Conservatives' worst nightmare: Obama predicts he'd win if he sought third term

Spoiler alert: Obama isn't actually seeking to circumvent the Constitution

By Sophia Tesfaye

Published July 28, 2015 6:52PM (EDT)

                    (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

In the minds of many conservatives, President Obama is a lawless Manchurian candidate, born in Kenya and who illegitimately holds the highest office in the land. Although Obama has long joked about so-called "Birthers" who have continued to demand the first African-American president produce his birth certificate, on his recent trip to Africa, the president added a new joke to his repertoire -- predicting that he could win a third term.

"I actually think I'm a pretty good president — I think if I ran, I could win" Obama joked during his speech to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia before quickly adding, "but I can't!":

Rather than threatening American conservatives with what may be their worst nightmare, Obama was actually lecturing African leaders who fail to respect constitutionally set term limits. Obama pointed to violence that erupted in the African nation of Burundi after that president unconstitutionally secured a third term.

“Now, let me be honest with you,” Obama said. “I do not understand this. I am in my second term. It has been an extraordinary privilege for me to serve as the President of the United States. I cannot imagine a greater honor or a more interesting job. I love my work. But under our Constitution, I cannot run again.”

President Obama argued that part of the reason why former South African president Nelson Mandela "forged a lasting legacy" is because he was "willing to leave office and transfer power peacefully."

President Obama also spoke about a host of other issues that plague authoritarian regimes in the region. In Ethiopia, where the African Union is seated, journalist and critics of the government are routinely imprisoned. Ahead of Obama's visit, the first ever for a sitting U.S. president, Ethiopia released five journalists who had been jailed for over a year on terrorism-related charges.

"I believe Ethiopia will not fully unleash the potential of its people if journalists are restricted or legitimate opposition groups can't participate in the campaign process," Obama chastised the East African regime before adding, "to his credit, the Prime Minister acknowledged that more work will need to be done for Ethiopia to be a full-fledged, sustainable democracy."

"Nothing will unlock Africa's economic potential more than ending the cancer of corruption," Obama also added, addressing the continent's widespread and seemingly systemic epidemic of imbalanced political power. "When someone has to pay a bribe just to start a business or to go to school or get an official to do the job they're supposed to be doing anyway -- that's not 'the African way'; it undermines the dignity of the people you represent."

Earlier on his trip, Obama joked about his return to the birthplace of his father, Kenya. "Some of my critics back home might be suggesting I'm here to look for my birth certificate," Obama said while making a toast at a state dinner hosted by President Uhuru Kenyatta. "That's not the case."

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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