Can lame ducks fly? Advice for Obama on his last two years

Web Extra: Fmr. Chiefs of Staff advise Obama
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Story highlights

  • Four former White House chiefs of staff officer the President advice
  • Reagan, Clinton and Bush all faced struggles in their last two years
  • New Congress could be a fresh start for Obama, they say
  • International leadership is key, the former officials say
More emotion, aggressive leadership overseas, fresh ideas and active bipartisanship: That's the advice four former White House chiefs of staff have for President Obama as he faces the possibility of a Republican-controlled Senate and crises around the world and at home.
Former Chiefs of Staff Bill Daley, who worked for Obama from 2011-12; Andrew Card from George W. Bush's White House; Mack McLarty of the Clinton administration; and Ken Duberstein, who worked for Ronald Reagan, sat down with Candy Crowley on Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
All four agreed that the twilight years of a two-term presidency hold drawbacks as well as opportunities. A lame-duck president, they argue, has the opportunity to search for fresh ideas and focus on what the country wants instead of politics.
Reagan, Clinton and Bush were able to overcome a narrative of their irrelevancy, according to McLarty.
"I think there is a real opportunity as we've seen in each of these presidencies for the last two years for a lame duck indeed to fly, and there's such a demand and hunger by the American people for leadership to get something done."
Scandals within the Secret Service, the Ebola epidemic and the battle against ISIS fill today's headlines. It's also been a rocky midterm season for Democrats, with Obama's low approval ratings leading some Democratic candidates to keep their distance.
In response to critics who say the President has not showed enough leadership in facing these issues, Daley said that if Obama appears as if he's phoning it in, it's a misperception.
"He knows that there are enormous challenges, things that he can control, things he can't: Ebola, ISIL. You've got to address them. It's not as though you can take off, and he knows this better than anyone."
However, Card pointed out that in politics, perceptions are paramount.
"I think he's got to be an aggressive and active leader in all of those categories -- and demonstrate some emotion and commitment that's real."
Card also warned the President away from appearing too consumed with partisan battles and to focus on leadership abroad.
"He kind of stepped on it this past week by basically saying this election is really a referendum on him," Card said, referencing a line from the President's speech Thursday. "That message is not resonating with the American people."
Both Card and McLarty agreed that the President's focus on international leadership on the threat of ISIS, Ebola and relations with Russia is essential for a leader facing gridlock in Congress.
"He's already built an international coalition. He's already beginning to build the right pathway and demonstrate that leadership that the American people have such a strong desire for," McLarty said.
Dubersteinsaid the President has an opportunity to turn over a new leaf.
"Every two-term president needs some fresh ideas, fresh voices and strong people."
The panel also sounded notes of optimism, saying a new Congress might be just want the President needs. According to Duberstein, trade and tax reform will be attractive issues where Republicans can show leadership.
"They have to demonstrate an ability to govern, the same way President Obama needs to reach out and start building relationships, not just with Democrats but with Republicans."