The one headache Obama doesn't have

Considering all the political woes that have besieged Barack Obama in the third year of his presidency — including the disappointment in him many liberal Democrats have loudly expressed — you might expect he'd have a challenge by now for the renomination of his party. Yet none is in sight.

Other presidents under internal criticism have not been so fortunate. The senior George Bush in 1992 had to contend with a primary fight from Patrick Buchanan. Jimmy Carter in 1980 had to cope with the same from Ted Kennedy. Gerald Ford in 1976 needed to shake off Ronald Reagan. And in 1972, Richard Nixon had to dispose of two fellow Republicans, Pete McCloskey and John Ashbrook.


All of these presidents were required to defend their policies from the sniping of colleagues in divisive state primaries leading up to the party conventions. And although all were renominated, all except Mr. Nixon were so severely wounded in the preliminary skirmishes that they lost their bids for another term.

But President Obama appears headed to uncontested renomination next year, despite much unhappiness, particularly among liberals, that so far he has not delivered on what was for them his main 2008 campaign pledge: to end the wars in Iraq andAfghanistan.


No prominent Democrat has stepped forward to run against him, even as a protest. It may be that, by beginning gradual withdrawals of American combat troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Obama has assuaged the feelings of this important segment of the party. Yet when Mr. Nixon began to shift the major burden of the defense of South Vietnam to its own forces after his election, that didn't silence voices against that war in his party.

Nor has any prominent Democrat, discontented with Mr. Obama's handling of the economy, particularly aligned with the labor movement, threatened to run for the party's nomination as the national unemployment still hovers around 9 percent.

It could be that his election in 2008 removed the one other popular Democrat who might reasonably have been expected to run against him in 2012: Hillary Clinton, who agreed to be his secretary of state. She has long since said she will not seek the presidency again — and, besides, she has been so strongly supportive of Mr. Obama as to rule out that possibility.

Another unspoken inhibition against any Democratic challenge is the historical nature of Mr. Obama's election and presidency as the first African-American to occupy the Oval Office. That distinction has been a badge of honor among Democrats, and especially among black voters, who have long been the bedrock of the party constituency and are even more so now. What ambitious Democratic politician would want to risk losing them by taking on Mr. Obama?

The lack of a primary challenge to Mr. Obama may also be because many loyal Democrats have an appreciation not seen elsewhere of the difficult hand dealt to him by unforeseen circumstances and the dedicated obstructionism of the other party. Not only the two inherited wars but also the economic near-depression and a seemingly endless string of unanticipated challenges have obliged Mr. Obama to shelve his own pre-inauguration objectives.

For one reason or another, many of the Democratic the faithful have been left disappointed, considering what they thought they would get by putting Mr. Obama in the White House. It has been a jolt to card-carrying liberals to learn that he is not really one of them, but more of a pragmatist.

Nevertheless, as they look at the field of Republicans now vying to challenge Mr. Obama, he inevitably comes off in much better political shape than if the 2012 election were to be just a referendum on him, rather than the choice it will be.

Compared to Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the rest, no matter how chagrined the liberal Democrats may feel about Mr. Obama now, they realize he is, so far anyway, the only horse in the race for them to bet on. Some of them, to be sure, may finally decide to not to bet at all, which could be the president's undoing next year. But for now, not having to fight for renomination is a definite benefit for this president.


Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former longtime writer for the Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption." His email is