Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Shackles of Re-election

The President of the United States participates in many international meetings, and chances are that throughout a term in office he will be caught out by an open mic at least once or twice.  President Obama was in open mic strife once again several days ago, during a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev:

In comments that were not intended to be broadcast publicly, Mr. Obama candidly assures the Russian President (and by proxy his successor, Vladimir Putin) that he will be able to negotiate over the issue of missile defense with more flexibility following his 'last election' in November.

The President's assurances are certainly correct.  But they are also problematic from a political perspective, because the implications set forth in that statement are unlikely to be well received back in the United States.

Mr. Obama is essentially saying this:  'After the November elections, I will never have to face the American people again.  It will no longer matter whether or not my decisions have popular support. So I will be able to make a deal with you then.'

These implications are clear because the President explicitly mentions that November is his last election.  George W. Bush was phenomenally unpopular throughout much of his second term - but it mattered very little, because he was not anchored by the political accountability that comes with the spectre of re-election.

Republicans will argue that the same applies for President Obama.  They will assert that unfettered by any accountability to the American public, Mr. Obama will be free to do as he likes, no matter how radical or unpopular his policies may be.

You can expect this argument to be completely overblown by Mr. Obama's political opposition, but there is an incontrovertible truth at its heart.

Of course, this would be the case for any two term President - one could argue that it is a glaring flaw in the case for term limits.  But Mr. Obama needs to be more discreet in front of microphones from now on - because that 'flexibility' of which he spoke will apply to much more than missile defence, and Republicans will make sure that every single voter knows it.

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