The Obamas’ interview Friday with Barbara Walters left me with one takeaway: They’re looking forward to the end of the president’s term. And to be honest, who can blame them?
Of course, neither President Obama nor first lady Michelle Obama stated that explicitly. They didn’t say they have a “count down the days until we’re outta here” calendar in their bedroom. And I’m not saying the president is throwing in the towel.
But the Obamas’ tone reminded me of when you’ve already decided to break up with the person you’re dating, though you haven’t told the other person yet. Sure, you’re still going through the motions, but one foot is already out the door. I think the Obamas are ready to break up with us—and especially with Congress.
I first noticed it when Walters asked the president about his post-White House plans. He didn’t offer the usual clichéd answer, something like: “I haven’t even thought about that because we have so much work to finish.”
Instead, when Walters asked whether he would still be active in politics after his presidency, Michelle jumped in with a resounding “no!” Sure, she was laughing, but there’s often truth to our humor. The Obamas then discussed the impact moving away from Washington, D.C., could have on their younger daughter, Sasha, in a way that made clear it wasn’t first time the subject had been broached.
But to me the most telling remark came when Walters asked whether the first lady would have made a better president than her husband. The president laughingly responded that Michelle would have been superior, though he added: “But she’s smart enough to know that she might not want to go through the process.” The first lady echoed that thought, saying her husband has a level of a “patience” and “calm” that most, including her, do not possess.
You could detect from them an underlying sense of frustration and almost acceptance that things likely would not improve much for the rest of Obama’s second term. And that feeling is understandable. Just look at how Obama’s fortunes have changed since he took office in 2009. He won the Nobel Peace Prize within the first year. His No. 1 legislative priority, Obamacare, became law in March 2010. And the United States’ image worldwide improved considerably in his first two years in office.
But the economy was still sputtering in mid-2010, causing Obama’s approval numbers to slide and the Republicans to take control of the House and make gains in the Senate that November. Since then we have seen the president fight congressional Republicans tooth and nail on seemingly every issue, from raising the debt celling to confirming his nominees and even picking the day he could deliver an address to Congress.
And all along the right has kept up a constant drumbeat of baseless personal attacks against him. Among the claims: that Obama was born in Kenya—recently reasserted by Sen. Ted Cruz’s father—that he’s a Muslim, that he’s a socialist, and that he’s “palling around with terrorists.”
To make matters worse, some congressional Democrats, in an “Et tu” moment, even turned on him, refusing to support his proposal to close Guantanamo Bay and universal background checks for prospective gun purchasers.
And let’s not forget the Obamacare website rollout fiasco. His approval rating is now at an all-time low—not a good place to be if you want to convince Congress to support your legislative initiatives.
At this point, a successful second term for Obama would simply be thwarting congressional Republicans from gutting food stamps and other social programs that help less fortunate Americans.
But the bigger question is: Why would anyone want to be president in this political climate? You either have to be a masochist or have an acute Messiah complex. In 2012, it seemed as if many Republicans had both, with Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain all claiming that God had told them to run for president. (In their defense, they could have been right. Maybe God was bored and wanted some laughs.)
Let’s be brutally honest. If a Republican wins the presidency in 2016, the payback from Democrats will be vicious. I’m talking about something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. And if a Democrat wins, especially Hillary Clinton, we can expect to see more of what Obama has been made to endure. That translates into more gridlock in Washington, which is bad for the rest of us.
Future presidents can forget legislative achievements. Instead, he or she should resolve just to enjoy free dinners and unlimited limo service while marking time until their term ends, freeing them to rake in the millions with a book deal and speaking fees.
“The good thing about when you’re down is that usually you got nowhere to go but up,” Obama told Walters. But there’s another option besides up—it’s out. And sadly, I believe that’s what most future presidents will be looking forward to unless we see a fundamental change in the state of our politics.