The PJ Tatler

ChiTrib Editor to Obama: Maybe It's Time to Step Aside

Home town and home state media can be among the most brutal a politician faces. But the Chicago Tribune endorsed Barack Obama in 2008. Editorial board member Steve Chapman floats the idea of Obama doing an LBJ for next year.

The vultures are starting to circle. Former White House spokesman Bill Burton said that unless Obama can rally the Democratic base, which is disillusioned with him, “it’s going to be impossible for the president to win.” Democratic consultant James Carville had one word of advice for Obama: “Panic.”

But there is good news for the president. I checked the Constitution, and he is under no compulsion to run for re-election. He can scrap the campaign, bag the fundraising calls and never watch another Republican debate as long as he’s willing to vacate the premises by Jan. 20, 2013.

That might be the sensible thing to do. It’s hard for a president to win a second term when unemployment is painfully high. If the economy were in full rebound mode, Obama might win anyway. But it isn’t, and it may fall into a second recession — in which case voters will decide his middle name is Hoover, not Hussein. Why not leave of his own volition instead of waiting to get the ax?

It’s not as though there is much enticement to stick around. Presidents who win re-election have generally found, wrote John Fortier and Norman Ornstein in their 2007 book, “Second-Term Blues,” that “their second terms did not measure up to their first.”

Chapman forwards Hillary Clinton’s name to replace Obama on the ballot. She would be an obvious choice, and probably a poor one: There is no evidence that she is any more competent on the economy or anything else than Obama is. Temperamentally, she is known to be brittle and secretive. She is very popular now, but that is mostly because she hasn’t involved herself in the partisan battles of the past couple of years. She did advocate for war in Libya, and we don’t know yet how that will turn out. We may end up replacing one monster with another.

Obama stepping off to do an LBJ is still a pretty low probability event, but if he does it, Democrats should look beyond Hillary, to a figure who just helped hand the Clinton machine a defeat in a major Democratic state last week. Ed Koch fits both sides of the term “elder statesman,” and unlike Hillary, he has real executive experience dealing with economic reality.