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By James Pethokoukis
Nov. 11, 2008
Just "one and done" for Barack Obama's presidency? Recall an ominous passage in his otherwise joyous election-night speech: "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term." Maybe the tone was suggested by one of Obama's economic advisers like Jason Furman or Austan Goolsbee. It's the battered economy, after all, that will be President Obama's greatest domestic policy challenge. As such, it will also be his greatest political challenge, too -- but one where failure may already be baked into the cake.
That's right, the "O" in "Obama" may stand for "One Term." For starters, there's a strong chance that when voters head to the polls on Nov. 2, 2010, they likely will still think the economy is awful. Not much debate about that. (Good chance the Democrats' two-election winning streak comes to an end.) And while voters may be somewhat patient for two years, patient for four years? Really unlikely. If history is any guide at all, voters may still be terribly cranky about the economy when they cast their ballots on Nov. 6, 2012 and thus likely choose the 45th president of the United States -- be it Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal or some other Republican without "Bush" for a last name. Once again a "change" election for an impatient America. The same bad economy that doomed John McCain in 2008 will have sunk Obama, as well.
Here's the political and economic math: Let's assume the current downturn turns out to be as painful as the 1990-91 recession. It's an apt comparison. As Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Gary Stern said earlier this year," The situation we confront today is reminiscent, in several salient ways, of the headwinds environment that prevailed in the aftermath of the 1990-91 recession."
Among those "headwinds" Stern referred to: an imploding real estate bubble, a construction bust, a banking crisis, and a credit crunch. Sound familiar? The nation's gross domestic product fell 3.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 1990 and 2.0 percent in the first quarter of 1991. But even after the economy started expanding again, the unemployment rate kept rising until it hit 7.8 percent in June of 1992 vs. a low of 5.2 percent in June 1990. Recall that in January of 1992, President Bush, running for reelection, told New Hampshire voters that the economy was in "free fall" even though the economy was later shown to have grown at a robust 4.2 percent during the first quarter of that year.
See, it takes a while for people to really perceive that an economy has turned around, especially if unemployment is high. Bill Clinton won the 1992 election on the economy ("it's the economy, stupid") even though GDP had been growing for six full quarters. According to Gallup, 88 percent of Americans thought the economy was "fair" or "poor" in October 1992 with some 60 percent saying the economy was "getting worse." Two years later, it was the Democrats turn to feel the brunt of widespread economic anxiety as the Republicans captured both the House and the Senate. Even though the economy had then been growing for 14 straight quarters and the unemployment rate was down to 5.8 percent, 72 percent of Americans still thought the economy was "fair" or "poor" and 66 percent though the nation was headed in the wrong direction.
That's right 3 1/2 years after the 1990-91 recession ended, the economy was still weighing negatively on voters and hurting the incumbent political party. Is it so hard to imagine, then, that three or four years from now voters will also be unhappy about the state of the economy and blame the party in power, the Obamacrats?
And then there's this: The 2008-09 recession may actually be far nastier than its 1990-91 twin. Every day, Wall Street forecasts worsen. Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs, expects a jobless rate of 8 1/2 percent by the end of 2009 and drifting a bit higher in 2010 for the biggest cumulative rise in unemployment since the Great Depression. And over at JP Morgan Chase, economists are predicting the economy will shrink 4.0 percent this quarter and 2.0 percent during the first three months of 2009. And on top of all that, you have the $7 trillion of lost national net worth. (Think higher investment and business taxes will help?)
No wonder Obama's political advisers just told the New York Times that they're already fretting about the 2010 midterms. They may also want to worry about 2012. Team Obama shouldn't expect this election euphoria to last four years if the economy struggles and struggles. (Wait until oil prices and interest rates start rising again.)
Obama's election is often compared to that of Ronald Reagan's in 1980. Both gentlemen were voted in to fix an ailing economy. But the 1982 recession took a huge chunk out of the Gipper's popularity. He had just a 35 percent job approval rating at the start of 1983, just two months after Republicans lost 27 seats in the House in the midterm elections. But Reagan's presidency was saved by an amazing economic rebound. The economy surged at a 4.5 percent pace in 1983 and at a mind-blowing 7.2 percent clip in 1984 as unemployment dropped from a high of 10.8 percent in December 1982 to 7.2 percent in November 1984. The Long Boom was underway.
Reagan worked his magic with tax cuts. Obama is trying to do the same with government spending. But stimulus packages are only supposed to keep the recession from getting worse or morphing into a mini-depression. I don't think anyone expects that $500 billion in hot money to return America to prosperity. Only time (and the private sector) can do that, especially with a downturn caused by a credit crisisa and deflating asset bubble. And four years may not be enough time for the Obama presidency to traverse that long road or complete that steep climb.
by Dennis Prager
November 11, 2008
I spent a good part of the past year speaking and writing against the election of Barack Obama. During the last week of the campaign, my Salem Radio Network colleagues, Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved, and I spoke on behalf of the McCain-Palin ticket in the "Battleground states" of Colorado, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
One would expect that I would be devastated at Barack Obama's election -- as devastated as liberals were at the reelection of George W. Bush in 2004. I am not -- yet. Here are some reasons why:
1. Republicans won the election of 2004, an election that was more important to the future of America and the world than was this election. Had Sen. John Kerry won in 2004, America would have left Iraq in defeat and Islamists would have won their greatest victory ever. Millions of young Muslims would likely have seen in Islamic jihadism humanity's future and signed up for terror; and Iraq would have degenerated into genocidal chaos.
2. The election of a black president is good for blacks, good for whites, and therefore very good for America.
At least at this moment -- no one can predict the future -- many more blacks feel fully American, and fewer blacks regard white America as racist than ever before. One cannot attain a higher status than the American presidency, and a black man will now occupy that position. As the Hoover Institution's Shelby Steele wrote, this is the first time in history that a majority white nation elected a black as its leader.
Conservatives are not surprised. I have argued for decades that America is the least racist country in the world. By and large, only Americans on the right have believed, or at least had the courage to say, this. Now that fact is obvious to virtually anyone with eyes to see.
3. The Obama victory poses a serious challenge to liberalism and to the doctrine of black victimhood.
If fewer and fewer blacks perceive white Americans as racist, a major reason for black support for liberalism could lose its appeal to blacks. On the other hand, if liberalism continues to portray blacks as victims of white racism, more white Americans will regard liberalism as phony -- or worse, as stirring up racial tensions for political gain.
Most whites are tired of racial tension, tired of being portrayed as racist, tired of their children being taught in college that they are either consciously or unconsciously racist, tired of lowering standards for blacks or anyone else.
So the Obama victory puts liberals in a bind. They either acknowledge the reality of an essentially non-racist America and thereby alienate black and white liberals still committed to this proposition or they continue to play the "America is racist" card and alienate many whites.
The challenge the Obama victory poses to many blacks is that they will have to abandon ascribing black problems -- such as disproportionate amounts of violent crime and the highest rate of out-of-wedlock births in America -- to racism. Fewer and fewer white Americans will tolerate being blamed for problems within black life.
4. The Obama victory will bring clarity to America's place in the world.
Now that America is apparently loved again, we shall see how this plays out beyond emotional rhetoric. Will Europe contribute significantly more troops to Afghanistan? Will Germany now allow its NATO troops to shoot at Taliban fighters (thus far they have been allowed to shoot only if shot at)? Will our allies and Russia and China place the needed sanctions on Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear device? Or is America's being loved irrelevant to how other countries behave?
5. Conservatives will be able to show how much more decently they act when they are out of power.
The treatment of President George W. Bush by liberals has been despicable, undeserved and unprecedented. We who oppose Barack Obama's policies will, hopefully, act in accordance with conservative values of decency. Hence my simple announcement on the day after the election: "I did not vote for him. I did not want him to be president. But as of January 20, 2009, Barack Obama will be my president."
Barack Obama may have a successful presidency or a failed one. If he allows the left wing of the Democratic Party to set his agenda, it will be the latter. In the meantime, however, we can celebrate the aforementioned good of Barack Obama's election and pray for him and for our beloved country.
by William Kristol
Nov. 10, 2008
Sure, the election results had been bad - but they weren't devastating. Obama wasn't winning the popular vote by double-digit margins, as some polls had suggested he might. Republican losses in the Senate and House were substantial but not catastrophic. Obama was ahead of John McCain by about the same margin with which Bill Clinton defeated George Bush in 1992, and he would be taking over in January with similar Congressional majorities to Clinton's in 1993.
Well, Newt Gingrich was able to lead a Republican takeover of Congress only two years later. And after his victory in 1976, Jimmy Carter had even larger Democratic margins in Congress. Ronald Reagan trounced him four years later, bringing with him a G.O.P.-controlled Senate and an era of conservative governance.
What's more, this year's exit polls suggested a partisan shift but no ideological realignment. In 2008, self-described Democrats made up 39 percent of the electorate and Republicans 32 percent, in contrast with a 37-37 split in 2004.
But there was virtually no change in the voters' ideological self-identification: in 2008, 22 percent called themselves liberal, up only marginally from 21 percent in 2004; 34 percent were conservative, unchanged from the last election; and 44 percent called themselves moderate, compared with 45 percent in 2004.
In other words, this was a good Democratic year, but it is still a center-right country. Conservatives and the Republican Party will have a real chance for a comeback - unless the skills of the new president turn what was primarily an anti-Bush vote into the basis for a new liberal governing era.
Those were my thoughts when, a few minutes into his victory speech, just after midnight, Obama told his daughters, "And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the new White House."
Not out of my deep affection for dogs, fond of them though I am. But because while we've all known that Obama is a very skillful politician, he hasn't until now been a particularly empathetic one. Competence plus warmth is a pretty potent combination. Suddenly visions of the two great modern realigning presidents - Franklin Roosevelt (with his Scottish terrier Fala) and Ronald Reagan (with his Cavalier King Charles spaniel Rex) - flashed before my eyes. Maybe a realignment could be coming.
Obama was, naturally, asked about the promised-but-not-yet-purchased puppy at his press conference Friday. (If one were being churlish, one might say that it was typical of a liberal to promise the dog before delivering it. A results-oriented conservative would simply have shown up with the puppy without the advance hype.)
Obama commented wryly that the canine question had "generated more interest on our Web site than just about anything." He continued:
"We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So - so whether we're going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household."
Here, in a few sentences, Obama did the following: He deepened his bond with every dog lover in America. He identified with every household that's tried to figure out what kind of dog to get. He touched every parent with a kid allergic to pets. He showed compassion by preferring a dog from a shelter. And he demonstrated a dry and slightly politically incorrect wit by commenting that "a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."
Not bad. It could be a tough four or eight years for conservatives.
It will be tougher yet if they underestimate Obama. His selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff suggests that Obama's not going to be mindlessly leftist, and that he's going to shape a legislative strategy that is attentive to Congressional realities while not deferring to a Congressional leadership whose interests may not be his own. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were both tripped up in their first two years by their Democratic Congresses. Obama intends for Emanuel to ensure that that doesn't happen.
And Obama has the further advantage of inheriting a recession that will give him a very tough first year or two (for which he won't be blamed), but that should be followed by a recovery well timed for his re-election bid.
So Obama will be formidable. But conservatives should welcome the challenge. It's good for conservatism that conservatives will have to develop refreshed ideas and regenerated political skills to succeed in the age of Obama.
And it wouldn't hurt for Governors Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal and the other possible 2012 G.O.P. nominees to begin bringing some puppies home for their kids.
by Peter Wehner
November 10, 2008
Some thoughts on the task ahead for the GOP:
1. Right now the attention of the country is (understandably) riveted on Obama and the Democratic Congress. There's not a great deal Republicans can, or even should, do about that. Democrats hold the reins of power; their fate is now largely in the hands of Democrats. If the Democrats succeed and the nation prospers, they will be hard to dislodge. If they fail and the country falters, they'll pay a price. The philosophical significance of the Obama presidency depends on whether he governs successfully (as did FDR) or poorly (as did Carter). It's premature for either side to pretend it knows whether or not Tuesday's election is a hinge point in American politics.
2. Republicans should avoid petty, small-minded criticisms of Obama. The public can sense when politicians are trying to manufacture criticism and outrage. That is what Republicans need to guard against: a reflexive tendency to lash out, particularly when the public is weary of such things after a seemingly endless campaign.
This doesn't mean Republicans shouldn't criticize Obama or the Democrats. They have an obligation to do so when the facts demand it. But the criticisms themselves need to be proportional, principled, even-tempered, and done on substantive policy grounds. There will be large and important political battles ahead. Republicans need to demonstrate patience and pick their moments. They will come.
3. A debate is under way in the GOP that strikes me as counterproductive. On the one hand are those who are said to be in the "reformist" camp; on the other hand are those who are in the "traditionalist" camp. The former has a tendency to insist that the era of Reagan is over; the other has a tendency to insist that the era of Reagan needs to be reclaimed.
The right approach would most likely be a hybrid of the two. As countless analysts have written, the GOP needs to develop an agenda that is modern, reform-minded, one that speaks to the middle class and the challenges of this era. At the same time, it would be self-destructive for the GOP to jettison its core principles in the aftermath of this election. The task is a perennial one for conservatives: to apply enduring principles to contemporary problems. And, for all the intra-party debate that is going on these days, on concrete issues the differences that divide most conservatives -- including "reformists" and "traditionalists" -- is fairly narrow. And those differences will probably narrow even more during an Obama presidency.
4. Developing a compelling agenda is obviously a priority for the GOP. The other is to find a compelling leader. A movement and a political party, especially one in disrepair, need a person to emerge who embodies the best it has to offer.
The conservative movement in America needed Ronald Reagan; the conservative movement in Great Britain needed Margaret Thatcher; the Democratic Party needed Bill Clinton; and the Labour Party in Great Britain needed Tony Blair.
Until a person emerges from within the Republican ranks to give compelling voice to its aims and principles -- until a person emerges who is attractive, winning, persuasive, and in possession of rhetorical talent -- there are limits to how much progress the Right will be able to make. Right now there are some impressive new faces on the conservative scene; but demonstrating potential is quite a different thing from realizing it.
5. Republicans should maintain a sense of historical perspective. In 1992, the GOP was said to be in terrible trouble. A young, 46-year-old governor from Arkansas won the presidency. He brought with him powerful majorities in both the House (258 Democratic seats v. 176 Republican seats) and the Senate (56 Democratic seats v. 44 Republican seats). There were predictions that conservatism was dead and that a generational shift in political power had taken place. Yet just 24 months later, a political earthquake hit, Republicans took control of the House for the first time in a half-century, and President Clinton found it necessary to assert his "relevance" at a press conference. And just two years after that, Clinton beat Bob Dole decisively.
In 2004, George W. Bush defeated John Kerry. It was the seventh GOP victory in the previous 10 presidential elections. Republicans held 55 Senate seats, 231 House seats, and 28 governorships. It was the high-water mark for the modern GOP. Only two years later, the bottom fell out; Republicans lost control of both chambers of Congress. The trend continued, and in some respect accelerated, this year.
So things can change quickly and dramatically. That doesn't mean they will; but it is worth bearing in mind that commentators have a tendency to take a given moment in time and invest it with lasting meaning. Sometimes that is warranted (the 1980 election, for example, changed the trajectory of American politics in a fundamental way). Most of the time it is not.
Right now Barack Obama controls the stage and the spotlight; Republicans need to be patient. They don't know when their chance to reassert themselves will emerge. When it does, they need to be ready. Because readiness is all.
by Deroy Murdock
November 10, 2008
Congratulations to Barack Obama, the incoming 44th president of the United States. He soon will fill America's highest office after a nearly flawless, first-time White House bid. He demonstrates that education, eloquence, and elegance trump lingering racial bias. His staunchly left-liberal ideas aside, he inspires in many ways. May he govern justly and make every American proud.
Now, what about those whom Obama and his supporters vanquished? What the Republican party badly needs is a Night of the Long Knives.
The GOP has been laid low, thanks to politicians who swapped their principles for power and lost both. As the chief electoral vehicle for conservative and free-market ideas, the Republican party cannot regain America's confidence --nor should it -- until the guilty have been cast into the nearest volcano.
Comrade George W. Bush has spearheaded the most aggressive federal expansion since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As a delivery system for socialism, he has been the most effective Trojan Horse since that pine steed rolled into Troy.
When Bush arrived, Washington consumed 18.4 percent of Gross Domestic Product. Uncle Sam now devours 22.5 percent of the economy, reported Jon Ward in the October 19 Washington Times. "The country has gone from a $128 billion budget surplus when Mr. Bush took office to a deficit of at least $732 billion in fiscal 2009," Ward writes. "No president since FDR -- who offered a New Deal to pull the nation out of the Great Depression and then fought World War II -- has presided over as rapid a growth in government when measured as a percentage of the total economy."
While much of Bush's spending has funded defense and the War on Terror, most of it vanished into the furnaces of No Child Left Behind, the 2002 Farm Bill, the 2003 Medicare drug entitlement, the 2005 highway bill, the 2006 ethanol mandate, at least 69,341 earmarks, and much, much more. In 2001, Bush launched federal embryonic stem-cell research. By 2008, he added the word "nationalization" to the American vocabulary, and underscored it with nearly $1 trillion in bailouts and Third World---style government ownership stakes in banks and financial houses.
Bush has kept America safe from terror attacks since September 11. The liberations of Afghanistan from bin Ladenism and Iraq from Ba'athism were vital victories for national security and human rights. Until this year's mortgage meltdown, his tax cuts fueled robust growth. Good work.
Nevertheless, Bush is the GOP's Jimmy Carter, a weak bumbler who embarrassed his constituents, betrayed his philosophical movement, sank his party, and eventually surrendered the White House to the opposition, this time led by the Senate's Number One liberal, still in his first term. Bush should retire quietly to Texas, where he can drive his truck, chop wood, and avoid the limelight for the balance of his natural existence.
Bush could use someone to sweep the leaves at his ranch. I nominate Karl Rove. Why on Earth is he always on TV spewing advice? As "the architect" of the oxymoronic Big Government Conservatism, he counseled Bush to solidify power by spending like a Democrat, slapping tariffs on steel, and locking away his veto pen for six years. Under Rove, the administration's communications efforts made the Tower of Babel sound like a news channel. This would be bad enough if the GOP were unprincipled but in control. Oops! The GOP lost Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Thanks, Karl.
With few exceptions, Republican congressional leaders cheered this elephantiasis amid an atmosphere of corruption, incompetence, and unaccountability. Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, House GOP chief John Boehner, House Republican whip Roy Blunt, and other failed leaders should go warm the back benches. Senator Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens will become Ted "Jail to Nowhere" Stevens -- and not soon enough.
Former Senate GOP leaders Bill Frist and Trent Lott, and top House Republicans Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay have nothing to offer America. They should be left alone to fade quietly into obscurity.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich captured the House from the Democrats, passed the Contract with America, and then bungled his speakership while conducting an extramarital affair with a subordinate during the Clinton impeachment drama. Why do pro-family conservatives, or anyone else, still heed this man?
Instead, Americans should listen to Republicans who courageously advance pro-market principles today. Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn would make outstanding GOP honchos. House Republicans should elevate Jeff Flake, Mike Pence, Jeb Hensarling, and John Shadegg to key positions. Governors Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal are attractive young reformers with lots to offer through at least 2012. Ditto former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele, author of 2008's best slogan: "Drill, baby, drill!"
John McCain and Sarah Palin campaigned energetically while advocating lower spending and tax cuts. Alas, the bailout fiasco cut them off at the knees. They otherwise might have prevailed, and deserve praise for trying to do the right thing.
Once the GOP's detritus is dislodged, rebuilding can begin. The best way Republicans can redeem themselves is to ask daily: "What would Reagan do?"
Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.