I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone mention President Obama’s name in daily conversation. Sure, you see news stories about him from time to time, giving a commencement speech here, issuing some new executive order or federal guidance there, but for the most part he’s just faded from the national zeitgeist.
It’s not a phenomenon unique to President Obama, of course. When Presidents reach the last year of their second term, they always seem diminished, less important, and less vital. They’re yesterday’s news, and they typically suffer by comparison to the energetic folks out on the campaign trail, all of whom are angling to take the President’s job. No surprise there, either — the President is working, attending boring meetings and otherwise doing what Presidents must do, whereas the candidates are out jetting from place to place, giving speeches before cheering crowds.
It’s got to be a weird feeling, to be the focus of news coverage and attention and then suddenly . . . not. You wonder if it’s hard for Presidents to deal with, that sense that they have been marginalized even though they are still in office. Sure, they still have all of the trappings of Commander-in-Chief status, but they know, and everyone knows, that the country is in the process of moving on. It’s like a high school romance that dims as the year progresses, until both parties recognize that they’re just playing out the string until summer comes and the calendar mercifully brings an end to it.
The fading phenomenon is particularly interesting this year, because President Obama reportedly is itching to take on Donald Trump. If true, that might present a tough decision for the Clinton campaign. The President can still give a mean speech, I’m sure, but he’s identified with the past — and if you’re out talking about change, as presidential candidates always do, the outgoing President is the living, breathing embodiment of what people want to change. Perhaps that’s why, in my lifetime, outgoing Presidents really don’t seem to have been all that involved, or effective, in campaigning for their party’s chosen successor. Will this year be any different?