We Can Do Better
In its most recent report, Blue Chip Economic Indicators predicted that the nation's unemployment rate would fall to 8% by the end of 2012. That might seem like good news, considering the fact that unemployment now stands at 9.1%. But it is not good news for the President.
Barring some cataclysmic event ("wag the dog") that would rally the country behind him, Obama's reelection rests on the health of the economy and especially on employment. The problem for this President is that unemployment rates during the second and third quarters of 2012, when undecided voters will make up their minds, will not be 8% -- it will be somewhat higher than 8%. Whether it is 8.2% or 8.5% does not really matter -- the difference is a rounding error. The salient point is that the nation's unemployment rate in the summer of 2012, when undecided voters make up their minds, will certainly be higher than 8%.
Early in 2009 the President's economic team promised that the unemployment rate would not rise above 8%. It has never fallen below 8%, not since Congress passed his $878 billion stimulus bill. The Republican nominee, whoever he or she may be, should focus the campaign on the fact that Obama's management of the economy has been a colossal failure. Point to the facts, and continue pointing to them throughout the campaign. Present the voter with this one indisputable fact: after four years, unemployment is still above 8%. How long does Obama need to turn things around -- eight years?
Elections turn not so much on what is said but on the tacit knowledge that every voter carries to the polls. In 1980 the public understood that it was time for a change. Jimmy Carter had failed on both foreign affairs and the domestic front. Our country had been humiliated by a small band of Iranian radicals who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. In the months ahead of the presidential election the rate of inflation reached 14.5%, and unemployment stood at 7.5%. The "misery index," a combination of unemployment and inflation rates, climbed to 22%. It's worth pointing out that the misery index has risen under Barack Obama from 7.73%, the rate when George W. Bush left office, to 12.3%.
The GOP does not need to enumerate all the reasons for Obama's failure. It does not even need to be told that the misery index has risen by 60%. The electorate knows that times are hard, and none of Obama's little trips to green energy plants- -- all of them subsidized with taxpayer money at something like $450,000 per job -- will change that impression. Everyone has a family member or friend who is unemployed or underemployed. Everyone knows that the national debt is out of control, and everyone fears the inflation to come when creditors are no longer willing to accept 3% for 10-year treasury bonds.
In other words, the public understands that Obama has failed just as Jimmy Carter did in the 1970s, and for the same reasons. Obama's handling of the economy has put this nation in peril. His foreign policy, based on the doctrine of reaching out to terrorist regimes while distancing ourselves from our traditional allies, is equally destructive. Americans with common sense know that Hugo Chavez is an enemy, but Obama refuses to acknowledge the fact. The voters know that, given the chance, Ahmadinejad would cut the throats of every man, woman, and child in Israel and in the United States as well, but Obama pledges to meet with this terrorist leader "without preconditions." Not once has Obama even spoken the words, "War on Terror." But if there is no war on terror, what are we doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen? Obama's faint-hearted posture merely emboldens our enemies and prolongs the war.
In sum, Obama's handling of foreign affairs has been amateurish and misguided. But the more important issue in the 2012 campaign will be the economy. The public understands that Obama's huge stimulus programs were a failure. It recognizes that ObamaCare was a mistake, and it is still angry about the way in which health care reform was rammed through Congress without proper deliberation or even a proper vote. It knows that Obama's ban on offshore drilling has cost jobs and driven up the price of gas. It understands that all of Obama's talk about "green energy jobs" is a fantasy designed to appease the environmental left.
All of this latent knowledge is just sitting there, waiting to be tapped by a conservative presidential candidate. That candidate does not need to talk about the intricacies of health care reform or the global energy markets. He just needs to point out, again and again, that Obama has failed on the most important promises of his presidency.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan famously asked voters, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" The 2012 GOP candidate need not repeat Reagan's exact words, but he would do well to pose the same question. The public knows they are not better off, and they are convinced they will be worse off with another four years of Obama.
If a majority of voters go to the polls certain of this knowledge, the Republican will win. Anyone who doubts this might want to recall what happened on November 4, 1980, when Reagan won 44 states and 489 electoral votes. Aside from his home state of Georgia, Carter won only Hawaii, Maryland, West Virginia, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia -- all of them traditional Democratic strongholds.
Barring the emergence of another Reagan, the GOP can't expect to do that well in 2012. But a look at another electoral map -- the one for 2004 -- tells us how things may go next year. A few of those states in the upper Midwest may even turn red. All the GOP needs to do is allow Obama to continue what he is doing -- and a Republican House can't do much about executive overreaching, anyway. Then the GOP candidate needs to repeat, again and again, "Obama has failed, and we can do better."
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture.