Barack Obama has been campaigning for the past 19 years. Since Sept. 19, 1995, when he officially launched his first campaign for a seat in the Illinois state Senate, the man has been a tireless barnstormer, but he says 2014 will be his campaign curtain call.
He was 34 years old when his name first appeared on a ballot, and there's barely been an election cycle since that hasn't been the case.
If you look at Obama's political career, you can't help but see the obvious: He's always eyed his next campaign opportunity. While serving in the Illinois Senate in 2000, he tried to make the jump to the U.S. House of Representatives but was batted back during the primaries. Never lacking confidence in his future trajectory, Obama quickly set his eyes on the U.S. Senate. He enlisted the services of political strategist David Axelrod in 2002 and launched his campaign to relocate from Springfield, Ill., to Washington D.C., as soon as the calendar flipped to 2003. The next year, the 2004 Democratic National Convention gave Obama a stage to do something almost unheard of in politics -- lock up a race for the Senate while simultaneously kick-starting a presidential campaign.
It's never been about the journey for Obama. It's always been about the destination. And in 2008, he reached the pinnacle of Mount Poli Sci -- the White House.
But old habits die hard. Since being sworn in as president in 2009, Obama has more often than not been the Campaigner in Chief. He's flown across the country to help faltering Democratic candidates regain their footing, and he's never been invited to a high-dollar fundraiser he didn't want to attend.
If we take him at his word, that will all end soon since his campaign days will soon be behind him. Last week, while touring Illinois and Michigan, Obama told political patrons in Chicago, "Even though I promised Michelle that 2012 was going to be my last campaign, actually this one's my last campaign."
And that's good news for everyone. The first lady will enjoy a campaignless interlude in her life, Republicans are anxious to reclaim the office, and pretty soon Democrats will begin to politely avoid the president. "Thank goodness," you can almost hear them sigh.
When the upcoming midterms are in the rearview, and the full economic brunt of the Affordable Care Act hits taxpayers and small businesses, Obama will quickly find out what it was like to be George W. Bush in the waning months of his presidency: a pariah to his own party. No Democratic candidate will want to share a stage with Obama, as closeness to him and his signature law will threaten to sink many a political ship.
But at least he's going out on his own accord. Maybe he took a cue from New York Yankees great Derek Jeter, who announced this year will be his last playing shortstop for the Bronx Bombers. Like Jeter, Obama will be able to tour the country and receive adoring fanfare as folks come out to see him one last time before he slides out of the public eye.
By announcing his campaign retirement this early, Obama is not only setting the stage for a fun-filled "victory lap," he's also letting his party get a jump on figuring out how they can disassociate from his tenure on Pennsylvania Avenue.
How Democrats manage that, only time will tell. But we can safely assume the last two years of his presidency will be pretty boring, as he'll be stuck on the sideline watching how aspirants jockey to fill the post-Obama void.
So the Great Campaigner takes his bow. Almost 20 years on constant tour, and all I got was this lousy insurance cancellation notice.
A civic engagement advocate and history teacher, David Allen Martin writes from Chattanooga.
c. David Allen Martin