Bad News in the Year to Come — 2 January 2012

I have three predictions for 2012.

First, the presidential election will be very close.  That’s an easy one.  Despite his low approval ratings, Barack Obama will have prodigious advantages going into the election.  First of all, the powers of the incumbent president to shape the agenda of the national conversation toward topics of his choice are great – not limitless, of course (witness how Bill Clinton lost control during the Monica debacle) – but Obama has the bully pulpit, and a press that is still favorably disposed.

Second, Obama has spent much of the last several months raising money for his re-election, and reportedly has ambitions of raising a cool billion dollars – dwarfing any previous campaign war chest.  My guess is that, contrary to his oft-repeated claims to be the tribune of the little guy, much of that will come from the nation’s one per-centers.  That much money buys a lot of voter attention – and, I expect, a lot of ad hominem attacks on his opponent.

Finally, and most importantly, most of the electoral college is decided already.  Barring a Michael Dukakis-style blowout, which I don’t expect, there are only about seven states that are up for grabs, and their votes will determine the election.  All the rest are predictably in the blue or red column.  That means that a relative handful of voters are in  contention and all the money and all the battling will be for their allegiance.

It will surprise no regular readers of this column that I think it is very important for our country that Barack Obama be defeated this November.  Two of the biggest reasons are contained in my other two predictions.

Prediction two: the economy will continue to limp along at a subpar rate.   Our economy is dynamic enough that it will grow under the most trying conditions, and that will be the effect this year.  Team Obama will try to capitalize on continued positive growth and successive months of job growth to make the case for re-election, but the truth is that every month that the economy grows at a below-trend rate is another month of prosperity denied to the very people that Obama claims to be trying to help.  In terms of employment, we need about 250,000 net new jobs created every month just to keep up with population growth, many more to actually improve the job situation for the nation’s unemployed.   We have bested that figure only once since Obama was elected.  That means we are steadily falling further and further behind in job creation.

To me, it is painfully obvious that the problem with the economy is poor policy decisions.  At a time when the country was facing its gravest economic challenge in living memory, Obama’s policy choice was to push through a massive Keynesian stimulus (which worked no better than any other demand-side stimulus in history) and then set about remaking America’s economic and social structure.  Not only did this distract the President from focusing like a laser beam on the economy as he promised, the result of this legislative onslaught – principally Obamacare and Dodd-Frank – has been a bog of regulations both current and anticipated, coupled with anticipated tax increases and other expenses that simply puts business on hold.  And even though cap-and-trade failed to pass, Obama’s EPA and other regulators have attempted to force-march the country via more regulations into a carbon-free future, and have wasted money on the “green revolution” like Solyndra while at the same time slow-walking permits to exploit our own efficient, economic oil and gas reserves.

On top of that, the astonishing levels of spending that have come to characterize this administration have led to both apprehension about the eventual need to pay the piper and a seemingly endless round of Congressional stalemates and last minute deals over how and how much to fund the government.  Obama claims to appreciate the spending problem, but has done precious little to effect significant change: he barely even glanced at the promising report from his own Simpson-Bowles Commission.

All of this has led to a policy environment that is deeply inimical to growth.  Obama, for his part, complains of external problems like the Greek debt crisis, the Japanese nuclear disaster, and so forth.  But it is our own policy mess that is holding back the economy.

My third prediction, and another big reason why Obama must go, is that Iraq by election time will be falling apart.  It took all of one day after the last of the US troops left the country before the sectarian rifts in the government broke into the open, as Prime Minister al Maliki issued an arrest warrant for the top-ranking Sunni politician in the country, Vice-President Tariq al-Hashimi.  Al-Hashimi went into hiding in the Kurdish north, exacerbating tensions in that region.

This is terribly concerning.  Sunnis are complaining that al-Maliki, a Shia, has concentrated power over the nation’s security forces, fearful that they will be used for sectarian rather than for national purposes.  Already Sunnis are leaving mixed neighborhoods, dreading a return to civil war.

If that happens, it will be an unmitigated disaster for US foreign policy, one that betrays and dishonors the sacrifice of so many of our brave soldiers over the past eight years.  It will also provide an open avenue for adventurism for Iran, which already has been interfering with impunity in the country.

This was so preventable.  There were strong voices for a continued American presence, and a determined diplomatic effort from Washington would have resulted in some form of continued deployment.  But Obama was in thrall to his promise to “end the war responsibly” – we’ll see, of course, if that is what has happened – such that when he proposed leaving the ludicrously small figure of 3,000 US troops, al-Maliki realized Obama just wasn’t serious.  He clearly couldn’t be a stronger advocate for a US presence than the Americans themselves, so any chance for a deal died.

We have kept US troops in Germany for over seventy years; we have had troops in South Korea for nearly sixty years.  These deployments have leant security and reassurance to inhabitants throughout the respective regions.  A similar commitment would have beneficial effects for Iraq and its neighbors.  But this President, who seems to view America ceding its role as world leader, would not countenance either the expense or the political commitment.  And so, after such a cost in blood and treasure, the White House dusts off its hands and departs.

The region, and the world, will be a more dangerous place because of it.

With the economy weakened by his ambition to remake the country, and world security weakened by his lack of ambition to exert American leadership in its most sensitive areas, the legacy of Barack Obama will be one of squander.  So, while I am confident predicting that the race in November will be close, I fervently hope it is the GOP that emerges victorious.

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