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Precedent For The Unprecedented

Ross [1]:

But what was already an unprecedentedly dreadful climate for the Democrats is looking darker by the day. If unemployment is still around 10 percent this November, it’s difficult to see how they hold the House; if unemployment stays at 9 percent into 2012, it’s very difficult to see how Barack Obama wins re-election. I stand by my contention that ideology as well as the woeful economy is dragging the Democrats down, but there does come a point where only the economy matters: Obama could spend the next three years channeling Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and Silent Cal, and he still isn’t going to get re-elected if 9 percent of the country is out of work.

Was it an “unprecedentedly dreadful climate”? Is it growing darker? 1982 provides a precedent of a similarly dreadful political climate for the presidential party, so the current climate is not unprecedented. The ’81-’82 recession was actually more severe and damaging to the administration than this recession has been, but Reagan survived it. During the tail end of the recession, Reagan’s approval slumped well below where Obama’s approval stands today. Indeed, if Obama’s approval ever dipped as low as Reagan’s 1982 numbers, there would be a great deal of caterwauling that his political career was over. Reagan’s political opposition in Congress was much greater, and he lacked the majorities in Congress that Obama enjoys. It is true that the last Democratic President to have similar majorities was Carter, but Carter came into office with majorities that were built on top of pre-existing Democratic majorities. Obama has come into office very soon after Democrats regained power in Congress after over a decade in the minority. That has to make some difference in how the public judges the two parties and their fitness for running branches of government.

Obviously much depends on whether or not unemployment remains as high as it is, but not only did Reagan recover from the setbacks in the ’82 midterms amid similarly high unemployment, but he went on to win one of the most lopsided presidential elections in American history two years later. Regardless of economic conditions, I would be very wary of assuming that the public will act in a certain way over two years from now. Much will depend on the quality of the candidate the GOP nominates, and just as much will depend on the perceived economic improvement between now and then that the incumbent will claim as his own.

Unemployment is at 10% right now, and it is quite easy to see how Democrats hold the House [2]. As satisfying as a protest vote against the majority party will be, it is very doubtful that the public is ready to trust the GOP with any sort of responsibility in the federal government after the hash they made of things during their time in power. So long as there is measurable improvement in economic indicators, the GOP ought to be worried that it has reached its peak ten months too early.

Right now, lockstep GOP opposition to the stimulus bill appears to be on the side of public opinion, but if there is anything that we have seen over the last few months it is that public opinion is easily changeable depending on circumstances. If the delayed 2010 spending reduces unemployment, even temporarily, the opponents of the bill will be left scrambling for cover. Suddenly most of the people who have already declared the bill to be a waste of money could turn on a dime and a decide that the money was well-spent after all. If the public is ultimately results-oriented, as we keep hearing, any positive change in economic conditions is going to work against the opposition strategy of rejecting everything.

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3 Comments To "Precedent For The Unprecedented"

#1 Comment By Northern Observer On January 28, 2010 @ 7:59 am

Good Commentary. Keeping it honest.
BTW was Amcon hacked yesterday? If so from who?

#2 Comment By Norwegian Shooter On January 28, 2010 @ 10:53 am

Again, anybody claiming the Democrats even have a chance to lose the House should be required to cite a standard source of congressional race evaluations. (And does he really think anybody reading his blog doesn’t know who Silent Cal is? And how do you channel a guy who’s nickname is Silent?)

But I thought the last paragraph was worse:

If there’s any silver lining here for liberals, it’s the possibility that the G.O.P. sweep this fall will start to look so inevitable that vulnerable Democratic legislators will figure that since they aren’t going to win anyway, they might as well take the progressive blogosphere’s advice and fall on their swords for health care reform.

How’s the kool-aid, Ross?

#3 Comment By tz On January 28, 2010 @ 5:33 pm

You know things are bad when it becomes difficult to tell which party is “the lesser evil”.

The democrats are as issueless and rudderless as the GOP was during Clinton’s impeachment running on nothing but “we’re not Democrats”. They lost the house. No substance loses to bad substance. The problem now is that the GOP was so bad they were dumped, but the democrats have not changed anything. Well,

A different Goldman Sachs drone is at Treasury – but other than not cheating on his turbo taxes, is there a difference between Paulson and Geithner?

We are lifting our foot out of the Iraqi quagmire – by pushing the other foot down twice as hard and far into the Afghan quagmire. Meanwhile there are those laughing at us from Pakistan and Yemen. But we are changing quagmires.
(I’m reminded of the time my boot was stuck and it was easy to pull my foot but not my boot out).

As much as I detest Gingrich, he was effective in opposition. Now he is a joke – for two reasons.

First, if there were to be a new “contract with America”, no one would bother. Oh, didn’t we make clear that we would just past some of it, have the GOP senate water (or ethanol) it down, and just let Clinton veto it instead of putting the provisions to every veto proof bill that came up.

Second, what issues? Amnesty for illegal immigrants? CAFTA and more “free trade”? More abstract goal wars? Even things like “get tough on terrorists” would fade the first time anyone asked “ok, so instead of due process to determine who is a terrorist and who is an innocent bystander, you seem to know, so what is this new magical technology that allows you to do so and where is the complete and exact list of terrorists?”.

Were they to create a similarly populist-libertarian list of what Americans want by large margins, who would actually vote for it other than Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul?