I guess what I’m saying is that if this US election is fought around amnesiac discontent at an incumbent during tough economic times, then Obama will lose. Which is why Romney’s strategy appears to be entirely that argument. But if the choice is between drastic European-style austerity on Romney lines, with the burden carried primarily by the poor and working poor, and Obama’s emphasis on more long-term structural cost-cutting, infrastructure investment and more revenue from the rich now, then the equation shifts.
I may be wrong, and it doesn’t thrill me, but my bet is that the West is moving leftwards for pragmatic reasons. And that America will not be immune. Pendulums swing, and the long free market period of 1979 – 2007 is giving way to a more government-based management of the unintended consequences of the right’s initial success and subsequent over-reach. And if Obama doesn’t use Europe as a warning sign for what Romney would bring to America, he’d be missing out on an important opportunity.
A few points in response.
First, European governments keep changing, but the ECB doesn’t change its tune. That suggests that changes in government don’t concern the ECB. In particular, they don’t seem concerned about an electoral turn to the left. Which is wise of them, because there is precious little evidence that nominally left-wing parties in Europe are more averse to structural reform than nominally right-wing parties. The reforms that the Germans want the rest of Europe to adopt, after all, are the kinds of reforms they adopted under the last Social Democratic government, and the Dutch government just collapsed because a far-right coalition partner bolted.
Second, Sullivan refers to the President’s “emphasis on more long-term structural cost-cutting, infrastructure investment and more revenue from the rich now,” but the President has a record to run on. The question is whether that record encourages people to believe that he will, in fact, emphasize long-term structural cost-cutting and infrastructure investment, as well as more revenue from the rich now. The main Obama talking-point in the structural cost-cutting area is the cost controls in the ACA – and Obama deserves praise for these relative to the opposition, which demagogued against them with language about “death panels.” But it’s still a very thin reed because what it really amounts to is a promise to cut costs. And a pie-crust promise to boot: easily made, easily broken. As for infrastructure investment, there’s been a great deal of talk about it, but very little actually to point to. And the reason, again, is structural: the Administration didn’t make a priority of implementing reforms to make infrastructure spending more efficient - and therefore budgets for projects like high-speed rail exploded even as the political will to fund them evaporated. When the initial stimulus plan was pushed through, there was a lot of talk about how few projects were “shovel-ready” with the result that very little infrastructure spending actually materialized. Some left-wing critics said that the problem was too much concern about only funding “good” projects – we should be willing to waste money, these critics said, to get people working. My view was the opposite: the problem wasn’t too much scruple about waste; the problem was too much scruple about tackling vested interests that keep costs high, which in turns both makes potentially worthwhile projects look like they have a lousy return and pushes out the timeline for actually being able to launch these projects (since the high costs are often driven by long timelines). Point being, Sullivan assumes what needs to be proven to the electorate: that the Obama Administration has a recovery plan and a means for implementing it.
Finally, though, President Obama can’t use Europe as a “warning sign for what Romney would bring to America” because: (a) Romney’s a Republican, and Republicans hate Europe and believe in American exceptionalism, just like they are against deficits and for smaller government, and no matter how many times you argue that these perceptions are untethered to reality it doesn’t matter: the brand is the brand; (b) nobody in America knows anything about what is going on in Europe, and it is inconceivable that anybody is going to successfully explain the situation to people in order to score an obscure political point. If Americans know anything at all about what’s going on in Europe, they know that the Greeks borrowed a lot of money from German bankers and blew it all, and now the Germans want their money back and the Greeks rioted. The Italians and Spaniards probably (your average observer assumes) are just bigger countries with somewhat milder problems of living beyond their means. If Europeans don’t like austerity, that’s because nobody likes austerity – but only pansy Europeans would riot over it; Americans would just buckle down and work harder. This view is mostly nonsense, but you’re not going to disabuse people of the nonsense they believe that easily. If Obama tries to tie Romney to Europe, Romney will just say that Europe’s problems are the result of decades of policies like Obama’s – and true or not, that will be the winning argument.