute any of the actual people running for a hypothetical Republican.
Does that mean America is itching to jump on his bandwagon? No. America isn’t itching to jump on anybody’s bandwagon these days. America is bummed out. And the answer to that is to substitute him with one of the most polarizing Democrats of the last 20 years? Really?
Yes, she polls well. People approve of the job she’s doing as secretary of state. And they’re right to. I’ll go further: Hillary Clinton, in my opinion, has never deserved either the hatred of the right, nor the adulation of the most partisan elements of the left. I’ve always seen her as more of a pragmatist, someone who will work hard to get the job done. And people like those qualities in her current job, just as her constituents liked them when she was their senator.
But let her run for president, and you’ll give the hapless opposition something to rally against, something that awakens some of their more atavistic passions. Of course, Obama does that, too. But if you made me bet, I’d bet on the incumbent being better able to push past all that. This is the guy who got Osama bin Laden, and in a subtle piece of maneuvering brought down Qaddafi in Libya. Today, as we speak, he is taking the smart road on the failure of the “supercommittee” to do its job, taking the hard line, refusing to allow any backsliding on the sequester process. All things that only the incumbent can point to.
Obama’s failures are not failures of partisanship, but failures arising from passivity — the partisan Democrats are right about that, and so are the Republicans who accuse him of failing to lead. He let the stimulus package happen without doing enough to shape it, and then he did the same with his chance to make history on healthcare. Both of those grand schemes required a guiding intelligence to render them coherent, and he left the job to… Congress, of all unlikely suspects.
But no one running against him can point to any greater achievements (and poor Mitt Romney has to run from his). The GOP is lost and wandering right now; you can feel the lack of energy and enthusiasm about their field. And they have no one that independents like me can get excited about — well, they do, but they refuse to pay attention to him.
The one great advantage that Democrats have is they don’t have to go through this upheaval; they’ve got their candidate. It’s bizarre that veterans such as these would want to throw away that advantage.