Will he be a "two termer" ? Nobody knows because American voters are funny. George Bush Senior won a war but lost reelection on the economy. Jimmy Carter was a fiscal conservative yet he lost to Regan because he was perceived as weak. If you can get both of these things right,a strong economy and strong in the world, then I reckon you will have two terms, just as Clinton and Bush Jr did. Obama could yet fit into this category, particularly if the economy improves between now and November 2012. Personally, I don't accept that yesterday's election were a referendum on Obama, I think it was a referendum on many Democratic congressmen and women, several of whom come across as pathetic liberal dweebs.
The excellent blogger Juan Cole over at Infomred Comment gives some historical context as to why losing congress is not always fatal to a President.
It was November, 1942. A year earlier the Japanese Empire had struck at Pearl Harbor and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had finally entered World War II. Although in May of 1942 the US was kicked out of the Philippines by the Japanese, with Gen. MacArthur retreating to Australia, in June of 1942 the US wins a major battle against the Japanese at Midway. Still, in fall of 1942 the long, bloody battle for Guadalcanal in The South Pacific had not been decided. The economy had finally begun improving after the long years of Depression. The unemployment rate was reduced from 14.6 percent in 1940 to only 4.7 percent in 1942. Roosevelt faced midterm elections.
Would you really choose that moment to more or less return to power the party that had caused the Great Depression?
We might look back on these years of the “Greatest Generation” as heroic, and Roosevelt as unbeatable. But you know what? His Democrats lost the popular vote, losing big in the House of Representatives, and Republicans picked up 47 seats. Because of the way things were then districted, the Democrats did hold on to the House by a slim margin. But they were deprived of a comfortable majority (left with just a 13 seat margin). As the Los Angeles Times noted the day after the election, Roosevelt was left without a real majority, because he always faced defections on any vote. The paper breathlessly noted the dramatic fall of Democratic dominance from the party’s commanding position in 1936.
Remember, this is almost a year into World War II, troops are fighting and dying in the Pacific, and the economy is looking up. Roosevelt and his party should have benefited from his being a war president, and should have gotten some credit for having saved the country from the worst economic crisis of all time. Instead, the voters punished him.
Of course, the dynamics were very different than today, with the Afghanistan War even chancier than the then Pacific one, and with government intervening in the economy in different ways (bank bailouts, briefly taking over an auto company, stubbornly high unemployment closet to that of 1940 than that of 1942, health care reform).
An even more interesting story could be told about the 1946 midterms, when Democratic President Harry Truman, who had, like won World War II, saw the Republicans pick up an astonishing 55 seats and take control of the House. People were tired of long years of war and sacrifice and the Republicans promised prosperity through unleashing the free market.
But that’s American politics. Presidents often lose big in midterms, and especially when the public is nervous about foreign wars and domestic economic uncertainty. In a two party system and a corporate-dominated society, what else can one expect but a continual see-saw?
I am not an American so Obama's domestic agenda is not something I get passionate about. Unlike many Europeans I have never been one to express amazement at the lack of a social safety net in America. They have a different system, that's all. It has its merits, as does the European model. However I do think that Obama's health care bill was impressive, as long as it does what he claims and it doesn't become an unsustainable cost in the long term. My feelings are simple, while I admire the American tradition of hostility to government intrusion into the economy, I draw the line at health care. I do think it is a bad reflection on America that hard working law biding people go bankrupt in the event of an illness. Hopefully Obamacare has gone a long way to resolving this.
On Foreign Policy, Obama has already proved conclusively that he is not a Jimmy Carter. In a recent interview with President Carter I saw, the Georgia man expressed pleasure at never having taken any military action during his presidency. Obama on the other hand has been ordering UAV strikes since his first week in office. He has also expanded the war in Afghanistan and done something which the previous administration never seemed able to do, he successfully pressurised the Pakistani government into aggressively confronting the Taliban dominated provinces of Western Pakistan. This is one reason Republicans don't like to talk about the war in Afghanistan, simply because most objective commentators on the war acknowledge that Obama has been an effective commander in chief. As long as the US does not suffer a large scale terrorist attack I believe that President Obama will successfully counter any claims that he has been a weak leader.
A favourite claim of the American right is that Obama is another Jimmy Carter. I think this is a mistake !
I believe the Obama legacy all comes down to the deficit and whether he can get government spending under control. Even for a "European Socialist" like me, I find Obamas spending levels astonishing. He has two years to get it under control, otherwise he will join that lonely club of one term Presidents, who won't even get an Aircraft Carrier named after them.