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Handicapping the Hypothetical

There’s always a lull in the news between Christmas and New Year’s Day, even in such a crazy election year as this, so the papers have fill to space with what might have been. President Barack Obama helped out on Monday by confidently speculating, in a widely quoted interview, that he would have won a third term if he’d run for re-re-election. The 22nd amendment to the Constitution prevented it, so he didn’t, but it nonetheless makes for interesting speculation on a slow news day. Donald Trump, who did wind up winning the race, of course helped out further by responding with one of his typically eloquent “Tweets”: “President Obama says that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! — jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”
Although we’re loathe to say any such thing about either of these loathsome men, we think that both can make a plausible case for their boasts.
Obama’s approval ratings are inexplicably high at the moment, despite his party’s loss, and far higher than Trump’s, despite the honeymoon bump a president-elect always gets in the fresh aftermath of a victory. Many of the economic numbers are also better than last time around when Obama beat a Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, and the awfulness of his foreign policy was just as apparent back then. Trump did wind up losing the popular vote by a whopping 2.8 million to a charmless old white woman with 30 years of scandals the press could not ignore, so it’s not hard to believe that Obama could have used his teflon-coated charm and undeniable political savvy to muster just enough young folks and black people in those three rust-belt states he won twice but where Trump’s razor-thin pluralities swung the electoral vote.
On the other hand, we suspect that Obama’s approval ratings can be explained by the fact that he’s mostly been out of the news lately, what with Trump’s illiterate “tweets” and other embarrassing antics taking up all the space. Given all the vastly more qualified candidates he thrashed on his way to that electoral victory, it seems quite plausible Trump could have dragged Obama down to the same unfavorable muck. Trump and all the rest of the Republican party ran on various platforms that were mostly defined by their opposition to the past eight years of Obama, and most of them did pretty well with it, so we can see how even Obama himself might have faced difficulties. At this point it’s hard to put much in the faith in the polls, too, and some of those seemingly rosy economic numbers are also fishy to a whole lot of people.
So there’s no telling how that hypothetical Obama versus Trump cage match might have turned out, and whose head would have been shaved at the end, but as long as we’re speculating about what might have been we will wistfully wonder how it might have been decided on the merits.
The headline employment rate is in undeniably better shape than when Obama took office just as one of the worst recessions ever was beginning a recovery, but the rebound has been historically weak and the less-mentioned U-6 rate of unemployment that includes the under-employed and part-timers and those who have given up on finding work still hasn’t fully recovered. Obama’s massive “stimulus package” of budget-busting infrastructure spending and other market interventions clearly didn’t do any good, but the combination of Trump’s promised tax cuts and even bigger infrastructure spending and meddlesome decisions about the hiring policies at Indiana furnace factories don’t appear any more promising over the long run. The stock market is still sky-high, but that has more to do with the Federal Reserve Board than either Obama or Trump, and we’ll have to wait to see how that might turn out. That Obamacare law is so horrible it should have run its eponym out office eight years when he was running against that Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, but Trump said too many things about universal coverage and pre-existing conditions and how great things are in Scotland to make us confident things will get better.
The Islamic State turned out to be far worse than the jayvee team that Obama thought it was, and his ridicule of his final Republican opponent’s warnings about Russia looks ridiculous to the Ukrainians and every other country threatened by the rapidly re-organizing Soviet Union, and his deal with Iran seems destined to provide that apocalyptic suicide cult with a nuclear bomb. On the other hand Trump is promising to join forces with Russia to defeat the Islamic State while re-negotiating with the Russian’s good friends in Iran, meanwhile “tweeting” up a renewed arms race with the Russians, and he’s also “tweeted” his disdain for whatever the Central Intelligence Agency or the United Nations or Boeing or Lockheed have to say about it, so there’s no telling how that will end up.
In any case the Obama years are about to come to a decisive end, which will surely bring some good, and the Trump years are about to commence, which might not be all bad, and the both of them are apparently the boastful and thin-skinned sorts we would never trust with such a high office. Once you start to speculating the possibilities are infinite, but in all of them we find ourselves for voting that same quixotic third-party write-in candidate who never had a chance.

— Bud Norman

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