It’s amazing to me how quickly the political winds can shift. It seems like only yesterday when Obama’s presidency was on life support. He was a “dead man walking” towards the inescapable in 2012. Republicans had made major gains in popularity and political power. The midterm elections were “America passing judgement” on Obama and the Democrats. The only question was which rising Republican star was going to be in the White House.
But then poof, a major victory is pulled out of thin air compromising on tax cuts. Poof, another campaign promise is fulfilled when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed. Poof, Obama rallies together bipartisan support in a lame-duck session to approve New START. Now all of a sudden Obama has “gotten his groove back”.
Of course, in a few weeks, something else will happen and I am sure the president’s future will be in the toilet again. Then he will miraculously recover, then fall, then rise then fall… Or at least that’s what all of the pundits and media types will be saying. For years, I thought the Sports Section was where all of the loose reporting and short-sighted prognosticating occurred. Apparently, I was wrong.
For in the end, were things really as bleak as portrayed in November? No, just as in the same way reelection in 2012 is not all of a sudden preordained. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. It’s just that pundits can’t stop blabbing to fill time during the 24 hour news cycle, plus no one is going to tune in to hear analysts say “Things are fair-to-middling right now.” People tune in to hear doom and gloom, or to hear how fabulous things are right now. (Especially right now, when you can get the best of both worlds. When one side is up and gloating about the fabulousness, the other side is seething about the doom and gloom. Then it flips. Lather, rinse, repeat.)
In most of my lifetime, presidential politics has essentially come down to one thing which the president really doesn’t have much control over, the economy. Stagflation and rising energy costs leading to a late 70’s/early 80’s down turn and Carter’s a one-termer. The economy turns around and Reagan is a two-termer and leads in to Bush. Then the economy starts tanking again and read my lips, the country is voting for Clinton. The tech bubble bursts, but there is enough time to recover so that W can be a two-termer as well. This is clearly a very simplistic view of very complicated politics and economics, but there is a kernel of truth in there. People vote with their wallets. If things are going well, the current president is probably staying. Which is a little bit strange because the president doesn’t have a lot of tangible effect on the economy.
The US economy is a nebulous and multi-layered thing (as evidenced by people trying to exactly explain how things fell apart in 2008) which is not controllable by just one person. Sure the president and his Cabinet members can pull a lot of levers and push a lot of buttons, but whether any of it works in the end is a crap shoot. Were Reagan’s policies responsible for the booming 80’s or was it really only responsible for the recession in the early 90’s? Did Clinton really do anything to make things better or did he just get lucky to be president when the inevitable upswing happened? And did any of them really deserve their Electoral College outcome because of these things that were mostly out of their control?
In the end, my guess is that Obama and the economy follow the same overall increasing (albeit slow) trend line into 2012 and he probably gets reelected to a second term. Plus despite some ups and downs and appearing at times to have lost his way, when he is down he seems to know how to regain his footing. He did it numerous times in the 2008 campaign and his presidency seems to be mirroring that. Plus, I always thought his biggest problem was going to be trying to fight off any possible in-party challenge. Having come through the first half of his presidency relatively unscathed, barring some giant meltdown, I can’t imagine a Democratic Party revolt. And I just don’t see the Republicans being able to get organized to put up an effective candidate. Why? Because that is also what has been happening recently, on both sides of the aisle. When your party is mad about what is happening, you reach back and put up someone who is an exemplar of the most extreme part of your party because that is what the screaming mad portion of the party wants. But what is needed is someone with more broad based appeal because these types of candidates also fire up the other side to be just as or more determined. (See Bob Dole and John Kerry.) In this case, the Republicans will probably build off the success of the Tea Party and end up nominating Sarah Palin or someone who similarly fires up the conservative base. Which will solidify the Democrats and lead to another 4 years of Obama (commence eye-rolling and hand-wringing or clapping and beaming, depending upon your side of the aisle.)
But then again, remember that almost exactly four years ago, everyone was predicting a 2008 showdown of Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. That sure was an excellent election battle to watch. Oh, wait…