Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why He's Falling Apart

The foundations of Obama's campaign are not nearly as strong as they once seemed

A presidential reelection campaign needs three key elements: a defense of the incumbent’s record, a successful effort to define the opposition and a compelling vision of a second term.

President Obama may well celebrate a second term in Chicago next month, but the conventional wisdom underestimates the difficulty he faces, as his campaign has distinct problems with all three elements.

His defense of his record is exceptionally weak, his effort to define Mitt Romney is nearly exhausted, and his vision for the next four years — perhaps the most important — has been largely missing from his effort this year.

Defense of the incumbent’s record

Four years ago, Obama expressed great confidence that he would be running amid renewed prosperity; he famously told Matt Lauer, “One nice thing about the situation I find myself in is that I will be held accountable. You know, I’ve got four years...If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”

In February 2009, even most Republicans would probably have predicted that by 2012, the country would be feeling much more prosperous, with much lower unemployment.

Friday’s jobs report brought much-needed good news, with the 114,000 new jobs in the payroll survey meeting economists’ expectations and bringing unemployment down to 7.8% — but that was fueled by 582,000 part-time jobs. GDP growth is at a meager 1.3%, gasoline is averaging $3.78 per gallon nationally and the foreclosure rate is only slightly below 2011’s 17-year peak.

Any fan of Obama who tells you he expected the country to be in this condition at this moment is either lying to you or lying to themselves.

Still, Obama’s poll numbers have overcome the economic gloom for much of the year, because many Americans concluded he was doing the best he could after stepping into a bad situation. Probably the single most effective line of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte was Bill Clinton’s declaration, “no President — not me, not any of my predecessors — no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.”

It’s one thing to express a resigned acceptance about the state of the economy to a pollster months or weeks away from Election Day; it’s another to affirmatively embrace four more years of the same economic policies, and accept the risk of four more years of similar results, inside the voting booth.

Paul Solman, the business and economics editor for PBS’s “NewsHour,” believes that the long-term unemployed — those who have stopped looking for a year or more, but say they want a job, a figure reaching about 7 million — should be included in the public definition of unemployed, as should the “discouraged workers,” those looking for work sometime in the past year but has stopped looking for work.

Throw in those working part-time who want full-time work and cannot find it, and our calculation of America’s “unemployed” booms from 12.1 million to an ungodly 27 million. As we approach the day of decision, Americans may look the scale of continuing economic pain and wonder if Clinton was right, that this is really the best anyone could reasonably expect.

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Photo Illustration by Isaac Lopez/New York Daily News; Photo by Alex Brandon/AP

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