Is Obama on the Carter trajectory?

Contributed by Shell Suber

Opponents looking to challenge first-term presidents are acutely aware defeat is the likely outcome of their efforts. After all, since World War II, America has fired only two presidents after one term. (Ford, who was never elected President or Vice President, does not really count against that statistic.)

That being said, if you study the conditions needed to create that rare political “perfect storm” necessary to unseat a president, you have to conclude that 2012 is shaping up to be – potentially at least – just such a storm. For best results, compare Jimmy Carter’s one-and-done presidency to Barak Obama’s first two years. 

  • Carter’s presidency began with the wildly optimistic hope he would change the political culture of Washington. Check.
  • When it turned out he couldn’t walk on water, a disillusioned electorate took it out on Democrats in the ’78 midterms and his personal polling numbers tanked. Um, check check.
  • The economy, not in the best of health when he started, took a nosedive during his presidency and the evening news prominently featured the worsening unemployment figures every blessed night. Yep.
  • There was scary made-for-TV disaster at an energy facility that, while not blamed on Carter, served to ignite an energy crisis that featured rising oil prices and uncertainly in the markets just when the US economy could least take the hit. Oops.

In fact, Obama is one major foreign policy disaster away from batting 1.000 in the “Be Like Jimmy” home run derby. Unfortunately for Obama, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico and, ironically, Iran, are lining up to be just that. Now throw embarrassing Wikileaks revelations into the mix.

Finally, if Obama helms a foreign train wreck on top of everything else, it’s not too farfetched to think some ambitious fellow (or gal) within his own party might throw out a phrase like “failure of leadership” and run against him. When Ted Kennedy said and did just that in 1978 it crippled Carter and set the table for Ronald Reagan’s landslide election in 1980. And recall Carter had the Camp David Accords in the win column, which is more than Obama can say at this point, Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding.

An article posted today on USA Today’s ‘The Oval’ is the first major news story about a possible run against Obama from within his own party. There will be more.

I’m not saying it’s a sure thing. In fact, I’ll reiterate that the most likely outcome – given the historical success rate of incumbent presidents – is that Obama still gets re-elected. Still, those Carter/Obama parallels keep piling up and they are getting harder to ignore which may mean there is a better-than-usual chance for the GOP challenger in 2012.

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3 Comments to “Is Obama on the Carter trajectory?”

  1. Most definitely. Obummer is on the road to Carterville.

  2. As a follow up, this piece by Peggy Noonan in today’s WSJ has relevance to what I said above. http://online.wsj.com/article/declarations.html

  3. I have always though Obama would be a 1 term President. But I think the better comparison would be to Bush the elder, than Carter. Lots of similarities

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