By Paolo von Schirach
September 28, 2012
WASHINGTON – Ronald Reagan was nicknamed “Teflon President”. No matter how big his blunders, he exuded magic likability. So, nothing bad would stick to him. The American public was in love with “The Great Communicator”. But Obama’s magic looks even more amazing.
The American people say that the country is going in the wrong direction, that the economy is in terrible shape; but they still like the man in charge. This President does not walk on water; but somehow he managed to make every body believe that he can do magic. Consider this not sequitur accepted now by most as true: “The US economy is not doing well; but it is not the fault of the man who has been in charge for the past four years”. And so, these days in America people do believe that the sun shines at midnight, because a White House press release says so. I call this magic; because it defies any logic.
Bad economy, popular president
Look, I have no partisan animosity here and I fully recognize that Obama should get credit for stopping the financial meltdown in 2009. Obama also has the good fortune of facing Mitt Romney, a surprisingly dull Republican challenger who just cannot “connect” with the people. However, armies of political scientists and political operatives with decades of experience had told us that no incumbent President could ever be re-elected with a weak economy and unemployment at or above 8%. Americans are very practical people, we were told. If the economy stinks, they get another coach.
Obama’s numbers getting better
Well, not this time, it would seem. Ironically, just as we get closer to voting day, the economic news gets a bit worse and Obama’s numbers get a bit better. Second quarter GDP growth has been revised down from 1.7% to just 1.3%. The manufacturing sector is losing steam, while orders for consumer durables are down, led by a decline in commercial aircraft orders. Business sentiment is lukewarm, given the uncertainties about taxes, regulation, health care costs and the future of federal spending.
Let’s make it clear. This is not a disaster. But this is the continuation of a slide into economic mediocrity. Historically the US used to grow at an average pace of 3% a year. After the end of the Big Recession we never had the “V” shaped curve. We never had a big bounce. America is growing. But we have been limping along, slowly and weakly.
In the past this level of economic under performance would have been considered totally unacceptable. Americans want more than the 1.7% growth we have achieved so far this year.
Ahead in all the polls
But it is not so. President Obama, the steward of this economy, is ahead in all the polls. Most ominously for Romney, Obama is widening his lead in most of the ultra critical swing states. If Romney loses in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, there is no path for him to the White House.
People got used to mediocrity
Well, how is all this possible? Unsatisfactory economy and popular President? I have a simple explanation. Most people have gotten so used to mediocre performance that by now it looks and feels alright. Persistent 8% plus unemployment would have looked like a national calamity until recently. Now it is regrettable but tolerable.
And Obama has managed to convince the media and the public that America’s still sputtering economy is really a legacy of the terrible recession that occurred under George Bush and that he unfortunately inherited. Likewise, the explosion of public spending and the unprecedented federal deficits, with a net addition of $ 5 trillion to the national debt in the Obama years, is also a George W. Bush legacy; just as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were started by Bush.
Romney-Ryan will destroy the welfare state
Besides, right now the issue is not just the economy, Obama tells the voters, but the threat to entitlement programs represented by the Romney-Ryan ticket. This mean spirited duo, composed of a vulture capitalist (Romney) and an out of control, extremist ideologue (Ryan) are determined to destroy all entitlement and safety net programs created to support and defend the poor, the weak and the struggling middle class.
So, there you have it. “The disappointing economy is not so bad after all. But if you really think that it should be a lot better, remember that George W. Bush is the culprit. Besides, the next four years are going to be great, trust me. And if this is not enough to convince you to vote for me, consider the nightmare of a Romney presidency: no more Medicare or Medicaid. And poor children will go hungry”.
Oversimplified narrative works
You may find this oversimplified narrative funny. But it is working, rather well. May be Obama’s surprising popularity in large part it is the responsibility of an uncharismatic Romney who drives people away. Still, the Obama magic is working. As I said, Obama does not walk on water. But he did a splendid job convincing a majority of Americans that he really belongs to a different dimension in which performance and accountability do not go together.
America on a path to decline
That said, whatever the popular perceptions and the feelings about this President, the reality is that America is on a path to mediocrity and eventually irrelevance. If President Obama in his second term will vigorously promote pro-business and pro-growth policies, this national decline can be reversed. But if we continue with timid half measures while drowning in red ink, then the damage may become irreversible.