Three weeks ago, I posed the question of what would happen if Democrats became so convinced that Barack Obama could not win a second term that they asked him to step aside. Yesterday, the New York Times reports that leaders in the party are starting to come to the conclusion that Obama may not be able to succeed — and that has alarm bells going off:
Democrats are expressing growing alarm about President Obama’s re-election prospects and, in interviews, are openly acknowledging anxiety about the White House’s ability to strengthen the president’s standing over the next 14 months.
Elected officials and party leaders at all levels said their worries have intensified as the economy has displayed new signs of weakness. They said the likelihood of a highly competitive 2012 race is increasing as the Republican field, once dismissed by many Democrats as too inexperienced and conservative to pose a serious threat, has started narrowing to two leading candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, who have executive experience and messages built around job creation.
And in a campaign cycle in which Democrats had entertained hopes of reversing losses from last year’s midterm elections, some in the party fear that Mr. Obama’s troubles could reverberate down the ballot into Congressional, state and local races. …
But a survey of two dozen Democratic officials found a palpable sense of concern that transcended a single week of ups and downs. The conversations signaled a change in mood from only a few months ago, when Democrats widely believed that Mr. Obama’s path to re-election, while challenging, was secure.
They’ve started to recognize the problem, but they’re having trouble diagnosing its causes. According to the NYT, some in the party think that Obama has to get out of Washington more often — after just spending most of August either on vacation or taking a bus tour of the Midwest. When exactly has this President stuck around Washington DC?
Others in the Democratic Party have fallen victim to the Big Speech Syndrome that has afflicted this presidency. They want Obama to be angrier, pound the pulpit, and make a lot more speeches. That, however, won’t impress anyone after three years of supposedly soaring rhetoric and little in results. This week, Obama put the Big Speech on his jobs plan ahead of actually producing the jobs plan. Americans have been waiting for this big “pivot” to jobs since it became obvious in 2010 that the 2009 stimulus plan had failed, and certainly after the embarrassing “Recovery Summer” flop. All Obama did between then and now was talk.
If Obama has a shot at re-election, the economy has to start showing signs of real growth and large-scale job creation. He won’t get that from the rehashed ambiguities he offered in his speech Thursday. Washington has to roll back the blizzard of federal regulation either already imposed or proposed in order to get investors interested in pricing risk again in the US. In his speech, Obama explicitly refused to do that, standing by Dodd-Frank and ObamaCare. He also refuses to end the regulatory attacks on domestic energy exploration, extraction, and refining, a move that would almost instantly create hundreds of thousands of jobs and signal plentiful and cheaper energy costs for businesses looking to expand.
Since it’s clear Obama won’t act responsibly for economic growth, Democrats had better plan on the post-Obama era arriving four years earlier than expected. The only question remaining will be whether they will watch as Obama drags down Democrats into massive losses in November 2012, or whether they can convince him to step aside so that they can salvage what they can with a different Democratic nominee at the top of the ticket.