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Progressive Issues for Progressive Democrats
"Health care is a fundamental right." (Ted Kennedy, 8/26/08)
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The Progressive Platform Project

Losing The Present, The Future, And Re-Election

by: Michael Conrad

Fri Aug 12, 2011 at 08:51:06 AM EDT

The latest version of the Obama Administration is showing a staggering level of incompetence on their economic priorities and committing gross political malpractice in the process.  
Michael Conrad :: Losing The Present, The Future, And Re-Election
From The Hill - Obama not at point of no return

Obama's defenders insist that he could yet be seen as enacting the right policies to guide the country through treacherous waters, even if the results are not fully evident by Election Day 2012.

They point to President Reagan as an unlikely parallel. Reagan won reelection by a landslide in 1984, despite a historically high unemployment rate of 7.2 percent.

Do the people at the top levels of the Obama campaign honestly believe this is a solid argument?

Those of us who have been sounding the proverbial alarm about the diminishing chances of re-election for a while now have not claimed that the best predictor of the general election is the unemployment rate alone. What we've stated on numerous occasions is that the best predictor is economic security metrics -- unemployment and income -- and the rate of change. The rate of change part is key.

From September of 1982 to June of 1983 the unemployment rate was at least 10.1%, usually at or around 10.4% and twice hitting 10.8%. From that point up to November of 1984, when Reagan was re-elected, there was steady improvement as the unemployment rate went down to 7.4% in October of '84 when the outcome was locked in.

Context: The unemployment rate at the start of Reagan's presidency was 7.5%. It was 10.8% when his party suffered massive losses in the the '82 midterms. The steady improvement over the next 2 years made people feel that things were headed in the right direction and Reagan won in a landslide. This is why "Morning in America" resonated.

Source: BLS

Why the White House would think pointing to Reagan as an example of how the president gets re-elected is a good idea is beyond me.

From Wednesday's Wa Po - Nervous Democrats say President Obama must be bolder on economy

(Obama's) aides note that his unconventional 2008 presidential campaign also faced plenty of naysaying but ultimately proved successful.

There is undoubtedly much to be said for the Obama '08 primary campaign. They had an assist from Mark Penn being... well, Mark Penn, but then-Senator Obama obviously ran a very effective primary campaign. And I'm sure there was a lot of second guessing of the campaign's decisions. But as far as the general election goes, which is what the "naysaying" is about now, comparisons of 2012 to 2008 are way off base. In 2008, Obama was running after 8 years of the George W. Bush disaster. Then came the Great Crash, which ensured that Obama would defeat McCain. 2012 will be a much different story.

It is now crystal clear that a credible "11 Dimensional Chess" strategy, much like the Confidence Fairy, does not exist. Frankly, the president's approach to economic recovery and by extension his own re-election, as well as his prioritization of Beltway bipartisanship over results, is far removed from anything that could accurately be labeled "pragmatism." His handing of the debt ceiling debacle and the Contraction for America has been many things, but "pragmatic" is decidedly not one of them.  

Michael Tomasky quoted William Galston(!):

"Sometimes, civic-republican pragmatism can be a fancy label for a fundamental misunderstanding of how politics works."

And now we have reason to believe that the president will help the GOP distract the country from the jobs/wages/growth/foreclosures conversation we desperately need to be having.

Robert Reich - "Why the President Doesn't Present a Bold Plan to Create Jobs and Jumpstart the Economy"

I'm told White House political operatives are against a bold jobs plan. They believe the only jobs plan that could get through Congress would be so watered down as to have almost no impact by Election Day. They also worry the public wouldn't understand how more government spending in the near term can be consistent with long-term deficit reduction. And they fear Republicans would use any such initiative to further bash Obama as a big spender.

So rather than fight for a bold jobs plan, the White House has apparently decided it's politically wiser to continue fighting about the deficit. The idea is to keep the public focused on the deficit drama - to convince them their current economic woes have something to do with it, decry Washington's paralysis over fixing it, and then claim victory over whatever outcome emerges from the process recently negotiated to fix it. They hope all this will distract the public's attention from the President's failure to do anything about continuing high unemployment and economic anemia.

As irresponsible, craven, reprehensible, and in some ways difficult to believe as this would be, as Reich points out, it tracks with what the president has been saying. Jed Lewison flagged Gene Sperling making statements that only really make sense if what Reich heard is accurate. And for the record, if Reich is a "hater" I doubt that there is such a thing as an Obama supporter. While running for the nomination, Obama was reportedly fond of saying that he listen to both Roberts, Reich and Rubin.

The Hill piece I linked to at the top of this post ends with this.

But one thing seems sure: Unless the nation's economic trajectory changes, and fast, Obama's bid for a second term will be facing the stiffest of headwinds.

So what happens now? That's something all progressive and Democrats are going to have to think through. In the meantime, here are two constructive suggestions.

Sign the Contract for the American Dream and spread the word about it.

Check out TAP's forum featuring "economists and policy-makers on how Obama can jump-start a recovery."  

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Note to frequent readers. (3.00 / 3)
In case you were wondering, the irony of the William Galston quote is not lost on me.    

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I'm a little late to the party (3.00 / 1)
Great diary.  

Now for the bad news:  I do think Obama is passed the point of no return.  I cannot imagine a scenario by which Obama wins Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Indiana.  

Game over.  

I'm always struck by the howls of the "reality based" community when it comes to primarying Obama.  The fact is, if the Democrats wish to have any chance in 2012, Obama needs to be replaced as the nominee.  

Unemployment is not what will do Obama in.  It is his failure to live up to his potential.  

Of course, there's always the hope the GOP will nominate a nut bag, but that hope is delusional.  The GOP smells victory in 2012.  They aren't going to let Bachmann screw it up.  The GOP will do whatever it takes to nominate a semi-sane candidate who will win.  

[ Parent ]
Thanks! (0.00 / 0)
Your question is one that is rising in profile.

The Ames-Iowa-South Carolina theory of a Bachmann nomination over Romney (admittedly my own) is now inoperative due to Rick Perry. He's now the one who has the Iowa + South Carolina combination well within reach.

Barring a Perry implosion timed with a last minute entry by a  Chris Christie-type, the GOP ticket will be:

President: Mitt Romney or Rick Perry
VP: Marco Rubio or Susana Martinez

And while Perry is easier to beat than Romney, it would still be an uphill battle.

I'm honestly torn, and have been, on a potential primary. I basically agree with your assessment that he's most likely not going to win re-election in any event. And even if he was the primary challenge = general election loser theory gets causality wrong. He's blurring vital contrasts on Social Security and Medicare, and his failure on the economy will become the party's failure unless someone is on the national stage repeatedly highlighting the gap between the Obama approach and the backbone of the party. And if Obama were to somehow squeak by 2012 and have a 2nd term unfold while the economy continues to suck, it will have really bad ramifications for Congressional Dems in '14 and '16, our nominee in '16, and the Democratic "brand" going forward. At the same time, the division in the progressive coalition a primary could lead to is a strong deterrent. If a serious primary were to ever materialize, I'm sure it would be blamed for the general election loss. It will be highly inaccurate, but it will resonate. So the "don't break off, you'll kill the party" reasoning could fall on deaf ears. "They sabotaged Obama, why shouldn't we sabotage them?"... stuff like that. Again, it wouldn't be accurate. Obama sabotaged Obama. But will enough people see that?

He prioritized Beltway bipartisanship to a ridiculous extent, has not responded to the unemployment crisis in a truly pragmatic (read: aggressive) way, he's been really bad for a Dem on the Core 3 (SocSec, Medicare, Medicaid), and he fell down on EFCA. So he deserves a challenge in my book. But I'm deeply conflicted because of the unintended consequences of one.  

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[ Parent ]
Great diary, MC (3.00 / 3)
This WH lacks depth on all things of electoral importance. As you say the economy has to be improving in those election years and though the unemployment rate is not the end all to be all, the be all is also income inequality and it's worse now than it has ever been. Does this WH really think 7.2% compares to 9.2%? I think they would give their left arm for 7.2% unemployment under these conditions. It really doesn't compare.

They won't even try to pass a stimulus that would even move or keep unemployment under 8% like Christina Romer said and yet she is being tarnished because they listened to Larry Summers and David Axelrod who were scared of the market for some stupid reason. Even if it failed, a try would have helped mobilize the base. A 1.2 trillion wold have kept unemployment well near her 8% threshold.

Also Reagan had good relations with Paul Volcker who was Fed chairmen at the time and that recession was voluntary(to fight high inflation but it also killed manufacturing and labor as well as their exporters in Latin America) and they could have lowered interest rates anytime they wanted and they did just in time for reelection and the economy took off. Right now we are at the 0 bound and monetary policy still cannot fight unemployment. Only fiscal stimulus will and that has been taken off the table as you said. The WH whines now when they had a chance, a chance to even talk to Congress about it. A chance to change the filibuster that Democrats failed at. This is why I'm feeling like this when called upon by these Democratic failures, all of them. I got involved, heavily in 2008 and I don't owe them anything.

Thanks of the diary, MC.

I'm still having trouble with the notion that obama will lose. (3.00 / 3)
Conventional wisdom keeps saying it is about unemployment numbers. Not that the facts and figures don't prove me wrong.

I first think of the power of incumbency. Not just the fact that obama will be raking in money hand over fist from banking, the war industry and the health care industrial complex to fight a saturation war in the swing states. But there is also the battle for the top that the Republican nominee must fight.

Take an incumbent who lost. Now I was much closer to politics in 1980 than I am now and I've always held that it was as much Ted Kennedy who beat Jimmy Carter as it was Ronald Reagan. Democrats always flame me for that but the President came out of a bloody battle to start another with a professional bullshit artist.

Now Des Moines was a preview. Nominees who lack a track record trying to outdo each other in front a Party membership that is totally out of touch with reality and those barbs and claims will follow them into election. Now Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy were arguing common sense values before the people and when you compare that with the bullshit form last week, the people who vote in a general election, who will be seeking the lesser of two evils, what are they going to do?

For George H.W. Bush, let's face it, Clinton seduced America. And that brings me to another point. In modern era it seems to be more about personality. Escalating with each passing year but apparent in many elections. I doubt it will be obama vs. the number that are unemployed. More like obmas's wrong message vs. someone else with an totally oblivious worn out and tired message. If it is Romney, the man didn't pick up enough at charm school and he has no personality.

Besides I don't think obama lacks the political knowledge to, once it is too late and intended to fail, present the American public with an aggressive jobs program. That way his arsenal includes "I've presented a way out of this mess and all my opponent can offer is more tax deductions for the rich."

As useless as he is, walking all over someone with that same old Republican message should be a cake walk.

I don't really have a clue but as disgusted as Americans are now with Washington, I just can't see them running towards more pain and suffering. People claim that the voter's memories are short but most still give credit to bush for this economy and I think, even though it will be true of both candidates, that most still see Republicans as the true representatives of the rich.        

"Democracy only works when we claim it as our own" -Bill Moyers

Interesting points. (3.00 / 3)
The best one, I think, relates to who people hold responsible for the state of the economy. This is why Romney (who I dread has the president pretty much beat if he can get to the general election without going irredeemably crazy right) has focused on the "Obama didn't get us into the Recession, but he has failed to get us out" message. That's much closer to what people actually think. David Frum, who is dead wrong on much but strategically competent from a GOP perspective, referred to it as the "Obama is a disappointment, he's not a menace" message.  

Here's why I think Obama is in deep trouble.

Obama campaign:

It's reportedly worried that both progressive grassroots support and OFA won't be there nearly as strong as they were in 08'. I actually thought OFA would be pretty strong, but apparently I was wrong on that. That means sinking money into ad buys, which won't do much in an economy like this and which Romney would be able to counter.


The unemployment rate in Aug-Oct (around 7.4), when voters made up their mind seemed like a real improvement because it had just come down from the 10.4 (with highs a little above that) range. The rate of change was enough to convince people things were headed in the right direction.


In normal situations this would count for something. But in this bad of an economy, I think it's a wash, especially if it's used to raise more money that will just be poured into ads. Though obviously very important, great ads can't get the job done if the fundamentals are really bad.  

Electoral map:

A Romney-type has a clear path now.


A more mainstream Dem could definitely hit the GOP hard on jobs/income/tax rates/Medicare/Social Security/Wall Street. Obama has forfeited or diluted many of those. In fact, for a while he was doing just as bad if not worse on the "Wall Street lackey" metric. Since the bonuses fiasco he's lost a lot of ground on that. So it comes down to "not on our side but hasn't got us out of the Recession" vs. "not on our side, is possibly an improvement." And by retraining the focus on unemployment, the subject Obama will reportedly try to avoid, Romney will look like he is on their side much more than he is (which is not at all).

Romney of course is NOT possibly an improvement. He's a standard Republican (which means Thurston Howell III pandering to crazies) across the board. But that's not what swing voters, who aren't "centrists" nearly as much as they're "referendum on the economy" voters will see.

Hopefully Bachmann or Perry beats him for the nominee, because then Obama gets re-elected (Bachmann) or has a much better shot (Perry).  

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[ Parent ]
All your points are excellent (3.00 / 4)
And the truth is that I'm not all that upset about a Republican President. Strange to see myself even write that but it's true. I keep asking myself the same question. What brings us closer to a 'newer better Democrat,' Romney 2012 or obama 2012?

It really sucks in the short term but Romeny will have much less success in destroying Democratic policy and if the people manage to frame it right obama can become an example for Democratic leaders of what not to do once elected. We could get back to the fifty state policy, the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party becomes less suffocated, and the people can be put back in the Peoples' Party. In fact "Hope" could actually mean hope once again.

Of course if the Party looses the Senate and fails to regain the House we will be fare more screwed with Romney than Obama. But either way Democrats regain their identity.

I have a conspiracy theory I want to share with you. It was not mine but came from an old friend who was once a devoted Democrat, still votes Democratic but has become so cynical he would never lift a finger the Party anymore. Pretty much what I've become since he said these words to me.

I was a few weeks after McCain picked Palin, perhaps her first, maybe her second stupid blunder when I said to him "How could McCain pick someone who is such a fucking idiot?" At the time, being a big Obama supporter his answer sounded so crazy that I laughed in his face. He said "'The powers that sat McCain down and said 'it's not your turn. We need to maintain the belief that this is a two Party nation. So take this crazy woman from Alaska.'"

My point being that there are people out there now who remember Democratic values and they were already so turned off by the Party before obama, that all faith was gone. Where are the young OFA's now? Will they ever comeback to the Party or has the redefining of "Change we can believe in" speed up the cynicism that it took my friend, a once former active member of the CFDNY, a long lifetime to build?

And now I come back to myself as an example. My friends thoughts on Palin seemed crazy to me just a few years back. Now my thoughts on your hopes that the Republicans pick Bachmann or Perry are, if the Party leadership allows their voters to believe that either Bachmann or Perry are viable nominees, that pretty much translates to a Republican endorsement of Barack Obama.

I'll admit it, I'm ruined and all out of "Hope" but the responsibility for my cynicism lies elsewhere.

A closing thought. I wanted to make sure I had the initials right for CFDNY and a search came across this wonderful video from their location.

One great person's great story.              

"Democracy only works when we claim it as our own" -Bill Moyers

[ Parent ]
Great question. (3.00 / 3)
Where are the young OFA's now? Will they ever comeback to the Party or has the redefining of "Change we can believe in" speed up the cynicism that it took my friend, a once former active member of the CFDNY, a long lifetime to build?

You nailed it with this.

The video is really good.

"Does that answer your question?" Classic.

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[ Parent ]
Great question. (3.00 / 3)
Where are the young OFA's now? Will they ever comeback to the Party or has the redefining of "Change we can believe in" speed up the cynicism that it took my friend, a once former active member of the CFDNY, a long lifetime to build?

You nailed it with this.

The video is really good.

"Does that answer your question?" Classic.

Also on Twitter and You Tube

[ Parent ]
I, too, am ruined and all out of Hope... (3.00 / 3)
and also realize there is no logic to be had in these elections, we are apparently a nation driven to self destruction.

[ Parent ]
I'm with you (3.00 / 1)
And the truth is that I'm not all that upset about a Republican President. Strange to see myself even write that but it's true. I keep asking myself the same question. What brings us closer to a 'newer better Democrat,' Romney 2012 or obama 2012?

Reelecting Obama will just postpone the inevitable and hasten the decline of the Democratic party.  

[ Parent ]
Unemployment Numbers (3.00 / 2)
I took a look at the unemployment numbers you provided.  There is no statistical correllation between the unemployment rate and election margin, r is -.021 and the p value is.920.  Between unemployment rate change and margin the r is -.350 with a p value of .087.  A very weak correllation that would generally be considered not statistically significant.

I believe Obama has a good chance of losing in 2012 because he has not lived up to the promises that got him elected assuming the Republicans put up a viable candidate.  However, I doubt that the unemployment numbers will be a factor.  I agree that we may be better enduring a Republican president, I can't believe that McCain would have been much worse than this guy.

Agree and disagree (3.00 / 1)
The relationship between unemployment and re-election is inexact to be sure. But I believe it's more of a factor than you do. There's a case to be made that income is the better predictor, but if unemployment stays this bad for much longer, I think a full analysis would support the idea that Obama will most likely be defeated. Personally, I think failing to keep his promises will hurt him the most as it relates to economic security. In that respect we're saying the same thing, just with a different emphasis.

As far as a GOP victory goes, I just could never see that as "better" or possibly better. At the least, in the short run it would be a disaster for people who are already hurting badly. Longer-term, the impact on the SCOTUS, the DOL and the NLRB, and the environment all come to mind.

I do agree that Social Security may be better in some respects off under a GOP president. That's not a Democratic president problem as much as it's a problem with this Democratic president. If Romney or Perry go after Social Secuirty, Dems would unite against it.

You also have a point in the sense that Dems in Congress and future candidates would probably be in a better position politically if Obama were to lose.


Scenario 1

2012: Obama faces the Goodhair. Perry emerges from a protracted battle with Romney and Bachmann further to the right of the mainstream since any post-Goldwater GOP nominee. Perry is also politically bloodied.

Despite the bad economy, Obama squeaks by. Something like...

In his second term, much like his first, Obama doesn't take on unemployment/wages/foreclosures with anything close to the kind of force clearly demanded by this moment in history.

2014: There's a replay of 2010 (hopefully on a smaller scale) as much of the '08 Obama coalition doesn't show up and those who do show up vote their frustrations on the economy.

2016: The Democratic nominee is at a huge disadvantage, not just because of the three in a row factor (which is often overstated), but because the Obama presidency and the Democratic Party by extension, will widely be seen as a failure on the central issue: the economy. The nominee will benefit from significant demographic advantages, but I doubt they would be enough to overcome the damage to the party's credibility.

Scenario 2


Obama faces Romney. IN, OH, FL, VA, NC, NV (and more) go. It's over. Obama loses.

2014 and 2016 are both good years for Congressional Dems as they run against the incumbent Republican and the ongoing economic misery.

A Gillibrand/Harris type is in a position to beat an incumbent Romney and give us a second shot at a 21st century Democratic trifecta. Romney faces a primary challenge or is forced to go crazy right to avoid one.

'14, and '16 races in Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maine, Georgia, South Carolina set up Dem control of the Senate.

(With NM WI, OH, MA, ME, and CT all being crucial in '12)

So I can understand the argument that, considering the economic reality, either Obama loses in '12 or the party loses in '14 and probably '16. For many it comes down to short-term vs. longer-term. For me, it's trying to prevent a GOP presidency while still laying the groundwork for a second chance after 2016. Though frankly, my priority in '12 is Congress and it's not even close really. More importantly, I'm not alone on that.

Thanks for weighing in, Capnden! Welcome to Progressive Blue.

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[ Parent ]
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