[promoted from the diaries as part of the Ambitious Writer’s Program]
Presidents who are successful in winning a second term often center their campaigns on a grand vision. Reagan had the ‘city on the hill’ in 1984. FDR continued his grand progressive vision of the New Deal, cementing Democrats as the majority party for a generation. Even Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, neither known for the ‘vision thing’, largely had a clear, enunciated plan to move the nation forward.
Dare I ask: What is Barack Obama’s vision?
Left to his own devices, Obama would love to run a campaign on ‘Hope and Change 2.0’. But a little thing called reality stepped in the way. The economy, which many have suspected was languishing in a period of stagnation we have not seen in four decades, has truly been struggling, as today’s July jobs report is sure to continue to show.
There is no change. And there is certainly no hope.
President Obama has laid out very few specifics on what he would do with a second term. The grand irony is the Obama campaign as well as the mainstream media criticize Romney for the lack of specifics, after providing far more than Obama ever has. Obama’s stump speeches today are largely the same old message as he rolled out in 2010 and 2011: more spending, more infrastructure, and magically…more jobs.
The truth is Obama’s economic plan is a house of cards. The public, by large margins, is against another large stimulus. The evidence is clear that although infrastructure spending may have a positive economic impact in the ‘out years’ (meaning a duration of decades), it does not have much economic impact in the short term. Obama himself now accepts that ‘shovel ready jobs’ never existed. Those jobs were always an illusion created in a liberal think tank, not on the roads and byways of America.
So all that is left of the liberal solutions to our economic doldrums is to throw money blindly at the problem, and hope for the best: The Krugmanian solution, as it were. But we all know where that ends up, don’t we?
Actually, we are living that reality, here today, in 2012.
We don’t need to imagine what a future under a second term of Barack Obama would look like, because we are experiencing it in real time. Obama as President. The House in GOP hands. Sure, the Senate could switch to the GOP or not, but would that really make all that much difference? Basically, re-electing Barack Obama is a vote for the status quo. There really is no reason to believe that any of the major players will change if Obama is re-elected.
And what is that status quo?
As of the last jobs report, the unemployment rate is 8.2%, while the Obama Administration predicted it would be 5.6% when the stimulus was passed. Since the recession ended in June of 2009, less than half the jobs lost in the recession have been recovered. About 7.6 million people were working before the recession than are working now. 4.2 million of those jobs were lost from the time Obama took office to February of 2010, just as a point of clarification.
The Obama Administration arbitrarily picks a date 27 months ago as the starting point for their recovery. Even using their own hand picked starting point, Obama’s recovery created 4.3 million jobs. When you take that total and divide it by the intervening 27 months, we arrive at an average of about 159,000 jobs over that stretch. That, my friends, is the economic equivalent of treading water, when you consider that as a nation we need approximately 150,000 jobs a month just to meet our overall population growth.
The closest analogue we have historically for this recession is the 1980-1982 recession. At this point during that recovery, which is said to have begun in July 1981 and ended in November 1982, the economy had produced an 8.9 percent increase in civilian employment — almost 9 million jobs. Real GDP growth averaged over 5 percent in the first three years of the Reagan recovery, compared to an average of 2.4 percent three years into the Obama recovery.
Obama supporters will argue that this is a deeper recession with more profound structural difficulties. Maybe so. But traditionally, even going back to the Great Depression which certainly had far greater long term structural challenges, the economic rule has been clear: the sharper the recession, the faster the recovery. The opposite has held true under Obama. Even if you can’t compare this recession to Reagan’s, you cannot make a valid argument to explain away the doldrums that we now suffer through.
What makes this doubly bad is that Obama really has no new vision to change the country’s course. Ironically, his mantra has become ‘Stay the course’. His stump speeches are the same, tired rhetoric about jobs and infrastructure we have heard from 2008 onward. Intellectually, Obama’s well has run dry. What you see is what you get. And what we are seeing right now isn’t good.
Every presidental re-election campaign ultimately boils down to a simple binary choice: does the President deserve four more years? It has always been a referendum, no matter how the President in power wants to spin it. 1980 was a clear referendum on Jimmy Carter’s abject failure both in foreign affairs and domestic policy. Reagan’s landslide in 1984 was driven by the appearance of a real recovery, with an average of half a million jobs being created a month late into that year. 1992 was fascinating, as the economy was clearly recovering (GDP grew by approximately 4% in the final quarter of that year), but the public didn’t feel the recovery, pushing George H.W. Bush to defeat. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both had good economic records while running for re-election, although they had secondary issues that were dragging them down politically. But even in those cases, it didn’t matter, as the public gave both of them a second chance.
There is no historical analogue for Barack H. Obama to create a path to re-election. There is no real example of the economy languishing and the public giving the President a pass. Maybe, as liberals keep hoping, this time will be different, unique, unexpected. And Obama’s supporters hope that he will come up with some miracle to help the economy recover in his second term. However, one thing is clear: you don’t need to imagine what a second Obama term would look like.
We are already living it today.