Obama, being the incumbent, has to defend his record, make a convincing argument why he should be returned to office, and create doubt in the minds of the voters about his Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, in order to win a second term. He has his work cut out for him.
Obama faces a tougher opponent in Romney this time around. Obama’s charisma and rhetoric that charmed many voters four years ago have lost their appeal. Obama has disappointed many of his staunchest supporters. Many Democrats in Congress are dissatisfied with the quality of the leadership he has provided. Big donors who helped bankroll his 2008 campaign feel that he has not given them the time of day since his election. As a candidate in 2008, Obama promised much more than he could possibly deliver and raised expectations to such a high level that he could not possibly meet them.
Obama inherited a mess from his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. Two unpopular foreign wars, an economy in free fall, an impending housing crash, Wall Street and financial institutions in crisis, an American automobile industry in serious trouble, and a big national deficit and debt awaited his attention when he entered the Oval Office. Running for re-election, Obama cannot blame Bush for the state of the union four years after he left office. Sure, Obama was dealt a bad hand. There is indeed enough blame to go around in Washington and to be shared by both political parties, but it is the president that the people hold accountable when he runs for a second term.
Obama belittled President Bill Clinton’s record during the Democratic primaries in 2008 and after taking office. He alleged that Clinton squandered opportunities to make real differences in the lives of the American people. He averred that Clinton’s accomplishments were small and mostly insignificant. He declared Clinton guilty of settling for less than he could have accomplished.
His criticisms were, of course, fueled at least in part by Clinton’s efforts to secure the party’s nomination for his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton. Clinton, jarred and baffled by Obama’s success in the primaries, attacked him in order to salvage Hillary’s campaign, going so far as to suggest that Obama was not ready to be president. Animosity and resentment defined Obama’s and Mr. Clinton’s relationship thereafter.
Obama has since changed his tune because he desperately needs the support of the wildly popular Bill Clinton, the only Democratic president to win a second term since Franklin Roosevelt, to get re-elected. Obama now touts Clinton’s accomplishments. In return, Clinton has assumed a major presence in Obama’s re-election campaign as a key adviser and strategist.
Clinton’s prime-time speech at the party’s convention in Charlotte, in which he expounded on the reasons Obama deserves a second term, was extremely persuasive and his delivery was superb. One network team covering the convention opined that Clinton in 40-some-odd minutes had done a better job of making the case for re-election than Obama himself and his people had ever thought about doing since the campaign got under way.
Pundits and political operatives agree that Clinton’s resounding endorsement of the vulnerable Obama has already affected the race. Clinton’s embrace of Obama has brought renewed energy and excitement to the campaign. His passionate defense of Obama’s record is convincing. If re-elected, Obama, our 44th president, will owe Clinton, our 42nd president, big time.
Don Livingston is a professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University. His field of expertise is the American presidency. Savannah Bell, a Franklin resident who earned an undergraduate degree at WCU, is studying in WCU’s master’s degree program in public affairs.