As he comes up on the election that will move him out of the White House, President Obama looks to be taking the same political route as his immediate predecessor.
George W. Bush, you will recall, didn’t do much campaigning for John McCain in 2008. Or any, for that matter. Same story four years later with Mitt Romney. No upraised arms and clasped hands at the GOP conventions. Mr. Bush was down in the polls, tarred with an unpopular, costly war becoming the longest in US history.
Mr. Obama, too, is looking politically shop-worn to many Americans, with mediocre standing in the polls despite disengaging from war and overseeing an economy that has been steadily (although not spectacularly) improving.
Recalcitrant Republicans in Congress – stirred by virulently anti-Obama tea partyers – may bear much if not most of the blame for political gridlock. But Obama has his share of responsibility too. His signature measures – the Affordable Care Act and last week’s executive action on immigration – are sharply controversial.
Interviewed Sunday on ABC’s "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," Obama acknowledged as much, likening himself politically to a used car that’s been dinged up over the years.
"I think the American people, you know, they're going to want – you know, that new car smell. You know, their own – they want to drive something off the lot that doesn't have as much mileage as me," he said.
As for campaigning for the Democratic nominee, Obama said, “If they want me to do some selective things, I'll be happy to do 'em, but I suspect that folks will be ready to see me go off to the next thing.”
At this point, of course, that nominee is likely to be former senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who’s way ahead in the polls – both among potential Democratic rivals as well as any Republicans with presidential ambitions.
The Obama-Clinton relationship has been complicated, although it’s evolved into one of mutual respect and personal friendship. They fought it out over the 2008 nomination. Then in a “team-of-rivals” move, Obama made her one of his most influential cabinet members.
Clinton says she’ll decide early in 2015 whether or not to run again.
"She's not going to agree with me on everything," Obama said Sunday. "One of the benefits of running for president is you can stake out your own positions, and have a clean slate, a fresh start."
She made it clear where she stands on immigration, however, quickly tweeting her approval of Obama’s executive action. Years earlier, she led the failed effort to bring about health care reform when her husband was president.
Clinton will also have much to answer for about her time in the Obama administration, not least of which will be how the State Department conducted itself before, during, and after the terrorist attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, which killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other American personnel.
The House Intelligence Committee just released its investigation of the incident, in essence knocking down various theories, some of conspiratorial (including charges of a White House cover-up).
But more congressional investigations are underway, and speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina called the House committee report “full of crap.”
Should she choose to run, Obama no doubt will watch Clinton’s campaign with keen interest.
In his ABC interview Sunday, Obama also said “significant” gaps remain in talks over Iran’s nuclear program. “The good news is that the interim deal that we entered into has definitely stopped Iran’s nuclear program from advancing.”
On the situation in Ferguson, Mo., where a grand jury is deciding the possible indictment of white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown, Obama said he hasn’t decided whether or not to visit the community.
“You know, I’m going to wait and see how the response comes about,” Obama said. “But what does make sense is for not just me, but my entire administration, to work with willing partners at the state and local level to see how we can address some of these systematic issues.”
“This is a country that allows everybody to express their views. Allows them to peacefully assemble, to protest actions that they think are unjust. But using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are,” he said.
Obama also pushed back against GOP criticism of his executive move on immigration.
“If you look – the history is that I have issued fewer executive actions than most of my predecessors, by a long shot,” he said. “The difference is the response of Congress, and specifically the response of some of the Republicans. But if you ask historians, take a look at the track records of the modern presidency, I’ve actually been very restrained, and I’ve been very restrained with respect to immigration. I bent over backwards and will continue to do everything I can to get Congress to work because that’s my preference.”