With midterm elections approaching, and many focusing on politics, more than a few people want to determine what the tea leaves might mean for 2012 — when the “Big One” is on us again.
It would be good for President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party to address some important issues — now.
The president’s poll numbers can be read different ways, depending on who is doing the reading. One thing is clear, though: He has to improve his favorability numbers, as well as the unsettled national mood reflected in the “right track/wrong track” indicators. Neither is easy. Nor is there a simple fix.
But one thing Obama can do is reconnect with the 2008 campaign themes he used to barnstorm the nation: “audacity’ and “change.”
Since Obama has expressed admiration for the portrait of Abraham Lincoln that Doris Kearns Goodwin paints in “Team of Rivals,” he could do the 16th president one better: He should name Hillary Clinton as his running mate in 2012. That would be both needed change and audacious.
Clinton has been nothing but a team player who has earned good marks since being asked to serve as secretary of state. She has skillfully navigated the globe and been tough and commanding when the moment called for it (with Iran) and graceful and diplomatic when situations required (navigating complex relations with Russia, Pakistan and China).
Has her time as secretary of state been perfect? No. Has she ended these 18 months with the stature of someone ready and able to be president were the moment to call for it? The answer, unequivocally, is “yes.”
Since the heady days of the 2009 Inauguration, middle-class independents have grown increasingly distant from Obama. Working-class voters — always more enamored of Clinton — have grown even more wary and distrustful of the Chicagoan. Both voting blocs pose the danger of serious defection in 2012. Without their support, Obama cannot win.
With this state of political fragility, Obama needs to reevaluate the policy advisers who brought him here. That leads to the threshold question of whether Joe Biden should remain on the ticket. I say no.
One can see why Obama chose Biden. The public debate had long been preoccupied with questions of national security and war. Sept. 11 jolted America out of its second gilded age, and it seemed voters would decide the 2008 election based on security and foreign policy — as in 2004.
Obama turned to a Democrat likely to add this expertise to his standard — Biden, who had chaired both the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees during four decades in Washington. He could ensure the nation that a Democratic administration understood the gravity and complexity of foreign relations and international security.
But problems emerged from this rosy scenario:
The financial crisis that began in September 2008 fundamentally changed the political conversation. Biden has not distinguished himself, other than to be more prone to gaffes — which had been cited by some skeptics when Obama first announced his choice. Many had hoped a new office and new responsibilities would produce a more serious and sobered reliability in the man. Unfortunately, they have not.
I will refrain from running through the list of Biden gaffes. Not because I dismiss them, but because late-night comedians have made them legendary. I realize many say that he brings some more humanity to this administration. But there are too many YouTube moments.
Even recently, he has continued to undermine what little confidence the public may have had in him.
During Biden’s June trip to Florida, for example, the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink, was so upset that she told POLITICO the whole trip was a “screw-up” and she was “embarrassed” by his speech. The Democratic Party is trying to elect this woman governor of a swing state — one Obama will need in 2012 — during the middle of the oil spill crisis in the Gulf. No vice president should leave such ignominy in his wake.
A few weeks later, Biden comes south and says at a fundraiser, “The heavy lifting is over,” and now the campaigning can begin.
Really? Has the crude oil off the Gulf Coast disappeared? Is the unemployment rate back to its mid-1990s lows? Is the deficit magically under control? Are the president’s approval ratings in the mid-60s? Do large majorities of Americans believe we are on the right track?
I don’t think so. But none of that seems to matter to Biden. People around this country are hurting, and Biden has told them Democrats in Congress and the White House have done all they can or will for them.
As BP chief executive, Tony Hayward said he wanted his life back, then went off on his yacht. The BP board wisely replaced him. What’s so different about Biden saying, in the middle of several crises, that he wants to get back to politics when the people are craving leadership?
Has Biden ended these 18 months with the stature of a man ready and able to be president should the moment call for it? The answer, sadly, is “no.”
I say none of this to detract from Biden’s service to the people of Delaware through his many years in the Senate. But these times demand our country’s best. If Democrats and the president don’t see this, the people will look elsewhere.
Can all the president’s political ills be laid at Biden’s feet? No. But Obama must look through his administration and make a wholesale change. The vice president should not be immune.
Clinton is better suited as the political and government partner that Obama needs.
I suggest this as one who vigorously supported Obama over Clinton in 2008. In fact, I campaigned across the country and engaged in spirited debates with former colleagues. I don’t regret any of that. Yet, now I think Clinton brings bounty to the political table that few can match.
If both John McCain and Obama were given a sip of truth serum, both would admit they made serious mistakes in choosing running mates in 2008.
McCain can’t do anything about his blunder. Obama can and should.