Really smart piece from John Judis about how Obama’s economic message may be critical to his re-election chances. I especially liked it because he makes a number of points that I’ve been hitting for a while (finding out that people I think are really smart think the same things as me always makes for a nice ego boost). To wit:
Fast forward to Obama and the 2012 election: If the unemployment rate were to plummet—say, to 7 percent by June of next year—then assuming even a mediocre campaign effort, Obama would probably be re-elected regardless of his opponent. Conversely, if the United States plunges back into a recession because of the Republican budget cuts that Obama has agreed to, then even a semi-mainstream candidate like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee could defeat Obama. But what is most likely is a situation similar to that faced by George H.W. Bush in 1992: a sluggish economy that is improving, but at a sufficiently slow rate to leave a gap between fact and perception that rival politicians will attempt to fill.
This is where GHWB failed to convince Americans he actually cared about the economy and domestic political issues. Judis argues, fairly persuasively, that Obama’s problem in focusing on the deficit is that ultimately the voters care about jobs, and that deficit talk is not going to win them over. [And, as I've argued, it's foolishly playing on Republican turf]. Judis:
So far, Obama has not done very well in filling that gap. He has allowed Republicans to make a case that things are getting worse, and he has cooperated with them in taking measures that will actually make things worse. He has allowed Republicans to set the terms of the debate. It has been about the perils of deficits and debt. That is not just bad economics; it also leads Democrats into a political cul-de-sac…
Obama has tried to carve a liberal niche within this retrograde political framework by charging that the Republican plan to cut the deficit would get rid of Medicare and would keep the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. That’s all well and good, but Obama is still playing on Republican turf. And it might not work. The last Democratic presidential candidate who based his campaign on deficits was Walter Mondale in 1984. Mondale probably would have lost to Ronald Reagan in any case, but he would have won more than Minnesota and the District of Columbia. The other Democratic candidate who tried to make deficits an issue was Al Gore in 2000, and he lost to a candidate he should have defeated easily. And you can be sure that Bill Clinton in 1992 didn’t focus on deficits in running against George H.W. Bush.
I know Obama and his political advisers think that by emphasizing deficits they are going to win over independent voters. But as I have argued earlier, Obama is pursuing a political fiction. The independents he needs to attract are primarily white working-class voters in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They may care about deficits as a stand-in for what they see as wasteful spending on undeserving groups. But their primary concern, as they demonstrated in 2008, is jobs and the economy…
But my guess is that the Republican nominee will dissociate him or herself from Ryan’s Medicare agenda. If a credible GOP nominee emerges and adopts that stance, and Obama continues to talk deficits to twentysomethings at community colleges, his re-election is far from assured.
Cannot find much that I disagree with in here. I still think Obama will most likely win re-election, but that his economic talking points are doing him no favors and do make it less likely. I don’t want to have to stake my hopes on Republicans nominating Michelle Bachman or Donald Trump.
p.s. Happy Easter