Campaign Issues Shaping Up For 2012

It appears that part of the President’s strategy for this election year is to stir up the hornet’s nest with Congress, creating a fight over nominations wherein some can argue he’s wrong but others can argue that he’s right–and regardless, he can set himself up to wage a public fight against the Congress, which is almost always in a President’s advantage, especially with a Congress as contentious as this one.

Meantime, the President has also announced major defense reorganization and spending cuts. Although the conservative Washington Times hosts a column saying good things about it, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin takes what will likely be the standing conservative line of slamming it as dangerous and awful. Expect the issue of defense spending to suddenly appear in the Presidential campaign in a way it hasn’t in at least a decade if not more.

Meanwhile, good news for everybody (including Obama) is that the unemployment rate is down to “only” 8.5% (the unemployment rate people usually look at anyway). But I wouldn’t expect this to do too much to bolster Obama; while it’s good news considering how lousy things have been, in normal times 8.5% unemployment would be considered pretty lousy. So expect Republicans to capitalize on that and try to convince voters that it’s nowhere near enough; Obama’s best hope will be that it continues to improve from month to month and quarter to quarter. Although actually that should be everybody’s hope. Nevertheless expect Republicans to hammer home the message that it’s not enough.

  • roylofquist

    Dean,

    People don’t hang on the published unemployment numbers. It’s far more personal than that. They are painfully aware of friends and family who are out of work or having a hard time.

    Most political analysis, misguided to to a large extent, assumes that people have no memory. Harping on the failures of the previous administration at this point only reminds people of happier times.

    The Obama administration, according to blatant leaks, intends to rerun Truman’s 1948 “do nothing Congress” campaign. This is great progress for them. I thought they’d never stop running against Herbert Hoover.

    Best,

    Roy

  • http://www.jaeddy.com John Eddy

    U-6 (people who have run out of benefits, or stopped looking, or taken part-time jobs because full time is not available) is at 15.2%. When it gets under 10% I’ll start having real confidence. Make no mistake: the numbers are moving in the right direction, but they are not there yet by a long shot.

    Bear in mind I lost my job in 2009, then got a job in 2010, but I still make about 25K per year (after adjustments) less than I used to- just shy of 2/3 of my former wage (again, after adjustments such as cost of living, health insurance, et. al.).

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    As I was just discussing with Dishman a few days ago, I’m quite agreed that the unemployment numbers we generally see are a highly flawed indicator. Dishman then and John now are right that U-6 (which more thoroughly measures things such as people who’ve exhausted their benefits, have all but given up, or are stuck with part-time because they can’t find full-time) is the more important number, but even that is inadequate I would argue. I am much like John, although I envy him: I work full time, but I wish I was making as much as 2/3rds what I used to make.

    Nevertheless I would have to take some issue with Roy’s assertion that looking back at the previous administration will only make people think of better times; you may recall that I voted for Mr. Bush twice, proudly so, and I remain quite proud of the fact that I did so and believe that, like Harry Truman, he will eventually be remembered fondly as a very good President (for Mr. Bush was a very good President indeed). That said, President Bush came into office with an already-faltering economy, saw things improve a few years into his Presidency, and then the economy began a nose-dive well before he left. Mr. Obama came into office with a terrible economy already well set in, and I believe most voters know that. What they hoped was that he would make things better.

    My own analysis here is complicated by the fact that I do not believe Presidents control the economy, that they are at best two or three steps removed from what is really important, and therefore cannot do much about it. I think voters are rather foolish to spend much time looking to Presidents to “fix” economies because mostly Presidents cannot; Presidents have the most control over things like foreign policy, which ironically voters tend to care the least about.

    Nevertheless improving employment numbers are generally good news for everybody, and will tend to benefit the President more than his opponent, so I would expect Republicans to marshall their arguments around why it is not good enough. Which they are correct about. Nevertheless it will muddy the debate that there is improvement, assuming improvements continue.

  • roylofquist

    Dean,

    I agree completely in re the President’s responsibility for the economy. The most egregious misuse is in attributing deficits to a particular President.

    Best,

    Roy

  • http://gamepursuits.net/ipb/index.php?act=idx Sandi

    I really fail to see why most of the importance is put on who the President is with regards to the economy. Yes it matters a great deal, but maybe only half as much so as who is in congress.

    Who the President is, is much more important on other matters, like foreign policy and nominating judges.

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    I think in general Congress does have more to do with it, though I think even they are rather limited in capacity; there are too many variables in the system, especially nowadays, that even they can’t control (and I’m not sure that we’d want them to, save in an emergency).

    It is not that either Presidents or the Congress can do nothing, or even that we want them to do nothing. However, I think that in general, save for the rare truly dramatic action, the results of anything they do will take a minimum of a year to percolate out, and often it will be longer than that. But they take credit, and voters assign blame, as if that were not the case.

    To give one example, inflation dropped dramatically in the early years of the Reagan administration, and the President was all too happy to brag of this in his re-election in 1984 bid even though most who study these things know better: inflation came under control because of policies set in place by Paul Volker, the Fed chief who was installed by…. Jimmy Carter. Who was simply not in power long enough to be the political beneficiary of that result.

    I also remember how Democrats tried desperately to blame George W. Bush for the sudden downturn we saw in 2001 and early 2002, when it was all too obvious that said downturn had started before the man was even sworn in and that his own economic policies had only just begun.

    I also note with some irony that when Bush sent out money to all taxpayers that he called a “tax refund,” that was hailed as an economic stimulus by his supporters that prevented the recession from being worse than it was, but when Obama did something similar it was played by Republicans as the “spendulus” that would do no good and only raise deficits… which Democrats had once howled that Bush’s own “refund” checks would cause. (Apparently in some people’s eyes, a check marked “refund” has more economic stimulus than a check marked “stimulus,” whereas for others, it’s more stimulating if you call it a stimulus.)

    One thing it’s hard not to notice is that it’s usually the party out of power that is most concerned about deficits.

    Milton Friedman, who was I think right about an awful lot of things, said that economically we would probably be best off with a Democratic President and a Republican Congress, or, somewhat less optimally, the reverse. I frankly don’t think that would be a bad result this November. Although I’m already known to be voting for Obama, so you can take that with whatever grain of salt you want.

  • roylofquist

    Dean,

    As you said, the main Constitutional responsibility of the President, and his actual power, are in foreign affairs. I agree. How does President Obama come out ahead in view of this?

    Best,

    Roy

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    I don’t think I understand the question. If you’re asking me about voter perception, I don’t think most voters care much about foreign affairs unless it’s something big and dramatic that they can easily see affects them directly. I don’t see this President as having done anything to draw their attention that way in either a good or bad way–except he killed bin Laden, and you should expect him to bring that up more often in the campaign season. Beyond that, there will be this or that to carp about or praise, but nothing most voters ultimately give a damn about.

  • roylofquist

    Dean,

    You have stated that you are going to vote for Obama. Foreign affairs are the main job of the President. What is your assessment of Mr. Obama’s conduct of foreign policy?

    Best,

    Roy

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    I am not certain how to answer the question without seeming to equivocate or run in circles, but I could sum my own view up with “we could do worse.”

    While the following observation often startles those who are caught up in the day-to-day monitoring of every burp and fart and flub of this or that President or administration official, I believe the most remarkable thing about American foreign policy over the last 67 years is how stable it has proven to be. It changes remarkably little from administration to administration. With the exception of rare sudden sharp events (the Berlin Airlift signaling the start of the Truman Doctrine, the fall of the Berlin Wall signaling a period of somewhat unfocused effort but emphasizing free trade and stability, to 9/11 signaling renewed energy for foreign interventionism), not much changes from President to President. Yes, yes, on matters of style George W. Bush and Barack Obama could not be more different, but in the final analysis what has been the dramatic policy shift? One strains to think of anything. Examples I see brought up look much like an elephant straining to give birth to a gnat (in other words, frenzied efforts by partisans on both sides to make this or that minor event or policy shift look like either a disaster or a stroke of genius).

    On the whole, I count as Mr. Obama’s single greatest achievement on foreign policy as his having put a sock into the mouths of the so-called “anti-war” faction of his party, and having carried on admirably the policies and plans of the previous administration, wisely listening to the counsel of the majority of his advisers rather than the fringe part of his base.

    My #1 fear at the thought of a Republican Presidency is that we’ll get less responsible military policy, not because Republican Presidents are worse on these matters but because Congressional Democrats are often so irresponsible. It appears that the only way to make them behave like grown-ups is to put one of their own into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If that seems like it is rewarding bad behavior to you, consider the fact that that “anti-war” faction is now seething at Obama, feels betrayed and deeply disillusioned–and has nowhere to go in November except to vote for him anyway. If you wish to indulge in schadenfreude, pity the “anti-war” crowd who voted for Obama.

    There are certain things the administration has not done that I wish they had–for example, the United States Marines should have paid a return visit to Tripoli last year, with a cry of “For Stephen Decatur!”–but I understand why such things did not happen and do not hold it against the President. There are other things I wish some administration, any administration would do (replacing the wretched United Nations with a League of Democratic Nations for example, or taking a more aggressive stance on fair as opposed to “free” trade), but it seems unlikely that any Republican or Democrat is likely to do such things any time soon.

    I would otherwise say the Obama foreign policy is chiefly characterized by a few rookie mistakes and a little naivete early on, a harmless blunder here and there, and otherwise run by people who know what they’re doing because the President is smart enough to let them do it. Overall grade: B-.

    With a Republican back in the White House, I can see the Isolationist wing of the Republican Party finding renewed energy, the “anti-war” faction of Democrats also rising up again, and too much foolishness at a time when we need to stay the course. Thus I would rather Obama stay where he is for now, and worry about this again in 2016, by which time a new assessment of our foreign policies may be in order. Obama is unlikely to change anything important before then. Although he would almost certainly spend his last four years in office concentrating on foreign affairs, which most second-term Presidents do, he will likely also do as most second-term Presidents do and pursue foreign policies that everyone pretty much wants done anyway.

    If you think I’ve missed something dramatic on Obama foreign policy that is likely to be done better by a successor, please do share, but if it starts with things like “not bowing to foreign monarchs” or “not selling Israel out to the Arabs” you can save us both the energy and take it as a given that I’ve heard it.

  • roylofquist

    Dean,

    Conducting foreign policy with civilized players is pretty straight forward. It’s the others we have to worry about. Snubbing and insulting allies is not of much consequence – it’s just in bad taste.

    The ever present danger is that someone is going to make a mistake because they misunderstand reality. All wars are mistakes, especially for the losers. There are many in the Arab world who believe that that the only reason Israel prevailed in its wars was that the United States came to their aid. There is a more than a little truth in that. If they now believe that the US would be hands-off in a new conflict we have a very dangerous situation.

    “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. Speaking softly is just civility. The big stick is what motivates the uncivilized.

    Roy

  • Sigivald

    8.5% is lousy?

    Hell, I remember people trying to tell me that 4% was the, shall we say, “new normal” and that 5.odd% was just unacceptable.

    (It appears that nobody at the Times could understand that a bubble tends to lead to lower unemployment, and that that’s not a new base condition…)

  • http://www.jaeddy.com John Eddy

    Where the Middle east is concerned, particularly the nations that have thrown off dictators, we have to follow a policy of “don’t just do something, stand there!” The reality is there is very little we can do in those nations where the population is somewhat mistrustful of the US and everything is still in flux. There’s going to be some unpleasantness over the next few years and whomever is President is going to have to resist the temptation to do anything rash.

    Where we seem to be falling down badly right now is on energy policy. Keystone XL is a vital link to an energy supply run by an ethical government and the President wanted to punt until after the election in order to avoid causing any friction with the environmental activist wing of the party. Having had his hand forced by the patchwork payroll tax deal he may very well choose to let China buy all that oil rather than risk having the environmentalists stay home on election day.

    That we as a nation have avoided disaster in foreign relations is something one simply has to give the President credit for even if we think we should have done better. I for one still see this as the President’s weakest performance- I can disagree with his domestic policies, but he’s managed to put them in place so the only complaint I can make is that he’s wrong, not weak.

  • ArnoldHarris

    It seems to me that the most significant factor in this year’s national election is that the incumbent president is Barack Hussein Obama Jr.

    A national poll came to my attention yesterday which clearly showed that beating Obama has become the most important factor for all elements who are supporting Republican nominees for the presidency. And early this morning, reporters covering the New Hampshire Republican primary election said people they interviewed are determined to retire Obama and a clear majority of these people indicated their assumption that Romney alone is the one Republican candidate most certain of accomplishing that results.

    These factors would go far in explaining what is shaping up as a national “first” among Republican presidential contenders — namely, Romney’s victory in the Iowa caucuses combined with his now all but certain victory in the New Hampshire primary.

    Another but perhaps secondary factor favoring Romney as the last man standing is that all his main opponents are dividing the anti-Romney primary votes. One of them, Gingrich, seems determined to make this campaign a grudge match.

    But all things considered, the voters alone have the last word.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI

  • ArnoldHarris

    The thought just occurred to me after reading another round of his sore-loser comments, that any day now, people will begin tagging a certain candidate as Newt Grudgerich.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI