Since the November elections, we’ve heard innumerable references to 1994 and 1982. The well-worn narrative is that, like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan before him, Barack Obama can rally from midterm losses to recapture voters’ confidence and win re-election.
There’s just one problem. Most of the breaks, especially recently, are going against the president.
Yes, it’s early. And no, we haven’t the faintest idea who will be the GOP nominee. But the emerging issues — things we weren’t even talking about four months ago, such as gas prices, Mideast revolutions and government unions — are shifting the political ground in ways that don’t bode well for Obama.
The economy finally appears to have stabilized. The national unemployment rate in February fell below 9 percent, the first time it has broken that barrier in almost two years. It’d all be good news for the president — if inflation didn’t threaten to sabotage the gains.
Gas prices in particular have shot up, by more than 40 cents a gallon nationally during the past month. The reasons are varied, but it’s been easy for Republicans to point to Obama’s clampdown on new deepwater drilling permits since last year’s BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
It doesn’t help Obama, who spoke Friday about increasing both production and conservation, that he has acknowledged before that higher energy prices are crucial to his environmental policies.
One big factor in rising oil prices lately has been unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. There, too, the news isn’t good for Obama. From Egypt to Iran to Libya, the president has always seemed off-balance or a step behind.
Hosni Mubarak is our man in Egypt. No, he should leave — gradually. No, now.
We stand with Libyans who want freedom, but only figuratively — unless NATO or the United Nations thinks it’s a good idea, in which case we’ll contribute. Maybe. Unless it looks like Moammar Gadhafi will survive after all, or that the arms embargo we signed prevents us from helping rebels, too. In which case, maybe not.
Uprisings in faraway lands are tough to gauge and impossible to manage from the outside. But Obama hasn’t even articulated a consistent message on American ideals and interests. He’ll bear some blame for that if things go poorly. Even if they turn out well — and that’s unlikely to happen throughout the region — “I stayed out of the way” isn’t a winning line.
Between his reaction to the uprisings and his belated decision to resume military trials for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Obama has managed to make himself vulnerable to hawks on the right as well as doves on the left. No mean feat.
Then there’s the sudden, fierce debate about collective bargaining by public workers. That issue has swept across much of the Midwest. Obama openly backs the unions, while conservatives have rallied behind the GOP governors who are pushing the matter. As we continue to debate public-sector pensions and budget deficits, I suspect independents will favor the right’s approach.
Finally, ObamaCare. We knew the health law would be politically relevant in 2012, but the expedited appeal of a Florida court ruling striking it down means its fate might be decided by the Supreme Court by summer 2012. After that, the odds of fixing the law if it’s struck down — or repealing it if it survives — will be longer. The losing side will be deflated.
And the way things are going, that will be Obama’s side.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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