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Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Posted: January 26, 2010 11:09 AM

Obama's One Term Obsession

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White House press secretary Robert Gibbs presumably spoke on good authority when he said that President Obama was "comfortable" with being a one term president. Obama vis-a-vis Gibbs nobly says this is the sacrificial price he'll pay to make health care and energy reform an American reality. Political martyrdom talk by Obama of one term to get his agenda through is not new. He said the same thing in an interview on NBC's Today Show two weeks after he was sworn in. He said that if he didn't deliver he'd be "a one term proposition." His seeming obsession with being a one termer has got to be a first for a president. That is to talk about defeat before he's barely through his first year in office. This hardly inspires confidence in the troops.

This is not a case of panic, fear, or crystal ball gazing. Obama's simply facing a bitter reality that dogged him even before he raised his hand to take the oath of office. A majority of mid-America and Deep South voters not only voted against him, but rabidly denounced his policies, even before he clearly articulated what those policies were and what he'd do to try and implement them. Obama won the bulk of independent votes less because of anything he said or did that convinced them he really could deliver his much promised change, but because of their disgust and revulsion at the scandal, corruption, bumbling, and duplicity of Bush and the GOP. Obama's independent voter support was always fragile, tenuous, and cautious, and they could turn against him at any time. As the Ross Perot insurgency in 1992 showed, a significant number of independents is white, middle-class, centrist, and small government, fiscal conservatives. The diametric opposite of what Obama and the majority of Democrats purport to be. Polls show that they feel they've been crossed and they've turned with a vengeance against Obama.

Take health care reform, the issue that Obama through Gibbs cited when he made his one term quip, and has cited repeatedly in the past as the thing that he'd rise or fall on. This is the issue that independents feel they've been crossed on.

Obama gambled that he could beat back the fine-tuned, well-oiled and well-endowed health care industry juggernaut and get health care reform, any health care reform, through Congress and into law. Only one president has been able to do this and that was Lyndon Johnson. He arm-twisted, browbeat, and out smarted Congress and the health care industry to get Medicare. Johnson had won a landslide election victory in 1964, had fine-tuned, hard-nosed political skills and had the reform spirit of the civil rights movement and a solid Democratic party behind him. And he had the wellspring of public sympathy after JFK's murder. But Obama can never be mistaken for LBJ, politically. Health care reform degenerated into a raucous and contentious fight that has been picked at and pecked away at until it resembles a grotesque caricature of what it started out to be. The health care battle gave a badly fractured and reeling GOP the wedge issue it needed to get back off the political mat.

It took the shock of the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts for Obama and the Democrats to half open their tin ear to what much of the public has been screaming for through the presidential campaign and screamed even louder for a year into Obama's first year and that's to right the economy, rein in the Wall Street greed merchants, create jobs and save homes, and get the credit pipeline open to businesses. Obama and the top Democrats have only half opened their ear to the shouts. They still are bound and determined to mount the barricades to keep Ben Bernanke, the man who is a shill for Wall Street and the big banks, in the Federal Reserve driver's seat, refuse to mount a full court press for job creation, continue to dump billions more on flawed and wasteful wars, and fail miserably to provide strong and resolute leadership.

Obama does not have three years to get things right. Health care reform and righting the economy that is the signature markers for a successful Obama first term, and the justification for a second one are fast slipping away as being in any way salvageable. Doubts, unease, and his real and perceived failure to drastically make the change he promised will be hard to unhinge from voter thinking. The GOP will stir more fear, pound away on the doubts, unease and perceived failures of Obama. The Supreme Court decision makes it even more unlikely that Obama can smack down the fat cats on Wall Street. They're awash with cash and now they can use it to keep their profits safe, the regulators at bay, and bankroll candidates and elected officials who will make sure that happens.

Obama's repeated talk of a one term president may be a neat political ploy to make the point that he'll battle for his agenda come hell or high water. On the other hand he simply may be prescient. Either way his one term talk smacks of a political obsession.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).