In the months leading up to the 1980 Democratic nomination, incumbent President Carter was challenged by Ted Kennedy. The Iran Hostage Crisis and poor economy had painted Carter as a weak leader, one with little chance of re-election. Carter eventually won the nomination as Kennedy's presidential profile was mortally wounded by Chappaquiddick and Carter went on to be trounced by Reagan.
Candidate Obama seemingly came out of obscurity a couple of years before the 2008 election and was hailed by many as the next great Democratic presidential candidate. Of course, being a candidate and actually being elected are very different things. Promises are easy but actually achieving meaningful accomplishments is much more difficult.
As I talk with many young Democrats who are exasperated with political issues like the debt ceiling, ongoing wars, lack of Congressional approval for action in Libya, the endless debates to produce a highly flawed healthcare act, the recent credit downgrade, ongoing issues with the economy... it makes one wonder why no one is discussing the possibility of a Democrat challenging the president for the 2012 nomination. Is Obama today's Carter, a president considered by most to be weak yet still nominated simply because of his incumbent status?
Surely Democrat leaders recognize that 2012 is not 2008. President Obama isn't going to energize young voters like he dazzled in 2008 with eloquent speeches after the last few years of seeing him in office. Certainly Democrat leaders understand that the 2012 election is going to come down to which candidate can motivate their base to go to the polls. Pollsters can quickly show that many of those youth who helped push the president into office have moved from enthusiastic idealists to jaded cynics and, we all know, jaded cynics rarely bother showing up to vote.
Perhaps the straw that broke many young backs was the debt ceiling deal. As with a Rorschach test, people's interpretation of the downgrade seems to be very much driven by their predispositions rather than the ink on the page. Democrats like to point to some Republicans for their refusal to budge on any negotiations and their seemingly delight in helping destroy the U.S. credit rating. Critics of Obama point to a lack of leadership and the fact that the debt ceiling discussion did not have to be a last minute deal.
In the end, the debt ceiling deal resulted in the president handing over much of the principles he professed to stand for in exchange for the promise that he won't have to hear about debt ceilings until a magical time: 2013. Even the most rose-colored glasses Obama supporter was disgusted by the "happy coincidence" that this deal delays any further discussions on the topic until Obama believes he'll be comfortably in his second term.
As I spoke with a 22-year-old young friend this morning, he summarized the feelings of many Democrats of his generation by saying, "I wanted to believe Obama was something special, but, in the end he's just a politician. He seemed like the perfect symbol of America 's future. Gives a heck of a speech... but, in the end, doesn't mean a word he says".
With so many of the voters in their 20's and 30's expressing that same sentiment I can't help but wonder why are so many Democrats resigned to nominate an incumbent they don't support? Why aren't other leading Democrats vying for the nomination? Where is today's Ted Kennedy that will challenge a weak incumbent? Are other leading Democrats afraid of his massive political campaign war chest or simply all planning on hiding until 2016?
I never expected Obama to be anything more than another smooth-talking politician and I don't really expect any Democrats to vie for the nomination. I'd like to think that means I am realistic, though lately am wondering if I am really just another jaded cynic.