Obama: One and Done?

Democratic consultants Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell offer some free advice for President Obama. It's worth every penny.

Democratic consultants Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell offer some free advice for President Obama. It’s worth every penny.

This is a critical moment for the country. From the faltering economy to the burdensome deficit to our foreign policy struggles, America is suffering a widespread sense of crisis and anxiety about the future. Under these circumstances, Obama has the opportunity to seize the high ground and the imagination of the nation once again, and to galvanize the public for the hard decisions that must be made. The only way he can do so, though, is by putting national interests ahead of personal or political ones.

To that end, we believe Obama should announce immediately that he will not be a candidate for reelection in 2012.

If the president goes down the reelection road, we are guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it. But by explicitly saying he will be a one-term president, Obama can deliver on his central campaign promise of 2008, draining the poison from our culture of polarization and ending the resentment and division that have eroded our national identity and common purpose.


Quite simply, given our political divisions and economic problems, governing and campaigning have become incompatible. 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.

Obama himself once said to Diane Sawyer: “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.” He now has the chance to deliver on that idea.

They anticipate the obvious retort:

Forgoing another term would not render Obama a lame duck. Paradoxically, it would grant him much greater leverage with Republicans and would make it harder for opponents such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) – who has flatly asserted that his highest priority is to make Obama a one-term president – to be uncooperative.


If the president adopts our suggestion, both sides will be forced to compromise.

There are two wee problems with all of this.  First, it assumes that the only reason that there’s politics in politics is because an incumbent president is a natural target.  Second, it assumes that there is some wise “middle ground” that would gain widespread support if only politicians would just put the “interests of the country” above their partisan interests.  Neither, alas, is remotely true.

Assertions aside, Obama would by definition be a lame duck if he declared he wasn’t seeking re-election. He’d immediately go from being the undisputed leader of the Democratic Party to one of many, as the Democratic primary field of 2016 would suddenly become the Democratic primary field of 2012.  One imagines, for example, that Hillary Clinton would leave the administration and start running.  What this means is that, even if Obama could stand above the fray and more easily compromise — he wouldn’t have to worry about alienating the Progressives anymore — a goodly number of Senate Republicans and Democrats would have to start grandstanding earlier.

Recall also that every second term president is in the position to which Schoen and Caddell advise Obama to skip ahead.  Does anyone recall the halcyon bipartisan achievements of the second Bush term?  The second Clinton term?  The second Reagan term?  The second Nixon term?

Yes, presidents free from the pressure of re-election tend to focus on their “legacy.”  But the other players remain politicians.

More importantly, removing political ambitions from the lead actor in American politics — and that assumes Obama wouldn’t wish to be succeeded by a Democrat — wouldn’t change the fact that we’re a nation of very diverse opinions.  Yes, the two parties are an artifact of our institutions.  But they’re also a function of natural divisions between rural and urban, religious and secular, rich and poor, and myriad other worldviews.

Schoen and Caddell cite specifics:

[I]f the president were to demonstrate a clear degree of bipartisanship, it would force the Republicans to meet him halfway. If they didn’t, they would look intransigent, as the GOP did in 1995 and 1996, when Bill Clinton first advocated a balanced budget. Obama could then go to the Democrats for tough cuts to entitlements and look to the Republicans for difficult cuts on defense.

So, because Obama announces he’s not running again, Democrats are going to not only abandon their core beliefs in a more redistributionist government but also alienate their every constituency?   And Republicans are suddenly going to decide we can get by with half the military spending?   Why, pray tell, is that?

On foreign policy, Obama could better make hard decisions about Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan based on what is reasonable and responsible for the United States, without the political constraints of a looming election. He would be able to deal with a Democratic constituency that wants to get out of Afghanistan immediately and a Republican constituency that is committed to the war, forging a course that responds not to the electoral calendar but to the facts on the ground.

Right.  If only they would be reasonable, Democrats would realize that the “facts on the ground” are such that we should stay in Afghanistan and Republicans would see that we should have a more modest set of goals.  Why, we could meet in the middle!  Except that there is no middle.   Neoisolationism and neoconservatism are diametrically opposed philosophies.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Political Theory, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I’m thinking that this article was written in a state that has decriminalized marijuana right?

  2. Jay Dubbs says:

    3 thoughts:

    1) Shouldn’t they be former Democratic consultants at this point?

    2) Do any democrats actually listen to them?


    3) At free, this is still overpriced

  3. Tano says:

    Pat Cadell has carved out a niche for himself as the bitter, sour-puss. Dem-hater (oh, but I am still a Dem!). All of his commentary for years now, going on decades, has been of this type – utterly ridiculous “analysis” that betrays an underlying desire to just stick it to the Dems in ways that he figures must hurt the most.
    Your critique is quite fine James, but I wonder why you even bother. I doubt anyone will be taking this in any way seriously.

  4. Tano says:

    Having said that though, I do take issue with this comment of yours – re. Afghanistan.

    “Neoisolationism and neoconservatism are diametrically opposed philosophies.”

    Are you claiming that these are the two underlying philosophies that are driving debate on Afghanistan policy? Are they the only alternatives? I would have thought that your critique of S&C would have started with their characterization of the two positions. Liberal Democrats who want out, and conservative Republicans who want to stay long-term. Aren’t you a rather conservative Republican who wants out? Are you a neoisolationist? And Obama – who also wants out, but who imagines that there are real accomplishments within our grasp that we should achieve before we leave – is he a neoconservative? Or does he actually occupy that middle ground that you state does not exist?

  5. john personna says:

    One could have predicted that such articles would be written after the last election, and so they are. I see them more as a statement of these times, than of times two years from now.

  6. john personna says:

    (A random thought yesterday was whether Obama was looking forward to the good life as an ex-President. It can be a really good life. It could be that GWB is the first President since Nixon with enough stink on him that he can’t really enjoy it …. but the rest do.)

  7. Chad S says:

    It always amazes me that anyone in the Dem side of the aisle listens to “inside the beltway professionals” like these two clowns, or guys like Shrum/Mark Penn. The fact that they’re batting about absolute zero with their predictions and advice doesn’t seem to stop anyone from treating them like serious players in politics.

  8. Mr. Prosser says:

    Pat Caddell, are you serious? Let’s get the pontifications of Dick Morris in on this as well.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Tano: “Are you claiming that these are the two underlying philosophies that are driving debate on Afghanistan policy? Are they the only alternatives?”

    They’re not the only alternatives but, yes, they’re driving the debate. Anything other than “stay until we win” is branded treason by the Republicans and anything aside from “get the hell out now” is branded as war mongering/giving in by the Dems.

  10. Tano says:

    “yes, they’re driving the debate…”

    Which debate? Certainly not the one that counts, given that the administration (whose position matters quite a bit) does not hold to either of those positions.

  11. Brett says:

    What`s most funny about the whole piece is how unimaginative and unoriginal it is. You could literally remove “Obama” from the proposal and insert “Clinton” or “George W. Bush”, shuffle a small amount of the phrasing, and it would sound exactly the same.

    Almost as funny (and weird at the same time) is their belief that Obama not running for re-election in 2012 would somehow prevent an ugly, protracted campaign over the next two years. Do they somehow think that the underlying dynamics in American politics will change, or that a campaign with both parties having long protracted primary fights would be less ugly?

    In any case, the whole thing is typical for so-called “centrists” like these two. They always obsess over personalities.

  12. Tom Hilton says:

    I think reasonable Democrats and reasonable Republicans can form a bipartisan consensus around the proposition that Caddell and Schoen are idiots.

  13. James Joyner says:

    @Tano: Obama doesn’t have a discernible position. The July 2011 “deadline” is so amorphous that Joe Biden, Bill Gates, and David Petraeus all think it comports with their preferred policies.

  14. Robert C. says:

    “[I]f the president were to demonstrate a clear degree of bipartisanship…..”

    Obama has bent over backwards for Republicans..he has practically grovelled..to the detriment of the US….and all he gets is a crap sandwich. Are these two guys Democratic or Republican stratigits?


  15. Tano says:


    Perhaps it is that Obama does not have a rigid, ideological position. His goals here seem pretty obvious and his approach pragmatic. He wants to get out ASAP – i.e. he does not buy into any neoconservative fantasy, but he wants to leave only when there is a reasonably good chance that the Afghan government will hold onto power, with the Taliban either marginalized or co-opted, so that there will be some measure of peace in the country and no chance for Al-Q to come back over the border and find safe haven. (i.e. – he is not buying into cut and run).

    I don’t understand why so many people find it hard to accept the obvious here, or claim that this is not a coherent approach (whether it will work is another matter, of course).

  16. Will says:

    “Democratic consultants Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell…”


    You must know that they aren’t.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Will: “Please, please, PLEASE STOP CALLING THEM THAT. You must know that they aren’t.”

    There’s a case to be made that Caddell is no longer a Democratic consultant, although he was one of the most prominent. But Schoen is still actively working on Democratic campaigns, including Hillary’s 2008 run and a 2010 Senate race.

  18. Dave Schuler says:

    Caddell is pretty accurately described as a “former Democrat”. He had a rather public falling out with the Democratic Party 20 years ago.

    Doug Schoen is still, apparently, a Democrat. I think they’re both Clintonistas. At least Schoen certainly is.

    I think that it should be observed that “progressive” and “Democrat” aren’t interchangeable terms. Neither are “critic of the Democratic Party” and “Republican”.

  19. Davebo says:

    ” But Schoen is still actively working on Democratic campaigns, including Hillary’s 2008 run and a 2010 Senate race.”

    Actively working on a campaign that was over 2 years ago and apparently working in a senate race that neither of you can name.

    Great James. Who says citizen journalism isn’t dead.

  20. TG Chicago says:

    I enjoyed both Jay Dubbs’ and Tom Hilton’s comments.

    Another reason this is moronic: If Obama made this announcement, what would the right do? They would pounce! They would say “See! Even Obama realizes that the country has rejected his neo-Marxist agenda. We must continue to fight this socialist menace!”

    Also, look what happened to Palin’s approval rating when she quit mid-term. Granted, Obama wouldn’t be stepping down immediately, but he’d similarly be called a quitter and people would lose respect for him.

    What standards does the Washington Post have for running editorials? Do they insist that anything they run has to be the most braindead stupid thing that anybody has said all week? That seems to be what they go for.

  21. TG Chicago says:

    Interesting tweet from Glenn Greenwald regarding this article:

    “All of these anti-Obama articles by Doug Schoen should note how much $$ he’ll make if his client Michael Bloomberg runs”

  22. mannning says:

    Let us hope that Obama does run in 2012 and he is defeated! Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton stands in the wings ready to run if Obama opts out, and she has a much better chance of holding the presidency for the Dems than does Obama, in my opinion. Defeating Obama in 2012 could lead to 8 years of a Republican WH, thus postponing Clinton’s run hopefully to 2020– or never.

    The problem is, who is the best GOP candidate to defeat Obama in 2012?

  23. An Interested Party says:

    “The problem is, who is the best GOP candidate to defeat Obama in 2012?”

    That is an enormous problem, as it makes everything else you wrote moot…I mean, really, Mitt Romney? Sarah Palin? Tim Pawlenty? Haley Barbour? Newt Gingrich? Such a sterling cast of characters…

  24. mannning says:


    Don’t you think Sarah Palin would be absolutely sterling when compared to Obama?
    For that matter, any of the list would be. You can positively forgive each of the candidates on the list for their sins of the past, since Obama and Clinton have so many drastic sins it would all balance out in favor of the Republicans, don’t you think? Enough there between the two of them for books to be written about their sins!

    Let he or she who has never sinned throw the first stone!

  25. An Interested Party says:

    “Don’t you think Sarah Palin would be absolutely sterling when compared to Obama?”

    Umm, not really…of course, I think that most comparisons between Palin and the president are rather ridiculous…oh, and I was using “sterling cast of characters” in terms of this list of people actually being able to defear the president in 2012…you really think any of them could do that?

  26. An Interested Party says:


  27. mannning says:

    @ AIP

    Obama will defeat himself; it matters little who his opponent is. The public can stand just so much leftwing ideation, lying, maneuvering and spending, and there is only one opponent to vote for–so even Palin could beat him should she get that far.

  28. sam says:

    Ah, Manning, the reports of Obama’s political demise are greatly exaggerated. Obama has one really, really great thing going for him: the incoming Republican Congress. Clinton was said to be lucky in his enemies, Obama, I think, will be doubly so. Perhaps you’re unaware, but there seems to be underway the beginnings of a civil war in the leper colony known as the GOP, see Tea Party Fail: Patriots’ Conspiracy Theory Leads To Mass Calling Of Reps’ Personal Cell Phones. The goofiness that will characterize the incoming Congress will only deepen the widely held contempt for the Republicans. Against that backdrop, every Republican contender will be measured. All Obama has to do is say, in effect, “You see what I’m working with here?”

  29. mannning says:

    One and done! He will defeat himself; and the GOP will get it together. Just watch! I mean only watch, and not vote for Obama! LOL

  30. christian says:

    This is how hacks get their names in TV and print — aided and abetted by a self-loathing liberals anxious to yank defeat from victory.

    Hey, at least they started a new meme!