The Death of Bin Laden and Obama's Re-Election Prospects

With the Libyan mission seemingly stalled, and with American combat casualties rising in the tenth year of the war in Afghanistan, the comparisons between Jimmy Carter, the last one-term Democratic president, and Obama became more frequent. Carter’s image and standing with the public suffered from the failed mission in Iran to release the U.S embassy personnel taken hostage in 1979.  Carter also was blamed for stagflation -- a combination of high unemployment and even higher inflation.

The successful mission in Pakistan in which Bin Laden was killed will give Obama some breathing room on foreign policy. This is not to say that things are going well in this area. The U.S.  seemed to be tongue-tied and helpless as the Syrian government, led by Bashar Assad, mowed down its own people.

Top administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Democratic senators, including John Kerry,were still calling Assad a “reformer” up until the past week. The Libyan mission may turn out well (there has been increased pressure on Gaddafi in recent weeks), but for now, the conflict looks a bit like a civil war, not likely to be over that quickly.

Despite the president’s foreign policy woes, the 2012 presidential race will be decided one way or the other on two principal factors -- the stature and ability of the Republican nominee, and the state of the economy. A poor Republican candidate can blow a winnable opportunity. The president’s early fund-raising haul, and his pandering to groups important to his re-election bid -- Latinos, gays, unions, environmentalists -- is evidence that the White House expects a much closer race in 2012 than in 2008,when Obama carried 28 states, received 69.5 million votes (9.5 million more than McCain), and  won just under 53% of the popular vote.

North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Colorado , Nevada, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan are all states Obama won in 2008 and that are in play in 2012. These states are in play because the unemployment rate is still at 9% after trillions in expanded federal spending and stimulus packages, and despite trillions poured into the economy by the Federal Reserve Bank. The annual federal deficit and accumulated federal debt are at record levels, and the public is unconvinced that the president and his party are serious about cutting federal spending. Add to this that gas prices are at $4 per gallon on average nationally, and even the most favorable liberal media spin on why this is a good thing is not selling to those who need to fill up.

With stimulus spending winding down, and the 2% Social Security  tax cut expiring at year end, the 2012 numbers for the economy may not look much better than they do today. The president may look a bit helpless in terms of getting the economy moving and reducing the unemployment rate and the deficit.

Barack Obama’s election victory  in 2008 was one that made many Americans feel good about their country and the racial progress that has been achieved. Americans bought into the hope and change  monikers  of the Obama campaign. But the second time around, the president will be judged by his record, not the promise of what  is to come. Tyrone Willingham, the former Notre Dame football coach, and Frank Robinson, the Hall of Famer who was the first black manager in baseball can  tell the president that it is great to be a door opener (or ceiling smasher), but then you need to show results to keep your job.

And the voters may be even more fickle than the impatient fans in South Bend who root for their beloved Fighting Irish.