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Daniel N. Nelson Headshot

Should Obama Step Aside?

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These are painful times for American progressives. President Obama is struggling to regain control of his own administration after two and a half years when it often seemed that he was not in control. His oratory faltered, communication became stilted, decision-making was lackluster; once he was no longer a candidate but rather President, we who supported him with fervor began to doubt.

Our greatest and best hope, Barack Obama, is on the verge of losing a chance for a second term. His popularity -- job approval and other measures gauged by almost every poll -- is terribly low. Well below 40%. Yes, Congress has even lower approval numbers, soon to perhaps match the Fed's interest rates. And, it is unequivocal that much of the public mistrust of President Obama's abilities is focused on the economy, notwithstanding the real cause of a global 2008 recession -- the George W. Bush administration.

President Obama's "negatives" are very high -- on leadership, on the economy, and on other indicators. He campaigned superbly in 2008, but has governed haltingly. His administration had offered bold ideas, but ideas that exceeded his political capacities. Now he pays the price for such an over-agended presidency.

The mid-term elections of 2010 were disastrous for the Democratic Party and any progressive advocacy. In 2012, a clear danger is that the Senate will likewise become led by right-wing Republicans ("tea-partyists" -- the same types that have stymied any sensible consensus in the House). Even if Obama manages to win a second term, it is very likely he'll be unable to pass any legislation, or to move ahead any of his agenda.

The President has added to the dismay among progressives, and thus weakened his own base, by many compromises seemingly without battle. Environmental regulations have been weakened, Guantanamo has not been closed, and taxes on the super-rich were sacrificed (which amazed even some of the super-rich). And, that is simply the beginning of a long, long list of Obama's moral compromises.

Most progressives want to fight as hard as the radical right. The President's gut instinct seems to be to offer compromises before demanding equal movement from the extreme right. Where there used to be a moderate ground where civil discussion could occur (say, for example, a Dick Lugar and Joe Biden on foreign policy), there is no longer. But President Obama doesn't push back, save on the basketball court.

Regrettably, Barack Obama may have become the biggest liability for the Democratic Party in 2012, and he must consider the implications. It is highly unlikely that he will be able to rally the faithful, many of whom are unemployed. Absent a continuous campaign for his goals since 2008, he has lost all of the momentum and most of his base.

For the Democratic Party to keep the White House in 2012, President Obama may be well advised to think seriously about handing the torch to someone else -- no, not Hilary Clinton (despite Dick Cheney's backhanded endorsement). But, as we all know, the Democratic Party has a capacity to produce not only charismatic candidates but also those with great political experience.

This is not the vehicle to suggest or endorse specific individuals. The Democratic Party, however, which won a huge victory in 2008, has seen not just a dramatic decline in electoral support but a loss of moral suasion.

The reality is that President Obama has accomplished a great deal -- in foreign/security policy, in health care reform, and financial reform. However, he and his team have failed to explicate and convince the public of those achievements and the reasons for any sacrifice. They have governed but not campaigned. The failure of a stimulus program, unfairly attributed to Obama, to reduce unemployment also now rests, in voters' minds, on his shoulders.

Little more than thirteen months before a critical national election, President Obama should consider the fate of his presidency. Were he to persevere in a campaign for re-election, he may bring a progressive agenda to a dead halt, and ensure that "tea-partyists" dominate national policy for at least four years. That such a result will be ruinous is certain, leading to a long-term disability of the federal government to protect rights, encourage higher standards, or to engage in any constructive policy.

But, President Obama may need to step aside to avoid such a debacle.