I hope you have enjoyed our extended Presidents Day walk down memory lane with the eleven one-term presidents who failed to win re-election, from John Adams through George H.W. Bush. Click here to see the entire series: (a) part I of this series, the first eight one-term presidents, John Adams to William Howard Taft, (b) part II, the ninth, Herbert Hoover, (c) part III, the tenth, Jimmy Carter, and (d) part IV, the eleventh and last, George H.W. Bush.So what was the pattern? How can Barack Obama avoid their mistakes? History never repeats itself. Each situation, generation, and person is unique. But history does give clues to who we are and how we act. Barack Obama has shown himself a masterful politician with a strong organization. Facing 2012, for my own two cents, I see two key strengths and two key weaknesses:First, Obama's strengths:
- Weak rival: A Republcan Party still in disarray (despite its 2010 gains) burdened with (a) an over-abundance with weak national candidates apparently too ego-driven to get out of the way (Palin, Gingrich, Romney, and the rest) and (b) a majority in the House of Representatives too ideological to keep itself out of trouble (government shutdowns, overreaching on social issues, so on);
- Strong personal good will: A lingering base of good will in the country among people who still see Obama as reasonable, helpful, centrist, and calm and who consider his 2008 election a historic achievement worth protecting.
Now the weaknesses:
- Some failures: Some serious leadership mistakes in the first two years, including (a) ceding too much initial control to Capitol Hill Democrats, letting Health Care eclipse economic policy, failing to take control on the budget deficit and (b) too often being dismissive of -- sometimes even hostile to -- his base, his friends, and his core supporters. Remember Plunket's credo from 1905 Tammany Hall: "The politicians who make a lastin' success in politics are the men who are always loyal to their friends, even up to the gate of State prison, if necessary...."
- The economy: An economy still broken from 2008 (despite fortunes spent trying to fix it), leaving millions still unemployed and under-employed and the country drowning in red ink, and still fragile enough to rise up and give us all another painful bite at some unexpected point. (Don't let the stock market fool you on this. That budget-busting tax-cut deal from last November can still come back to haunt.)
Best of luck to all the contestants. Happy Presidents Day.