September 27, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013
I ask only half-jokingly.
You see we, as Americans, as citizens, as voters, frequently allow even our most beloved leaders a fairly short shelf-life. Even after we re-elect him or her to the oval office as in the case of Mr. Obama, we do so with both the knowledge he will serve there for four more years and that he will become largely irrelevant for most of those years. Lame duck thy name is now Barack Obama.
Please, let me explain. I come neither to bury or bronze the president.
I have dedicated my adult life to studying and working in the field of American politics and government. Both learning of and being fascinated, even amused by its strange culture and traditions. I graduated 20 years or so ago from American University in Washington DC, went to work in our US Congress and recently completed a nearly 2 year DC-based directorship of a large, well-funded research project on our 50 state supreme court justices.
I know the swamp that is our nation’s capitol all too well.
And one of the idiosyncrasies of our nation’s politics writ large is we get bored. And soon after, we get a bit grouchy. And then that’s usually followed by indifference tinged with a political restlessness. It’s not that we don’t know what we want as a nation. No, it’s just that even when we get what at least a majority of folks wanted, we soon want change, any kind of change more. We do this with our celebrities all the time. The ones that stick around a long time know that at some point they’d better have some disease, heartache, rehab, comeback, sex scandal, anything. Just don’t bore us.
Ah, those fickle Americans, as France’s Charles DeGaulle used to say (of course he said it in French so many of us thought he was just thanking us for saving him and his fellow French croissants in WW2). Sacre Bleu.
The night of the historic election of then-US Senator (IL) and President-elect Barack (no longer Barry) Obama was, clearly, as good as it will ever get for now President Obama. I remember watching him face an adoring, exuberant, frenzied crowd of supporters at Lincoln Park, Illinois the evening of his ascension into the pantheon known as the White House. I turned to a fellow observer, friend and DC consultant and said, “This is it. This is the peak. It will only be downhill from here.”
Nonsense, my friend said. This is just the first step of an incredible journey. America will never be the same.
About a week or so ago, Michael Moore the professional public instigator and red-hot, flaming liberal, declared in all his rotund profundity that President Obama was essentially, a failure. That he (Mr. Obama) will be remembered for being our nation’s first black president and that was it. No less, no more.
Ouch. Maybe he couldn’t.
But, truth be told the downward drift, even spiral, was already a “fait accompli” the night he addressed and thanked his supporters in Lincoln Park. The heady night he vowed in the shadow of our nation’s emancipator that “This is just the beginning.”
But running for president, being elected president and actually serving as president are three rather distinct heads to one rather ferocious and unforgiving Harry-Potter-like dog.
We get bored. We get grouchy. We grow indifferent.
President Obama is not the first lame-duck president to struggle with relevance and to lose support in his final stretch-run in office. George Washington wrote of an impending loneliness and fatigue, both physically and for the duties of the office. Thomas Jefferson couldn’t wait until he would be “liberated” from office so he could pursue his real interests, which apparently were wine, women and song (isn’t it always?).
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was a gaunt, barely shadow of his former self prior to his death in office. Dwight D. Eisenhower was nearly a forgotten president in his second term as our collective attentions quickly turned to that tanned, Harvard-boy Jack Kennedy and that shifty Richard Nixon, arch-rivals to succeed good old Ike.
President Carter in or out of his infamous sweater was also seen as a hand-wringing, moralizing irrelevance in his final months in office. And he didn’t even get re-elected so he could soon become lame (duck). We wanted Jimmy to mostly just keep the executive chair warm for that Hollywood actor turned Governor, Ronald Reagan and not get overly “malaised” about it.
The former “Bedtime for Bonzo” star, Ronald Reagan, would go on to spend much of his final term trying to dodge the fall-out from the Iran-Contra scandal and enduring what we now know was the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. His presidential naps went from 1 hour a day to well, nearly the whole afternoon under the watchful eye of First Lady Nancy. Though, at least he did stay awake long enough to ask Mr. Gorbachev to take some sort of wall down in Berlin.
Yet, somehow the republic survived despite our growing indifference and the irrelevance of the officeholder.
Sometimes through sheer bravado, bluster or downright bizarre behavior our presidents surprise us in their second term.
Richard M. Nixon gave the nation a version of his own “Italian Salute” by resigning midstream once it was clear he would be impeached for his mafia-style oversight of the petty though disturbing and illegal Watergate crimes.
William Jefferson Clinton chose not to rein in his um, wild horses behavior and he did get impeached though not removed from office. (Even before you got real close in 2000 Al Gore, you got really close). It was a political train-wreck but at least we didn’t get bored. The economy even seemed to stay strong despite Bill’s increasing legal, political and marital distractions.Take that presidential scholars who say that presidential power and focus is everything in American politics.
George W. Bush’s second term was shaped almost entirely by outside forces who flew inside our airspace and terrorized us on the eleventh of September. I can’t really recall much of what he did or said for about the last 2 years or so, though, can you? Maybe he got a head-start on his portrait painting.
Which brings us nearly full-circle back to Barack Obama who it seems has always been good, even great at delivering inspirational speeches but who often seems indifferent himself to the job. He seems truly most engaged and genuinely passionate when playing golf (though truth be told this is the case in about 4 out of every 5 American males). In my frequent travels back to our nation’s swampy capitol I almost always hear the same scuttlebutt-President Obama just doesn’t like to schmooze or mix it up with friends or rivals. “Is he still president?” a politico asked me recently. And he’s a supporter.
This kind of sentiment seems to only accelerate our collective boredom and Mr. Obama’s own growing, political irrelevance. The Hillary watch is already on, right?
Now, that Michelle Obama seems ready and able to throw down with any and all political comers. She’s anything but boring. But that’s a blog for another day.
Still. Maybe it’s not fair to place all the blame on President Obama. Seems we should accept our own heaping portion of blame. And, as always, in a few years when we are growing indifferent with our current president we’ll look back and say, “That Mr. Obama, now there was a president.” It’s just what we do. (Only about 12 more years to go Dubya).
But that’s down the road. For now, let’s face it. We get bored. And then a bit grouchy. And then indifferent.