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Opinion | One and done: To be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012
Forgoing another term would not render Obama a lame duck. Paradoxically, it would grant him much greater leverage with Republicans and would make it harder for opponents such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) - who has flatly asserted that his highest priority is to make Obama a one-term president - to be uncooperative.
And for Democrats such as current Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) - who has said that entitlement reform is dead on arrival - the president's new posture would make it much harder to be inflexible. Given the influence of special interests on the Democratic Party, Obama would be much more effective as a figure who could remain above the political fray. Challenges such as boosting economic growth and reducing the deficit are easier to tackle if you're not constantly worrying about the reactions of senior citizens, lobbyists and unions.
Moreover, if the president were to demonstrate a clear degree of bipartisanship, it would force the Republicans to meet him halfway. If they didn't, they would look intransigent, as the GOP did in 1995 and 1996, when Bill Clinton first advocated a balanced budget. Obama could then go to the Democrats for tough cuts to entitlements and look to the Republicans for difficult cuts on defense.
On foreign policy, Obama could better make hard decisions about Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan based on what is reasonable and responsible for the United States, without the political constraints of a looming election. He would be able to deal with a Democratic constituency that wants to get out of Afghanistan immediately and a Republican constituency that is committed to the war, forging a course that responds not to the electoral calendar but to the facts on the ground.
If the president adopts our suggestion, both sides will be forced to compromise. The alternative, we fear, will put the nation at greater risk. While we believe that Obama can be reelected, to do so he will have to embark on a scorched-earth campaign of the type that President George W. Bush ran in the 2002 midterms and the 2004 presidential election, which divided Americans in ways that still plague us.
Obama owes his election in large measure to the fact that he rejected this approach during his historic campaign. Indeed, we were among those millions of Democrats, Republicans and independents who were genuinely moved by his rhetoric and purpose. Now, the only way he can make real progress is to return to those values and to say that for the good of the country, he will not be a candidate in 2012.
Should the president do that, he - and the country - would face virtually no bad outcomes. The worst-case scenario for Obama? In January 2013, he walks away from the White House having been transformative in two ways: as the first black president, yes, but also as a man who governed in a manner unmatched by any modern leader. He will have reconciled the nation, continued the economic recovery, gained a measure of control over the fiscal problems that threaten our future, and forged critical solutions to our international challenges. He will, at last, be the figure globally he has sought to be, and will almost certainly leave a better regarded president than he is today. History will look upon him kindly - and so will the public.
It is no secret that we have been openly critical of the president in recent days, but we make this proposal with the deepest sincerity and hope for him and for the country.
We have both advised presidents facing great national crises and have seen challenges from inside the Oval Office. We are convinced that if Obama immediately declares his intention not to run for reelection, he will be able to unite the country, provide national and international leadership, escape the hold of the left, isolate the right and achieve results that would be otherwise unachievable.
Patrick H. Caddell, who was a pollster and senior adviser to President Jimmy Carter, is a political commentator. Douglas E. Schoen, a pollster who worked for President Bill Clinton, is the author of "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System." They will be online Monday, Nov. 15, at 11 a.m. ET to chat. Submit your questions before or during the discussion.