Is the President Really in Good Shape for Re-Election?
A Commentary By Tony Blankley
The media tend to be filled with many items that are either untrue or obvious. Last week -- from Politico to cable television, from Karl Rove to Mike Huckabee -- was a moment for the obvious to be stated and restated: "The GOP should not underestimate how hard it will be to defeat President Obama next November; indeed, he has to be considered the favorite to win the next presidential election." True.
Of course, the same thing could have been (and was) said about President Lyndon Johnson in the spring of 1967 and about Jimmy Carter in the spring of 1979. Every incumbent president is the most formidable political force in the country. Even a deeply wounded president must be seen as formidable -- as Thomas Dewey learned to his regret in 1948 when President Harry Truman won the election even though the Democratic Party had been split three ways (both the pacifist left and the segregationist faction split off and ran their own candidates -- Henry Wallace ran on the Progressive ticket, Strom Thurmond ran on the Dixiecrat ticket.)
In 1967-68, no prominent Democratic candidate -- including Sen. Robert Kennedy -- was prepared to take on a Vietnam War politically wounded Lyndon Johnson until the unlikely Eugene McCarthy got 42 percent in the New Hampshire primary. Kennedy then got in, and LBJ announced he would not run for re-election.
And in 1980, Ronald Reagan was actually running 8 points down in the Gallup Poll in October 1980 (only weeks before the election he eventually won by 10 percent more of the popular vote than incumbent Jimmy Carter).
It is also a truism of American politics for the out party's primary contenders to be seen as not presidential. They are often disparaged as "the seven dwarfs," or lacking presidential stature, or too right-wing or unknown.
And last week was also the moment for prominent and respected Republicans (George Will and former Gov. John Sununu) to pronounce various of the likely Republican contenders unfit for nomination or election to the presidency. But then, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were all written off as either unelectable or unfit by various prominent members of their respective parties. They all ended up being respectfully called "Mr. President," often by the very people who disparaged their chances a year before.
So, yes, of course, Republicans should not take lightly the challenge of defeating Obama. On the other hand, rarely has an incumbent president presided over a more dangerous world with a foreign policy so manifestly adrift.
Nor, since FDR, has an incumbent president been re-elected with the electorate feeling -- and with good cause -- so profoundly pessimistic about our nation's current and future economic health. (As described in the liberal Slate digital magazine by Annie Lowrey, "13.7 million Americans remain out of work. At the current rate of job growth, it would take more than a decade for the United States to get back to an unemployment rate of 5 percent. There are 6.6 million fewer Americans working today than there were three years ago. Blacks, whites, teenagers, the elderly, women, men, high-school dropouts, grad-school graduates -- every demographic group has unemployment close to historical highs. About 6 million Americans form a new pool of the long-term unemployed, whose prospects in the labor market remain very dim. ..."
"The average duration of unemployment rose to a new high of 37.1 weeks. The labor-force participation rate is at a 25-year low. Unemployment has never been so high for so long, not since the Great Depression.") And that is after the good news on employment last week.
But, at least as threatening to the president's re-election is the unfolding of foreign dangers. Governments often change their foreign policies -- but rarely does a public have the chance to observe such change so openly as we are seeing currently with the White House's Middle East "democracy" policy.
In his Cairo speech in 2009, the President seemed to be encouraging democracy. Then, when Iranians protested a phony election, there was little support for them from the administration as they were being murdered in the street.
As Egyptians started protesting this year, the White House, endorsing "democracy," was seen to quickly undercut 30-year ally Mubarak.
(By the way, over this weekend, according to the Assyrian International News Agency, -- hat tip to American Thinker -- several thousand Muslims have attacked Christian houses and places of worship in a town just 30 miles from Cairo. The fate of the clerics who worked at the church is unknown -- they may have been detained as hostages or burned to death in the fire. The violence was the result of a Christian dating a Muslim woman. I trust the mob that attacked the Christians were not part of the "democracy" crowd on whose behalf we undercut Mubarak.)
Then, when the egregious Gadhafi started shooting and dive-bombing demonstrators, the White House was very late to call for his ouster. All this policy confusion has been brutally reported in a much-commented-on Wall Street Journal article last week, "U.S. Wavers on 'Regime Change'":
"After weeks of internal debate on how to respond to uprisings in the Arab world, the Obama administration is settling on a Middle East strategy: help keep longtime allies who are willing to reform in power, even if that means the full democratic demands of their newly emboldened citizens might have to wait... the U.S. is urging protesters from Bahrain to Morocco to work with existing rulers toward what some officials and diplomats are now calling 'regime alteration,'" rather than regime change.
None of this confusion will be electorally significant for President Obama if the world does not experience badly damaging events between now and November 2012.
But, of course, at this point in Jimmy Carter's presidency (in March 1979), the Soviet Union had not yet invaded Afghanistan, and our diplomats had not yet been taken hostage in Iran. And despite a rough economy and sense of national malaise, Carter was odds on favorite to be re-elected.
Tony Blankley is executive vice president of Edelman public relations in Washington.
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