Barack Obama is in Serious Trouble
When it comes to politics and history, everyone is an expert. That's possibly because most people intuitively understand that the less one knows about a subject, the more one can load onto a confidently presented explanation. Usually, the closer one looks, the more doubt intrudes, and no one really likes that.
I write that as a caveat, because sometimes, things are obvious. In 2008, for instance, I amongst others thought that odds of the next president, barring some accident of history, being in for one term were quite high. The economy was at the end of a magnificent run of delusional electronic activity which started in 1975, when devices that forestalled the monetary and fiscal consequences of the end of Bretton Woods and the collapse of the dollar were first invented. The supply of energy was on a long term path downwards. Inequality, with all its effects on productivity, social capital, and political corruption, was at nineteenth century levels. Neither political party was in the least interested in really compromising the core beliefs of the culture wars, and many had embraced the warm narcotic of a police state in a time of electronically conducted war.
It followed that the reset which was required--the collapse of the banks, the purging of the political system, and the outbreak of patriotism in Congress and particularly the Senate, alongside the rapid awakening of media sources--was almost certainly not going to happen. I did not at the time believe Dmitri Orlov's schadenfreude-laden, traumatised version of Soviet Collapse applied to the United States, but I was happy to picture Barack Obama as a Gorbachev figure. Gorbachev, feted at the time, concentrated on the wrong things, because he could do no other, and trusted too much in the shaky and rotten pillars of his state for his own good. For perestroika, read healthcare; a worthwhile effort, but one that state tort reform, medical exchange pools, and the proper exercise of the commerce clause might in a different reality have fixed over time. Taking it head on, however, emphasised the problems with America. It became an oligopoly-backed, somewhat heavy handed, statist enterprise that encouraged the vitriol of the other side, subverted the constitution, created serious domestic enmity, and undermined the basis of the administration's support. It also took people's eyes off the economy, even more than Jimmy Carter's ludicrous energy effort did.
When in a hole, stop digging. As an outsider, there are many things for which the Obama Administration can be lauded, not least the lack of a major war (although others may be working on delivering one before November). Largely, the US has avoided economic nationalism, has not encouraged the Chinese to accelerate their fairly clear programme of floating the rennmimbi, and has not collapsed the euro. Others have been left to make their own mistakes. The country is well on the way to becoming self-sufficient in energy, at least for a few decades.
Internally, however, Obama allowed too much hype; promised too much; did too little about the mortgage fraud scandal, the banks, and the shadow finance industry, when he could have, and could not do anything about the unwinding of the economy, nor the emergence of the debt as an issue. Nor, really, can he hold back either Peak Oil or Trough Ethics.
Many people automatically blame the GOP for this set of affairs. Lately, I've been enjoying Ira Shapiro's book, The Last Great Senate. The book extols the virtues of the Senate and its capacity to compromise between 1962 and 1980. It implicitly and explicitly suggests that wartime heroes put party aside until Republicans were subverted by local and then national media magnates and the likes of Jesse Helms, a lobbyist and journalist, thus becoming a proto-Fascist Party. There is something in the analysis, particularly when one thinks of the twelve Bush years. The explanation meshes with fashionable stuff about the US 'Empire' which mistakes the governing class of the republic and the pretensions of its international cooperators for the American people. Republicans also may have been more open to the corruptions of faux-populist insider baseball, and more open to fears of a non-white Democrat president since they have long viewed any Democrat as illegitimate anyway.
But it's too pat. It wasn't Republicans who forced Democrats to go on a spending spree, demonise and oppress the Church, noisily welcome demented single-issue groups, or embrace clandestine, constitution-subverting warfare and repression, any more than it was Republicans who got the Democrats to become thought police for environmental and political orthodoxy nationally. Wider cultural trends inspired that. What one can fault the Republicans for is bad faith, lies, and a determined an unpatriotic attempt to subvert the constitutional and electoral process--and torture, and war on the poor, and the elevation of corporate and upper-class socialism.
It was always questionable whether Mr Obama was going to be an Aurelius, an Aurelian, or forgotten; in 2008, I pointed out the parallels with 1976 and another toothy, stubborn outsider. Obama has at least proven more competent than Jimmy Carter. Yet today, unemployment is higher, the deficit is bigger, and the banks are richer despite criminal behaviour, than they were in 2008. That isn't wholly Mr Obama's fault. There is still a car industry, which was not forced to restructure under chapter 11 provisions any more than the airlines were. That is also his credit or fault, depending on your point of view. A few cultural issues are resolved, others have been raised. Kill lists and Texas suicides in the financial industry have become normal, and Civil War has been stoked in Mexico. And America has the Affordable Care Act.
Democrat presidents have to do better than this. It is sobering to remember that, between 1860 and 2008, there were eight Democratic presidents--Cleveland, Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton. Two of these were minority presidents; one of them won reelection after a full first term with a majority; two were placed in office by death; and four of them could have been prevented from office by the switch of a few thousand votes. In addition, Al Gore and John Kerry arguably fought winning campaigns, but lost anyway because they didn't take care of the legal and electoral fight on the ground.
Why is this important? Well, it looks to me as though fairly aggressive and indeed blatant voter suppression in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin, as well as Florida, is going to seriously limit the Obama vote in November. In addition, North Carolina has probably been lost by the gay marriage issue, and I'm not convinced that federal employees necessarily vote more Democrat than Republican in Virginia than, say, Texas. Nevada has a good few Mormons in it and would be Republican if it weren't for party incompetence. Wisconsin is now in play for Republicans, and Catholic support for Obama is down to 27% (which may well matter in Iowa and New Hampshire).
All of this means that the electoral college vote that elects presidents, formerly leaning to a tie, now leans more towards a Romney-Ryan majority. The worry must surely be that Obama wins the popular vote, loses the electoral college, and, unlike Gore, releases a Mexicago streetfight in the courts to hold onto office. Republicans have been whipped up into such a state that many would see this as a cue to declare the full illegitimacy of the government, at a time when the prospect of fiscal collapse might encourage a Charles I-style issue of currency by the President rather than the Federal Reserve to break a congressional deadlock.
There are always events. Earthquakes, deaths, political mis-steps--all these form the insurance conditions of any evaluation. To my mind, however, things are looking dark for Obama, and, frankly, bad for the United States. As a friend of that country, I'm not very pleased to have to write that.