Monday, October 11, 2010

Obama´s Luck: is he a Clinton, or a Carter?

With the midterm elections this November, and the fact that Obama and the Democrats are expecting to lose out to the Republicans, what might this mean for Obama´s presidency?

The fates of the last two Democratic presidents at the same point in their terms may hold some answers, both positive and negative.

Carter, coming to power on the back of a wave of anti-Republicanism in 1976, faced a host of domestic problems. In the midterms if 1978, inspite of these problems, and the fact that he was quickly seen as well-intentioned but ineffective leader, the Democrats lost only a small number of seats. That said, two years later, with a resurgent GOP and a charismatic leader, Ronald Reagan, Carter was trounced in the 1980.

Clinton came to power in 1992 but made a number of mistakes, so by the 1994 midterms the resurgent Republicans, led by aggressive speaker Newt Gingrich, wiped out much of the Democrats power base. That said, Clinton quickly found his feet and bounced back, Gingrich´s power went to his head, and by 1996 Clinton was a shoo-in to win a second term, and did. We all know the rest.

So where does this put Obama in 2010? The way that the Republican grassroots base has been hijacked by the Tea Party seems similar to the way that Reagan took the Republicans in a new, even more right-wing "free market" direction after 1976, when the Monetarists and bankers took command of Reagan´s economic policy.
The problem with drawing too many similarities to Carter´s fate is that the Republicans of 2010 do not seem to have a charismatic leader (as they had in Reagan in 1978), apart from the antics of Sarah Palin, who largely appeals to the party base rather than the wider public.
This is why the fate of Clinton might offer more hope for Obama. The antics of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party have more in common with the theatrics of Newt Gingrich in the ´90s. Assuming that the Democrats are badly defeated in November, the Tea Party may well commit the same error that Gingrich made - becoming arrogant in the extreme, to the point that turns off ordinary people.

This is the Democrats secret hope now, no doubt. This gives Obama hope for the chances of winning a second term if the Tea Party bandwagon´s wheels quickly start falling off once it is given the limelight of political responsibility after success in the midterms. Certainly, the behaviour of the partisan Tea Party gives some weight to this point of view.
The Democrats dread, therefore, is that the "guy on main street" may see the antics of the Tea Party, but still consider them the lesser of two "evils" - the "evil" of big government versus the "evil" of no government, and prefer no government interference to well-intentioned initiatives from Washington.

The complicating factor in all this is the economy. The "recovery" has yet to really take hold, and the country may well remain sluggish beyond 2012, because recoveries after crises are never quick to take hold. After the "lost decade" of the 2000s that the Bush administration presided over added weight to the lie that Republicans are responsible managers of the economy (under Reagan and Bush Jr, they allowed the national debt to balloon to offset low taxes). And yet, people are turning back to them so quickly after the tumultuous first two years of the Obama administration. Patience may be a virtue, but it is one that is sorely lacking in many Americans in need of jobs and financial assistance.

The horrible irony is that the Republicans may be rewarded for not only wrecking the economy, but also sabotaging the recovery.

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