Presidents with political capital and resonance from years of successful leadership in Washington do not backpedal on recent decisions they make. Candidates with re-election concerns do.
Previously against the Keystone Pipeline project because of presidential decision-making, now President Obama is backtracking due to political pressure from rising gas prices in an election year.
Since 2008, people regularly say that Mr. Barack Obama the candidate is one heck of a politician.
That is a good thing in 2012, considering that President Obama will need his help should he wish to stay in the White House. Here is yet another incident in a string of backtracking missteps and political overreaching endeavors that scream political expediency, not presidential leadership.
Not long after the president suffered a political setback in the Obamacare mandate fight with the Catholic Church - highlighted by a day-long fast by Catholics on March 30th – the president now again reverses field on policy as a response to the beating his approval ratings are taking. Rising gas prices make the incumbent vulnerable once again, even on the heels of encouraging employment numbers from earlier this month.
As a result, instead of President Obama standing firm in his unpopular decision earlier this year against the oft-advocated Keystone XL Pipeline project, Candidate Obama sprung into action.
In an effort that amazingly comes soon after President Obama actively lobbied fellow Democrats to vote against the Keystone XL Pipeline project (a move that did not convince all Senate Democrats, in fact), Candidate Obama has begun a four-state energy tour that touts his pursuit of energy independence for America with stops in three key voting states.
In the fourth state of the tour – Oklahoma- Candidate Obama will use the energy backdrop to promote the president’s decision to push fast-tracking of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit process.
This recent turnaround is a concern for President Obama. The moment that the 2012 Obama image reflects that of “candidate running for re-election” instead of “president deserving four more years,” President Obama’s re-election bid is in trouble against presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney
For all of the (well-deserved) flak that the former governor from Massachusetts receives on his reputation of being a flip-flopper, President Obama cannot allow Candidate Obama to pull him into a backtrack race with Mr. Romney. If both candidates spend a lot of time explaining away reversals in positions, the end result is a draw – which only draws the issues of struggling unemployment rates, inflation woes, and rising tensions directly into the national conversation.
Mr. Obama’s record of reversals – perhaps as a result of the Candidate-in-Chief’s constant pulse on polls and campaign – gets highlighted again in lieu of his campaign team’s strategy to allow Romney’s Republican rivals to paint the GOP front-runner as a detached, say-anything, and do-anything politician.
His backtrack on Keystone is the latest in a string of moves that should shock 2008 supporters of the president. In actuality, it is nothing more than a disturbing trend that should make the political left cringe. Mr. Obama’s extension of the dreaded Bush-era tax rates in 2010 during the lame-duck Democrat-controlled Congress enraged the political left to the point where one Congressional Democrat dropped the F-bomb. His actions as Commander-in-Chief – from keeping Guantanamo Bay open to increasing drone attacks – are major retreats from “promises” made by Candidate Obama circa 2008, noteworthy enough to make President Obama look a little too much like President Bush to many progressives concerning the war effort. Reversing on Keystone may anger President Obama’s environmentalists, but more importantly, it makes many crossover voters from 2008 wonder about President Obama’s consistency on issues, as well.
Making masterful political moves – ones that take into consideration approval ratings and election odds – does not elicit a presidential makeover for White House candidates. This looks even worse for incumbents that are already fighting against a harsh economy and a partisan movement that has expressed its intent to prioritize his defeat in 2012.
Mr. Obama is quickly approaching a crossroads in 2012 where he will have to make a decision: allow President Obama to project an image as proactive leader or allow Candidate Obama to dictate political moves as a reactive and vulnerable politician.
LENNY MCALLISTER is a senior contributor to Politic365 who can be found every Saturday with Democratic pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 10:30 AM Eastern (9:30 Central / 7:30 Pacific.) He is regularly featured on CNN’s “Early Start” weekdays between 5:00 AM – 7:00 AM Eastern as well. Hear “The McAllister Minute” on the American Urban Radio Network each week and catch the radio show “Get Right with Lenny McAllister” live on LMGILIVE.com at 11 AM Eastern weekdays and re-broadcast on Politic365.