Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Obama's Re-Election Looks Less Likely All The Time

Much has been written recently about President Obama's greatest bloopers, his missteps, and his tin ear for what the public is trying to tell him. His administration is in disarray, under assault from every direction, frequently within his own party. Scandals are cropping up like weeds, and the mysteries of his past and present political connections are starting to leak out.

There is one factor which may ultimately determine his electoral future that hasn't been discussed very much. And that is the likely state of the economy during the next two election cycles. Even if the economy improves slightly by the end of Obama's first term, he may not be able to use that to his advantage.

If past history teaches us certain bedrock truths, one of them is that whether it's true or not, the administration in power gets blamed for the economy if it's bad, and gets credit for it if it's good. The only analysis that really defines this truism is that the only view that matters is what the public views as "good" or "bad." And frequently it isn't what the statisticians, economists, doom-sayers, or politicians say it is. The public views the health of the economy in ways that sociologists describe as "relative deprivation." In other words, how good or bad is the economy in relation to those things I consider most important?

Obama may succeed in some small measure in accomplishing what his Democratic predecessors Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton failed at. He seems likely to get at least some form of health care reform through Congress. That would make a small hole in his "incompetence index" but is also likely to make another hole in the economy. As sympathetic editor John Judis says at the New Republic: "But it may not help him and his party avoid setbacks at the polls."

Judis goes on to a very realistic assessment of the current political climate. "Consider the danger signs slowly accumulating. The off-year gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia are usually a harbinger of political success or failure for the party in power. When Republicans George Allen and Christine Todd Whitman won those races in November 1993, it was a clear indication of trouble ahead for the Democrats nationally. Currently, Republicans are leading in the polls in both states--states that Obama won in 2008."

I'm not quite as willing to read final significance into this indicator, but it certainly is a developing trend that is good news for the Republicans, if they don't blow it. Conditions were similar but not the same in 1993. For one thing, the Republican Party had figured out that Clinton had been right during the election when he said "it's the economy, stupid." They saw the mistakes the first President Bush had made during the election, and were determined not to repeat them. And they had a strong, coherent plan for victory which was called "the contract with America," which laid out conservative goals clearly, including the economy.

Currently, the great debate is over health care. But if Obama had successfully trotted out a coherent plan, gotten bipartisan support, and passed the legislation, the question still remains whether that would make any difference whatsoever in his poll ratings. And that is because over health care, cap and trade, and the other grand schemes of the Democratic Party looms the one factor that could cripple all their efforts--the economy. And history also demonstrates that even a mild improvement in the economy might not be sufficient to still the worries of the American people about the very future of the United States.

While Obama has succeeded in absolutely nothing that would improve the economy, his do-gooder soft socialism is likely to cause the economy to stagnate or decline. Health care and clean air are wonderful things, but when you've lost your job, your 401Ks have tanked, your prospects of getting a new job even faintly resembling your former wage level have declined to near-zero, and your unemployment insurance is about to run out, doctor visits and cleaner air just don't have the ring of urgency that they might in a healthy economy.

Since January, Obama's poll numbers have declined from 69% approval with an accompanying 13% disapproval to approval at approximately 50% and disapproval rates in the mid- to high-forties. Even Democratic pollsters now think there is a substantial chance the Democrats could lose Senate seats in Nevada, Connecticut, Illinois and Colorado, and suffer a twenty seat loss in the House. Any presidential "coattail effect" has been completely discounted. It appears that a more than normal off-year election loss for the incumbent party will produce a resurgent Republican Party.

When Ronald Reagan won election, the economy was suffering from a new economic phenomenon--"stagflation," a bizarre combination of slow/no growth in the economy and large growth in the cost of living. Economists looked to the unemployment rate of 7.2% as a major cause of Carter's defeat. At the beginning of his term, Reagan had a 28% disapproval rating, largely in proportion to the number of self-identified liberals. By the same time in 1983, the unemployment rate had risen to 10.8% and Reagan's disapproval ratings were at 54%. He appeared to be in real trouble for the election.

The Democrats picked up seats in both Houses of Congress, and the future of the Reagan presidency was in danger. Yet by election time in 1984, the unemployment rate had dropped back to 7.2%. The difference between the mid-term figures and the re-election figures were viewed as positive and Reagan's disapproval rating had dropped to 30%. Few seemed to notice that the unemployment numbers were exactly the same as those which had been cited by many voters as a reason to vote Carter out. And Reagan was re-elected in a landslide.

But Reagan had many other things going for him. He was always positive about America. Obama only speaks in positive terms of America when he speaks of changing it. Otherwise, we're just another nation, among many others, with a history of oppression, racism and self-centeredness. It is coming off worse than even Carter's "great national malaise." An economic turnaround comparable to Reagan's would be unlikely to produce the same result.

Reagan had one other big thing going for him. He knew his plans were working, and he had the guts to stick with them despite contrary advice. He obtained major decreases in taxes. He accomplished some serious rollbacks in government programs, although not as drastic as what he wanted. And he was able to convey to the American people that if they stuck with the plan, the economy would continue to improve. And improve it did. He was not only able to claim the economy was improving, even though at that point the unemployment rate had merely returned to where it was when he started, but he was also able to show that it was his government-trimming and tax-reductions which were accomplishing the upward economic trends.

Obama has already increased taxes, though he denies it, in violation of his promise not to raise taxes on "ordinary people." And now he is hauling out the old Democratic nostrum of "eating the rich." Whether he raises taxes directly, or merely allows the Bush tax-cuts to expire, taxes will go up. And he still has to pay for his immense social schemes. He himself has as much as admitted that if a version of health care reform even faintly similar to his proposals is passed by Congress, taxes will have to go up. Any possible up-tick in the economy (even if accompanied by a downward trend in unemployment) is very unlikely to be attributed to his administration. The economy will still be in crisis as seen by the general public, and they will see no corresponding indication that Obama is doing anything which will improve that condition.

So let's take a look at the case of Bill Clinton. He came into office on his "it's the economy, stupid" mantra. The first Bush had boldly declared in his first election bid: "Read my lips, no new taxes." But his weak performance on the economy in office, combined with a hostile Democratic Congress, caused him to break that promise. Of course the tax increase solved nothing, duplicated some of the stagflation of the Carter years, and cost him the presidency when he lost the support of the activist conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Clinton won his election by a plurality, not a majority. But he did win a majority in the electoral college. Though seemingly well-liked, there had been no messiah-like surge in his constituency. Clinton then proceeded to make some major missteps, not the least of which was his Hillarycare national health reform efforts. He was soundly defeated in Congress, and in the mid-term elections he was handed "the Republican revolution." Within a short period of time, he was in the position of denying that he was "irrelevant." But the "revolution" was really not much more than a rejection of Democrat social schemes, including the ever-growing welfare system and the perception of rudderlessness.

So what happened with the economy? It began to improve, in palpable ways. But even by the end of his first term, it had not improved so significantly as to be credited to him without one very important factor. Unlike the determined and tone-deaf Obama, Clinton realized that if he wanted to be re-elected, he had to participate in the recovery. And he was practical enough to recognize the Republicans had a good thing going for them, so why not take credit for it? He performed what has been called "triangulation" which meant he appeared to disagree with the Republicans while implementing or acceding to the Republican social and economic legislation.

Clinton went from "irrelevancy" to re-election by a fairly comfortable margin, even while the Republicans retained both House of Congress and a majority of the state governorships. People who don't really know the realities of the situation still repeat that Clinton "fixed the economy." But he was willing to compromise, clever enough to take credit for much of what the other party had actually done, and very public about supporting legislation which could actually be traced to the economic recovery directly while ignoring the cries of the left wing of his own party.

It will likely remain unclear during his lifetime if Clinton actually supported Hillarycare or not. But he knew one thing for sure. If it had been passed, and if it made the huge hole in the economy that it was most likely to do, the resultant economic downturn would be blamed on him. And he would not be re-elected. Unlike Obama, Clinton actually paid attention to what the American public was saying. And he never insulted his non-politician opponents by calling them demagogues or liars for disagreeing with him. In a small way, he even understood that one of his duties along with proposing was to carry out the will of the American people, even when it wasn't what he wanted personally. On occasion, he would even say to his public opponents "I hear what you're saying."

So why did Reagan and Clinton both get re-elected during an early, relatively minor economic recovery? And why do I think that Obama won't be able to duplicate their success, either in Congress in the mid-term or in the general election two years later? It is not sufficient that the economy be in slightly better condition than when you took office. It has to appear to be improving in ways that the voters perceive to be the direct result of the actions of the administration in power. None of those indicia are currently in view with the Obama administration. Economists, statisticians and politicians can declare anything they want, but what the public perceives is the only factor that matters.

The best recent example of this is that near the end of the first President Bush's term, economists of every stripe declared that the recession was over. But the public saw taxes going up, unemployment remaining static or increasing slightly, and wages in real dollars stagnating. They saw an economy in continuing decline. Bush was tone-deaf, much like Obama, so he addressed the economy in exactly the wrong way. But Clinton knew how to read both the economic indicators and the public's perception of the economy. And he played them like a harp.

Both Clinton and Reagan suffered economic downturns at the beginning of their terms, and slow recovery toward the end of their first terms. Both were capable of minimizing the effects of the early downturn and gaining credit for the upturns as the direct result of their economic policies. Unless Obama gets miraculously lucky, or he comes up with a major piece of legislation which can be seen by the general public as a direct cause of an economic turnaround, he will be unable to do what Clinton and Reagan both did brilliantly, and in entirely different ways. Obama's complete inability to see that his grand schemes are simply not resonating with the American public will be his downfall. Even in the event of a minor improvement in the economy by the end of his first term, he will be unable to point to a single thing his administration has done which directly caused that improvement. It's a fatal flaw in his view of how to govern.


Tennessee Jed said...

A great post, Hawk. I haven't completely figured out the split between Obama's ideologue tendencies compared to his practical survival, Clintonesque "it's all about me" tendedncies. I know the press will spin the economy as much as they can, but unemployment will tell the tale. This Afghanistan thing will be interesting to watch. Preside over a defeat and he becomes more vulnerable with all but his far left base. This healthcare really has people pissed off and they can see the corruption easily. If our side can only get someone reasonably charismatic, the platform becomes as easy as Obama's campaign last year. CHANGE, CHANGE, CHANGE!

Unknown said...

Tennessee: Thanks again. With Clinton, it was "it's all about me." With Obama, it is "it's all about me and my brilliant views." The second half of that formula overcomes his survival instincts and it's his Achilles' heel. Clinton was willing to listen to the American people, tailor his plans to their needs, and then say "I did what you wanted." That requires the ability to admit the American people actually know something, and that they have a right to express it and expect their president to react appropriately. Obama, as the Clintonites loved to say, "just doesn't get it."

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

I'm loving all these recent Obama-is-failing articles. :-D

As Jed also points out, I'm worried about the Republican candidate. Obama could do everything wrong, and we still end up getting screwed by our own guy.

Unknown said...

PittsburghEnigma: We're all worried about that one. As clever as Clinton was, a strong Republican candidate would probably have beaten him by dispelling Clinton's taking credit for the economic turnaround. Instead, we got the ancient Bob Dole, who spoke of himself in the third person, fiddled incessantly with that damned pen, and insulted a major Republican voter pool in California by opposing California's legislation ending bilingualism in the schools and ending affirmative action in government. Another wishy washy RINO like Dole or McCain, and everything I said may become moot.

AndrewPrice said...

Nice article Lawhawk. People's fear about their own economic position certainly guide their decisions. That's why Reagan's 1984 statement "Ask yourself, are you better off today than you were four years ago" worked so well.

What will be interesting in 2012, is that Obama not just going to run on the economy, he's going to try to argue that economy would have been so much worse without him -- basically a straw man argument. I don't think that will sell because people will only compare what they have v. what they had, not what they could have had.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Pitts, we call them like we see them, and calling this one is getting to be rather easy!

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--I watched the Obama speech at the U.N. When all of you talk about his arrogance and unbending belief in himself and his crazy agenda, you can now add his U.N. speech. He kept talking about "mistakes" that the United States has made. Then he talked about the mistakes the United Nations has made. And then he talked about how he knew how to fix it all. The arrogance is staggering. Qaddafi later spoke, and expressed his hope that Obama would be President forever. They have both misread the U.S. Constitution and the will of the American people.

Unknown said...

Andrew: So true. The economy will only recover if Republicans can elect enough members to Congress to stop the Democrat chaos. But even at that, he'll never be able to take credit for it. I didn't even mention FDR in the main article. He was unsuccesful in turning the economy around (he probably made it worse) but his positive attitude and love of America worked to his great advantage. Obama is a divider. If the economy worsens (a very likely thing), he will never pull off being the guy who kept it from being worse. He will be blamed, and blamed harshly.

Unknown said...

HamiltonsGhost: The man has completely bought into his own propaganda. His pathological narcissism is astounding. But remember, he believed the disciples who said that "he is almost . . . god."

Unknown said...

I don't know if anyone else has been tuning in and out on the UN speeches, but it's turning into "The Cavalcade of Crazies." Maybe that's the plan. We still have Imadinnerjacket and Chavez to go. Obama is starting to look good.

It still won't save him from his economic mess, but for now he looks almost statesmanlike next to the cuckoos.

Qaddafi wasn't satisfied with wanting Obama to be president for life, he wants him to be "president forever."

Writer X said...

The Republicans have been handed an incredible opportunity on a silver platter for the next presidential election. Just keep McCain as far away from it has humanly possible.

In addition to the economy, I think most Americans want a President who loves his country and speaks proudly of it. Pres. Obama has done neither. And if he all of a sudden has a come to Jesus moment and finds his patriotism, it will be looked upon as disingenuous.

Unknown said...

WriterX: We will probably get through the mid-term elections in good shape, although I don't really count on a majority in either house. But it's time for some of the potential future presidential candidates to start stepping up to the plate. If we're not careful, we'll end up with another old RINO who gets the nomination because "it's his turn." But most of all, we need a candidate who both loves America and has the political chops to handle the economy. McCain had the former, it was his turn, and he had absolutely no other qualifications. We need youth, vigor, intelligence, and patriotism. A true Washington outsider would be a bonus.

CrisD said...

I am no economist but here I will do...

My read is that there will be a temporary shoring up because the banks were propped up. This will give a sense of false recovery to some. I cannot see how the massive influx of printed money is healthy so I do not believe in a long term recovery. People will still be cautiously investing since they don't know if there is another flat line ( or even another crash further downwards.)

The only thing President Obama has is the followers who are FOR him no matter want. They see him as a symbol-phenom of their righteousness (as in white guilt) or those who benefit from getting hand-outs.

Hope this isn't so long and off the mark that you cannot reply to my thinking.

Unknown said...

CrisD: You're not off-base at all. Where my point lies is that Obama is never going to be able to claim with any real effect that what he did resulted even in a small up-tick. The bank shore-ups began even before Obama took office. And as you say, printing money and throwing it around aimlessly doesn't work, short or long term.

Obama has finally reached his "read my lips" payback. He is now admitting that taxes have to go up. In a stagnant economy, nobody wants to hear that. The public is going to look at the poor state of the economy a year from now, small recovery or not, and see that every plan Obama has come up with has increased the deficit, barely made a dent in unemployment, made money worth less therefore decreasing buying power for what little money they still have, and they will say "Obama, this is your fault, and you wouldn't listen to anyone who told you that your programs were going to cripple us."

Like Clinton and Reagan, Obama needs to be able to point to something that he has personally sponsored and promoted that had anything to do with a sustained recovery. Unless he does a complete about-face, he will never be able to accomplish that. He simply can't let go of his belief in his own omniscience.

Unknown said...

I just caught another part of Obama's speech. He said "if you think negatively about the United States, think about what has been accomplished in the last nine months." In other words, "Look what I've done. And everything that has been done for the previous eight years was wrong. Come now, and let us reason together." This is the most self-centered, unrealistic and dangerous president we've had in my lifetime. I'm beginning to long for the days of Jimmy Carter.

patti said...

i think the wold card in an obama re-election will be the short memory of his bandwagon youngsters and gov'ment cheesers. those are the guys i'm keeping my one good eye on.

but great post. love it when we get an obama fails entry.

CrisD said...

Thank you for speaking to my thoughts. I do read yours but sometimes I get lost because I think with my heart and my heart is heavy when I think about President Obama.

I watched parts of his speech today. He said that we must change and work with the world, including the Muslim world. Well, I know we have bought oil from them for ages, so what does he mean??? He said we have been on the wrong course in this world and it makes me sick that he insults our great country in these speeches. I can't see how this constant berating of US is not going to hurt him...but I am way off the subject of economics. I was just responding to your post about his speech.

I appreciate your time very much. I share your insights with my fellow conservatives and especially my elderly mother who thinks that this economy is down the drain. You are doing a great service.

Thanks again and have a great evening!

Unknown said...

Patti: He can count on his government-cheesers if he brings on Armageddon. But the younger crowd is not nearly as unified as I would have expected. Some of them are going through unemployment, underemployment, lowered wages and minimum wage jobs for the first time in their lives. They remember the good times as they were in high school and starting college, and suddenly everything got tough. I hear rumblings from quarters even here in San Francisco. They may be the MTV generation, but they're not stupid, and they are getting suspicious of all the promises with no delivery.

Their first contact with politics is their first contact with a "something for everyone" demagogue, and many don't seem to like it much. And like most young people, health care is barely a blip on their radar, but will become a big deal when they have to pay for it (assuming Obama can even pull it off).

Unknown said...

CrisD: We all find it hard to think as clearly as we normally would when it comes to Obama. Just when I think he can't get any worse, he does.

Obama knows the word "dhimmi," but doesn't realize that's exactly where he's heading. We don't just pay the Arab oil-producers, we overpay them, while allowing our wells to die, refineries to deteriorate, and forbid offshore drilling. The man really has nothing but contempt for America, which he sees only in negatives. It can only be redeemed when we become "dhimmis" to his benevolent despotism. He will pay for it in lost votes in the next two elections.

Never hesitate to ask a question, or go a bit off-topic. We love it.

HamiltonsGhost said...

For a campaign slogan, how about "It's your lousy economy, Obama." For disgruntled Democrats, "You came, you lied, you failed." And for the moderates: "Roses are red, violets are blue, the economy stinks, and so do you."

Unknown said...

HamiltonsGhost: It's odd that the party that cut its teeth on killing the Bank of the United States (your brilliant creation) when Andrew Jackson became president now wants a central bank, a central government and a central economy. I don't think Jackson intended for the result to be government by an American version of the "five year plans," administered from Washington.

StanH said...

I know I’m late to the discussion, you touched on it, but let’s not forget the Perot factor in ‘92. My wife and I were a couple of dumb SOBs that voted for him, we’re sorry! This allowed Clinton to waltz in without a majority, I believe 43%.

Cronickain said...

When it's all said and done he will say "Did I do that?"

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