None of this symptomology is mutually exclusive, and, in fact, these indications are more likely complementary. Indeed, the president’s speech is a good harbinger of the campaign to come. Contradictions mean nothing. Quite blatant reversals are irrelevant. For Obama to win, our patient simply counts on three therapies in 2012.
1) All recessions at some point get a little better. The world is now in a so-so recovery. We have printed $5 trillion since Obama was inaugurated. For a short period, say until the end of 2012, such “stimulus” will have a stimulatory, inflationary effect. An upswing comes now; the perfect storm of stagflationary hyper-high-prices, chronic unemployment above 8%, and spiraling interest rates may not take full effect until after the election.
2) The deficit is indeed unsustainable, and premise #1 is, in fact, endangered by it. So the Republicans will have to deal with it, and thus must bear the charge that they cut Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid, while fighting for the Bush “tax cuts.” If the Republicans want to “balance the budgets on the backs of the poor,” then Obama has no choice but to go to the barricades and stop that Dickensian ruthlessness. So propose a $1.6 deficit, ignore the debt commission, and let the Republicans play Scrooge to his Bob Cratchit.
3) The electorate is not as it was when it finally sickened of Jimmy Carter in August 1980. Far more are on public assistance, unemployment, Social Security, food stamps, etc., or work for thousands of new state and federal bureaus. There are millions more illegal aliens that have become citizens since the late 1970s. And the voting rolls have expanded exponentially among "nontraditional" voters. Thus, the political calculus about which pundits and talking-heads debate is not always what half the electorate worries about. The national debt, the annual deficit, the problems with ObamaCare, the tax code -- all that matters very little. The key question for millions of voters in 2012 will be simply who ensures that my check arrives unchanged or augmented, and who either stops or reduces it.
Patient Obama presents us with multifaceted, but now chronic and well-recognized symptoms. They reflect a variety of maladies that nevertheless form an identifiable syndrome. There is no real therapy to be recommended since the illness will have to run its course, with a prognosis that remains uncertain until it resolves one way or another in about two years -- or in late 2012.