On April 13, at Swampland, a blog at what’s left of Time magazine, Joe Klein took Bill Galston at the New Republic to task for daring to write that Barack Obama’s successful reelection will be difficult “if the people don’t approve of his record.”
That’s about as non-controversial as it gets — but not for good ol’ Joe, who called Galston’s assertion “political science mythology.” Klein proceeded to offer three elections (2008, 1988, and 1976) which supposedly showed that a president’s record in office doesn’t matter. Readers can and should be forgiven for wondering why he chose those three campaigns, given that none of them involved incumbents seeking reelection.
In the interest of bringing Klein up to speed, let me remind him of three of the four most obvious relatively recent instances when the incumbent president’s record was of the utmost importance (the fourth is Bill Clinton’s defeat of Bush 41 in 1992, which was built on Clinton’s lie about “the worst economy in the past 50 years,” Bush’s breaking of his “no new taxes pledge,” and, most critically, the quixotic candidacy of Ross Perot).
In 1980, Jimmy Carter was seeking reelection against challenger Ronald Reagan. Carter’s administration was busily producing inflation, unemployment, and high interest rates all at once, a trifecta once thought impossible. It wasn’t the “killer rabbit” that did Carter in, just as it won’t be Obama’s youthful penchant for eating dog meat; it was the brutal economy. Despite a third-party effort by John Anderson which probably pulled more votes away from Reagan than Carter, Reagan won in a landslide.
In 1984, Reagan was the incumbent. All the Gipper needed to do to win against the hapless Walter Mondale was:
- Demonstrate that his age wasn’t an issue — which he did, while wisecracking that he wouldn’t hold his opponents’ youth and inexperience against him.
- Plaintively ask: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” For the vast majority of Americans, the answer was a resounding “Yes.”
What resulted was a 49-state Electoral College rout.
In 2004, George W. Bush sought reelection against John Kerry. While the challenger had many shortcomings, not the least of which was his failure to remember who was president in December 1968 (Kerry referenced something said by Dick Nixon, but the president at the time was still lame duck Lyndon Baines Johnson, making his “Christmas in Cambodia” story an obvious fable), the election was really about Bush’s record on the economy, his prosecution of the Iraq War, and his progress in the overall War on Terror. The country was very divided on the matter, but Bush prevailed.
So while it would be nice from Joe Klein’s (and Barack Obama’s) perspective if the 2012 campaign were about, oh, I don’t know, Obama’s well-recited movie introductions, Michelle Obama’s frequent TV appearances, and their kids’ vacations (oops, we’re not allowed to talk about that), the 2012 campaign – like it or not, guys — will be primarily about what Obama has and hasn’t done during his first term.
The central problem with Barack Obama’s presidential record is that it is chock full of records — almost all of them painful, harmful, or both. What follows are just a few of them, focusing in the interest of space on the economy and the federal government’s finances.
Most trillion-dollar annual deficits rung up (as well as the only ones): 4.
The deficit during the last eight months of the fiscal year which ended on September 30, 2009, the first eight full months of Obama’s presidency, was $1.02 trillion. That was followed by full fiscal-year deficits of just under $1.3 trillion in 2010 and 2011. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that fiscal 2012′s full-year deficit will be $1.2 trillion. Unless David Axelrod’s Ministry of Information Management (otherwise known as the Obama For America campaign) intervenes, the Treasury Department will release final results for fiscal 2012 in mid-October, right in the middle of early voting and about three weeks before Election Day.
Most consecutive months of seasonally adjusted unemployment above 8%: 38, and counting.
Every single full month of Obama’s presidency has seen an unemployment rate at least that high. Other related records are far too numerous to specifically mention, but there is no reasonable doubt that the pain inflicted on the long-term unemployed during the barely noticeable to non-existent recovery has been far more severe than at any time since the Great Depression, and markedly worse than what we saw for a relatively brief time during the early 1980s. The recent surge in jobless claims and March’s disappointing job creation make it fairly likely that the unemployment rate won’t fall below 8% before Election Day — and even if it does, the shocking shrinkage in the workforce during Obama’s term will render such a result completely unimpressive.
Unless it also gets the ax from Axelrod, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will issue the October employment report on November 2, the Friday before Election Day.
Number of post-recession quarters required for a post-World War II economy to return to its pre-recession size: 9.
Believe it or not, the previous record was three. And since Obama’s best buddy these days seems to be Warren Buffett, I should note that based on the personal benchmark of the billion-dollar ower of Omaha, we’re far from achieving a true recovery, which he defines as when “real per capita GDP gets back to where it was before.”
The government’s last report on economic growth will arrive on October 26; I don’t think David Axelrod will have the nerve to try to delay that one, no matter what it says. That’s eleven days before Election Day. There’s no good reason to believe it will be anywhere near the 4%-plus annualized growth needed for meaningful job creation coming out of a recession (or in this case, out of a barely noticeable to non-existent recovery). Forecasts for full-year growth in 2012 tell us that attaining even the 3% needed to claim anything resembling acceptability will be difficult.
No president since World War II has a poorer record of economic and fiscal stewardship than Barack Obama. The frightening tax hikes on the horizon for January 2013, increases he will almost certainly allow to take effect once he’s reelected, will make his first term seem like a picnic. His only hope appears to be to pretend that it’s 1936 and, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did that year, make the election about demonizing the successful and convincing the disengaged that it is noble to confiscate and redistribute their income and wealth.
The world has changed quite a bit in the past 76 years, and a president’s ability to hide the truth from the public is nowhere near what it was when FDR reigned supreme but presided over a tragically underperforming economy. But I wouldn’t rule out Obama’s ability to successfully play the envy and class warfare cards. Heaven help the American people if a majority of us let him get away with it.