Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

December 14, 2010

Oh why the hell not – let’s have a 2012 US Presidential elections speculation post

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:49 am

Nick drew my attention to this piece from the guys at Crooked Timber, in this instance a chap called John Quiggen*. Here’s the basic sentiment:

On the information we have at present, any Republican candidate other than Palin will have very good odds of winning. But there is also a fair chance that Palin will get the Republican nomination, despite her high negative ratings outside the Republican base. That would give Obama his best chance, but still no guarantee.

He links to a piece over at the Huffington Post by Jeff Madrick, whose core thesis is hit upon in these two paragraphs:

He had better start preparing far bolder action than he now contemplates. Place the onus for high unemployment on his political opponents. Talk up the need to invest in the economy, including an infrastructure bank. Establish more aggressive jobs programs. And so on.

Some think he just has to talk back to Republicans. Confront them. Don’t give in on lower tax rates for the high-end earner. That will help. But this is a mountain he faces, not a hill. Obama may not know that, but it seems most Democratic analysts don’t know it, either.

In other words, the key is unemployment, as far as re-election prospects go. Fair enough, that’s going to be a key metric by which the President’s prospects will stand in two years time. However, Madrick’s piece is a somewhat boilerplate statement of old school liberal wing thought pervasive in Democratic party politics. Its value is little more than re-stating an obvious concern, whilst simultaneously committing the Pundit’s Fallacy. For those unaware of said fallacy, Matt Yglesias, coined it thus:

The pundit’s fallacy is that belief that what a politician needs to do to improve his or her political standing is do what the pundit wants substantively. So progressive populists think that Barack Obama would have higher approval ratings if he acted more like Ed Schultz while establishmentarian centrists think his ratings would go up if he acted more like David Broder. The truth, of course, is that he really needs to hew more closely to my preferences politics doesn’t work this way.

Madrick’s piece also ignores the basics of what the President can do. More aggressive jobs programme? Awesome! Why didn’t I think of that? By the way, have you met the Senate, and its annoying cousin, the Filibuster? If you stick around for another month I can introduce you to the Republican controlled House of Representatives. And if you think that those upstanding institutions will allow anything resembling a jobs package past their hallowed halls, then I am going to have to ask you stop smoking crack cocaine in my presence, as it brings down the property prices.

Frankly though, the US economy must improve. It simply has to. Say what you will about the tax deal that was just brokered with the Republicans, but it will at least have something of a stimulative effect (albeit an entirely imperfect one). If unemployment is still roughly the same in two years time, then the problems of two (or three) little Presidential candidates won’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. It will strongly suggest that the US economy’s malaise has metastasised into something far more worrying. And unlikely, despite our bleak and weary December outlook.

From the Crooked Timber piece, you’d think that Sarah Palin is the only candidate that Obama can beat. I strongly disagree with this sentiment. The GOP field is weak generally; to the extent that they can thank the Tea Party for the extent of their gains (in the House at least) in November it makes them less likely to nominate someone who isn’t tarred with a fair bit of the crazy. I think a Sarah Palin candidacy for big a downfall for GOP credibility, regardless of her eventual success. Any credible candidate will have to tack so far to the right and stake out positions that are at least on a par with Palin’s that the entire debate will be toxic as far as Independent voters are concerned.

It is to hoped, if you are a Democrat, that seeing this debate will also energise your voters. I think it will. It’s going to be an utterly putrid affair as each candidate tries to outdo the next with their callous disregard for minorities, poor people, civil liberties and any sense of nuance or intellect. The only reasonable candidate is Mitch Gary Johnson, Governor of New Mexico, a guy with so little name recognition that I had to Google and correct it midway through this post. He’s like Ron Paul, less of a crank.

Really, the GOP field deserves a post of its own, and it deserves it in eight months time, not right now. But my point is Quiggen is far, far too generous to that particular rogue’s gallery. My larger point might be that it’s kind of crazy to make predictions two years ahead of the actual elections. Remember when Rudy Giuliani had a chance in hell? Yeah. He really did. Similarly, I first called the race for Obama around this time in the last Presidential election cycle. I do not dare look back at odds you could have got placing a bet in his favour for the Presidency in December 2006, but I have little to no doubt it would make my eyes water. 

There are concerns however, as Sabato and Abramowitz recently noted:

Despite his upset victory over heavily favored Hillary Clinton in the ’08 Democratic contest and his easy win over a much more seasoned John McCain in November two years ago, Barack Obama lacks the political skills necessary to adjust to the new realities of divided government. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is an inflexible liberal who couldn’t find the center with both hands, even if his career depended on it. And there is no chance at all the new Republican leadership in Congress could over-reach and repeat the errors of Newt Gingrich and his allies. The GOP legislative caucus contains no core of rigid ideologues that might go too far and create an opening for Obama.

Historically, incumbent presidents who have sought another term have won them by a two-to-one margin. Those aren’t impressive odds. How many of us would bet on a horse with minimal chances like that? Since 1900 only one incumbent president whose party captured the White House from the other party four years earlier (Jimmy Carter) has been beaten. The other incumbent losers—Taft, Hoover, Ford, and the senior Bush—were from a party that had held the White House for two or more consecutive terms. But the key is that Carter and Obama are practically twins; both won the Nobel Peace Prize. Enough said. Moreover, the present moment is unprecedentedly perilous for an incumbent president. There’s really no comparison in the existence of the American Republic, save for about a dozen crises like the Civil War, economic panics, the Great Depression, world wars, and 9/11.

Read the whole thing. It’s a profitable supplement to the whole discussion of “One Term Barack”.

*I don’t know the Crooked Timber lot all that well, so can’t tell if this an outlier of opinion, or the community POV

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

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