What Obama Will Do about that Millstone

If past voter behavior is any indication, President Obama will have difficulty winning the next election with the gargantuan economy millstone hanging around his neck. The unemployment rate today stands at 9.1 percent, up from earlier in the year. But, that figure doesn’t include everyone who is out of a job or has to settle for part time work when full time is needed. When those people are counted, the percentage rises above 16 percent of the labor force.

How bad is this situation for Obama’s 2012 chances? No president since FDR has been re-elected with unemployment above 8 percent. Worse, only one presidential incumbent in more than fifty years has been re-elected with unemployment above 7 percent. That luck guy was Ronald Reagan who won the 1984 election with a jobless rate of 7.2 percent.

Faced with a persistently tough economy, Obama’s response for many months has been that “things would have been worse” without him. In fact, the White House goes so far as to claim that the Obama Administration prevented the second Great Depression. But, like a donut hole, these are hollow assertions because they are impossible to prove. Republicans are saying just as easily that things are much worse as a result of Obama than they otherwise would have been. The GOP contention is that the economy would be rosy by now if only someone competent had been in charge.

Voters generally avoid “would have been” dead ends, preferring the where-are-we-now reality check, which means the millstone is Obama’s to jettison. Accordingly, the pro-Obama strategists have come up with a different reason to forecast a 2012 victory for our current president. They believe voters will ignore the pain if the economy is showing steady improvement by November of next year. Apparently, the reasoning is that since things have been so bad for so long, some improvement will look even brighter by comparison, assuring Obama’s re-election. In other words, if you’re a long-time incompetent but can manage to rise to mediocre down the stretch, you’ll finish first.

Fortunately for the preservation of success as a national goal, the “steady improvement” bit is a tough sell. Experts announced the end of the Great Recession two years ago. But, since then, the same experts have been continually baffled by unexpected downturns and surprising stagnation. Just last week, economists were scratching their heads over May’s economic report of higher unemployment, a slowdown in manufacturing and a decrease in consumer spending.  Thanks to a flatlining recovery, double-dip is now on many a lip.

So, what will Obama end up doing about the millstone weighing him down?  From a big picture view, what he’s always done. Play his blame-games, lashing out in his trademark derisive manner at his two favorite targets, Republicans and “the rich”. In April, Obama blistered all of them in what was billed as a serious fiscal policy speech. Instead, it was long on inaccuracies and short on specifics that make dollars and sense. It was basically an attempt to exploit social divisions that Obama’s ‘unity’ presidency has fostered from its inception.

But, a broad-strokes picture of the progressive left vision isn’t enough to capture the wider spectrum of voters essential to Obama’s re-election. He will need at least a facade of facts that point the finger of blame for the economy outward. We’re starting to see the groundwork laid for that endeavor.

Liberal economists, such as former Chief Economic Adviser Christina Romer, argue that the stimulus package should have been much bigger. Something in the neighborhood of $1.2 to $2 trillion would have really gotten the economy going.  Of course, it was Obama’s congressional majorities that passed the stimulus package. So, even if you can stomach the argument, where does the blame lie for the less than adequate stimulus size?

On a recent Sunday talk show, Congresswoman Donna Edwards hinted at another faux fact to push blame for the economy on others. According to Edwards, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the rich are responsible because they’re hoarding their money instead of spending it.

Apparently disagreeing with Romer, Edwards lauded the stimulus but stated that it was stifled by the stingy folks with all the money. At the same time, her Progressive Caucus advocates taxing the rich out of existence. She can’t have it both ways and she, like Obama, needs to keep the rich around. Without them, who’s there to blame?

See you on the left-side.