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Apparently he thinks so. At an African Union summit in Addis Ababa earlier this week, President Obama declared:
“I actually think I’m a pretty good president,” he said. “I think if I ran, I could win. But I can’t. So there’s a lot that I’d like to do to keep America moving, but the law is the law.”
It’s understood that those who seek the Presidency must have a certain degree of amour-propre. Yet it’s hard to recall another President who so obviously regards himself as a major historical figure. It’s even harder to think of another President who so little deserves that distinction. A record which contains such highlights as a stagnant economy, crippling deficits, and the recent Iranian deal suggests a clock-puncher who leans to the left.
Yet the comment about winning a third term isn’t quite as absurd as it sounds. The President’s approval ratings currently sit at 46%, about five points short of his popular vote percentage in 2012. They have never dipped below 38% and rarely fallen into the low forties. This is the strange paradox of the Obama Administration: A mediocre president who, if the 22nd Amendment was repealed, might very well win a third term.
Comparing Obama to other Presidents at this point in their terms he ranks below Reagan, Eisenhower, Clinton and Johnson but ahead of Truman and George W Bush. The latter two had their ratings dragged down by war. Reagan, Clinton and Eisenhower were buoyed by a surging economy. For a presidency in what might be described as quasi-peacetime, Obama’s approval ratings are below par. Yet, despite his failures and shortcomings, the 44th President is not hated in the same way as Harry Truman and the younger Bush.
What distinguishes Obama from the genuinely unpopular presidents is the lack of a lighting rod issue. A flagging or failing war can destroy even the most skillful of political operators. Witness the decline and fall of Lyndon Johnson. In a little more than three years, LBJ went from a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater to a comparatively narrow victory over Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire. Both Truman and Bush saw less precipitous, though ultimately decisive drops.
Running through the demerits of the Obama legacy, there is just enough mitigation for him to get a pass from much of the electorate. The runaway deficits are usually pegged on Congress. The unemployment rate has been so fiddled with as to be nearly meaningless. This allows President Obama to proclaim an improvement in the economy, though an improvement from which few working or lower middle-class Americans have benefited. Even in what is regarded as a traditional purview of the presidency, the management of foreign affairs, there is enough voter apathy for the Iranian deal to go through with a shrug.
Barack Obama reminds me of nothing so much as that charming slacker at work. He does his job well enough, never seems to be completely blamed or credited with anything, and yet glides from promotion to promotion. Certainly he has his detractors. The ambitious workaholics who know who really writes his reports, the underlings who struggle to clean up his messes, and his enemies who know where the bodies are buried but have been bought off. Should any speak up, they’ll be met with his grinning face and a well studied style of self-deprecation. Who could hate a nice guy like that?
This is what we have in store for the next year and a half. The problems mount, the crises are ignored and President Obama drifts glibly into the future.