In Pundit World, particularly TV Pundit World it seems, the common wisdom appears to be that if President Obama doesn’t somehow manage to accomplish the near impossible task of reducing the level of unemployment from its current level of 9.1 percent down to somewhere in the 7 percent range, then his chances for re-election are seriously at risk because no president since Depression-era President Franklin Delano Roosevelt has ever won a second term with unemployment higher than 7.2 percent.
And in even semi-normal times I believe the persistence of stubbornly high unemployment rates creeping into the 2012 campaign season could very well be enough to cut short Obama’s residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But these are hardly semi-normal times, as most of us are well aware. As an excellent article in the Washington Monthly points out, it is far too simplistic to assume that Obama’s presidency is at risk simply on the basis of that statistic alone. Not that it is irrelevant, but context does matter:
No president since FDR has won with a high unemployment rate because no president since FDR has had to govern at a time of a global economic crisis like the Great Depression or the Great Recession. The U.S. has seen plenty of downturns over the last eight decades, but financial collapses are fairly rare, produce far more severe conditions, and take much longer to recover from.
In other words, Obama has a good excuse. Of course the unemployment rate won’t be below 7.2%. Under the circumstances and given the calamity Obama inherited, that’s impossible.
The more relevant question is what Americans are willing to put up with. In 1934, during FDR’s first midterms, the unemployment rate was about 22%. The public was thrilled — it had come down considerably from 1932. By 1936, when FDR was seeking a second term, the unemployment rate was about 17%. How can an incumbent president win re-election with a 17% unemployment rate? Because things were getting better, not worse.
Now add to that the current anemic field of Republican challengers and, well, I mean…
It’s true, nothing is guaranteed, and politics is a crazy game where what appears to be certain one minute can be seriously in doubt the next. That’s because there are so many variables, so many moving parts. So no, I’m still not willing to go out on a limb and say Obama is guaranteed re-election even if unemployment is 20 percent because, as much fun as that would be to toss that out there, it would pretty much be the type of cheap political theater that passes for commentary in some quarters. Not that I’m always above cheap political commentary, because it really can be a lot of fun, but now’s not the time.
So here’s the thing, as I see it; I find it both amazing and amusing that hardly any commentators on any of the usual shows ever reference the near historic weakness of the Republican challengers when discussing the dire prospects for Obama’s re-election. It’s all about how unless Obama gets those job numbers up, his days are done. But even when you factor in the disenfranchisement of the purist progressive branch of the Democrats, the possibility that there may be far fewer younger voters turning out this time around because the rock star veneer is now gone, the rabid Tea Party and their antics, etc., I must confess I’m still not quite feeling the jitters everyone keeps telling me I should feel just yet.
Let’s start with Mitt Romney. Leading members of his own party, including John Boehner, are leading an effort to defeat him. His supporters make the term ‘lukewarm’ seem like a gross exaggeration. No passion nowhere. Lots of dough, but no fire to make that dough rise. And if the Tea Party are the new gate keepers, then it’s a given that they will never accept the man who designed the model for Obama’s health care plan because the debt ceiling so-called ‘negotiations’ make it plain that these folks don’t compromise on not one damned thing. I hear ya knockin, but ya can’t come in.
Then there’s Michelle Bachmann. Sure she’s the Tea Party mouthpiece, the Tea Party has the Republican organization by the throat, and I suspect there’s a better than even chance she will win Iowa in the primaries. And if she goes on to win New Hampshire from there, which is essentially in Mitt’s back yard, then Mitt’s campaign may be in serious need of that health care he can’t seem to recall having anything to do with. Because when you’re on life support, that life support involves rather serious health care measures. But even if Bachmann plucks those two political plums from the campaign tree, or even if she rolls all the way into the nomination as Queen Victorious, her chances against Obama are slim at best. The Tea Party may have the House Republicans by the throat, but any number of polls have shown that the rest of America has pretty much grown sick and tired of them. True, Obama’s numbers are struggling too, but he’s the incumbent, not to mention the incumbent who just broke fundraising records last quarter. What happens next quarter will be very telling.
And then there’s Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Herman Cain. Newt Gingrich, and some other guy. Not much to say there, and enuf said. Oh, and then there’s the apparent possibility that Texas Gov. Rick Perry may decide to jump in the deep end, even though he sees no problem inviting lunatic preachers to join him on stage at a prayer rally for America. One of those lunatic preachers, Pastor John Hagee, believes Hitler and the Holocaust were God’s way of bringing Jews back to Israel. Remember this, Rick; God don’t like ugly, and he’s not too fond of being mocked either. Look it up the next time you’re skimming the Cliff Notes version of the bible.
The thing to remember is that just because folks are mad and broke doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Sure Obama has made his fair share of missteps, and he has for sure worn out his welcome with the adult in the room business, let alone his over-willingness to negotiate with folks who hate his guts. But in the end he is still so far ahead of every last one of the Republican challengers in his potential ability to manage this crisis that it’s not even a fair fight. Now if there was a Ronald Reagan in the pack? Or even a George H.W. Bush? A Nixon? Someone of that ability and political savvy who was also in good with the Tea Party and knew how to manage them? Then I’d be scared to death because then Obama might need a handwritten letter from God accompanied by a few thunderbolts to get re-elected if he didn’t manage to significantly turn things around by early next year. But with this current crop of midgets and anklebiters?
Maybe if somebody turned on the soundtrack to Jaws…
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