The incomplete presidency
Barack Obama has graded his own performance as President several times. One of the most famous occasions was a Christmas 2009 chat with Oprah Winfrey, when Obama gave himself “a good solid B-plus.” He modestly allowed that he’d upgrade that assessment to “A-minus” if he could get ObamaCare passed.
But later, President Downgrade downgraded his grade to “incomplete,” which has been his more-or-less official self-evaluation since the 2010 midterm elections. He just said it again, during an interview with a Colorado TV station, in which he bizarrely listed his budget-busting $30 billion loss on General Motors and his even more expensive “green energy” boondoggles as “achievements.”
Obama’s comically inept deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, amusingly caught herself on the verge of saying “no” when asked if it was reasonable for Obama to expect re-election with an “incomplete” grade, but she recovered and regurgitated the usual blame-Bush talking points:
The “incomplete” grade is, obviously, part of Obama’s ongoing effort to blame all of his failures on his predecessor, selling voters on the idea that no one could have done a better job than Barack Obama at dealing with the supposedly horrendous aftermath of the Bush years. Is that really going to work? Has any President ever successfully campaigned on the insistence that four years simply wasn’t enough to contain his brilliance? That it’s almost… unfair to expect Obama to run for re-election at all?
I strongly doubt it, for several reasons. First and foremost, the entire notion that Obama cannot be judged fairly, a mere four years into his presidency, will strike many voters as weak and evasive. Americas remain a strong-willed, competitive people, not the helpless nation of dependent children Obama envisions. They viscerally dislike irresponsibility and excuse-making. They do not view the Oval Office as a position fittingly occupied by a whiny teenager who insists other people caused all of his problems.
Americans also don’t generally believe that four-year terms of office for the President are too short. Four years is a long time. Results are expected. Few people voting for Obama last time were under the impression that they were buying into a unique eight-year term. Obama himself strongly and unambiguously rejected that reasoning, once upon a time. “I will be held accountable,” he said in February 2009. “You know, I’ve got four years. A year from now, I think people are gonna see that we’re starting to make some progress, but there’s still gonna be some pain out there. If I don’t get this done in three years, then there’s gonna be a one-term proposition.”
This “incomplete grade” assertion will also strike many voters as arrogant, since it amounts to dismissing the surly Little People as unqualified to judge Obama’s awesome and historic presidency at this intermediate stage. That’s consistent with Obama’s unsuccessful strategy on the eve of the Republican landslide in 2010, when he described voters as frightened and ignorant – “facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared.”
And of course, there was Obama’s infamous characterization of working-class voters as “bitter” souls who “cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” (Obama has always been very fortunate that mockery of that statement usually edits it down to “bitterly clinging to guns and religion,” because his full statement was even more offensive.) He got elected despite that comment, but it has never faded from the public imagination.
Voters understand that every Presidency is a transitory affair. We’re not supposed to be electing dictators to four-year blocks of absolute rule, in which they implement Soviet-style economic plans. We know the power of our economy is massive. Its tides are not frozen every four years, so they can be easily measured. Few people hold the President of the United States personally responsible for every single event that occurred between his inauguration and the beginning of his re-election campaign. That doesn’t make it impossible to fairly consider what the President has done, and how his policies have interacted with ongoing economic trends.