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

Settling for Less Than a Third Term

There is speculation in the press that First Lady Michelle Obama will make a run for the Senate in ’16, and we are heartened to hear it. As much as we dread the prospect of her ever holding any public office, it is an encouraging sign of the left’s lowered expectations that she’s settling for something so inconsequential as the Senate.
Way back in ’08, when hope and change and every liberal chin were in the air, the ambitions were greater. Candidate Barack Obama was sending tingling feelings down the legs of television commentators, being hailed by his awestruck admirers as a “messiah” and “an attuned being with powerful luminosity and high-vibration intensity who will actually usher in a new way of being,” his wife was promising that “Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual,” the man himself proclaimed that his nomination to the presidency marked “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal,” and all of the smart people and most of the electorate bought into it. Our most earnestly pro-Obama friends confidently predicted that by the middle of Obama’s second term the country would be clamoring for the repeal of the 22nd Amendment to allow for his third term, or that Michelle Obama would win by a landslide to provide another eight years by proxy.
As unlikely as it sounded, even at the time, the trick had been successfully tried before. When Alabama’s Gov. George Wallace ran into term limits back in the late ’60s his wife, the delightfully named Lurleen Wallace, became the state’s first and thus-far only female governor on a promise to continue all of his policies. Both Wallaces were strict segregationists, so the Obamas might prefer another precedent, but at least they were Democrats and showed that it can be done. There’s also former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s successful run for  Senate in New York after she took her carpet bag to that reliably blue state, but the Obamas will probably also prefer not to cite that. In any case neither analogy quite fits, as Alabama was clamoring for more of George Wallace and New York couldn’t get enough Clinton, proving that craziness has taken hold in all sorts of places at all sorts of times, but even our most earnestly pro-Obama friends aren’t saying anything about either the 22nd Amendment or a Michelle for President campaign.
This suggests that some sanity is creeping back into the body politic, and we welcome that, but it is distressing to think that there still enough of the craziness left that Michelle Obama might wind up in the Senate. She’d be running in Illinois, where her husband was an ever “present” legislator for several years before winning his own Senate seat and then carrying the state twice by large margins in presidential races, and although Republican Sen. Mike Kirk is generally well-regarded and is so clean by Illinois standard that he hasn’t so much as been sent to prison he would be hard-pressed to match the fund-raising and media cover and star power of another Obama campaign. Recent polling suggests that former Obama chief-of-staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is unpopular, the state’s dire fiscal situation and lowered bond ratings and high unemployment and general dishevelment is widely noticed, and those down-state Republicans are highly energized, but it’s still Illinois and anything is still possible there.
First Ladies have always enjoyed a certain status as women who married well, too, for at least as long as we can remember. Jackie Kennedy was probably the most revered of our days, what with the good looks and the high fashion and all, and Hillary Clinton benefited even further from the public sympathy for her husband’s serial infidelities, but even someone so un-telegenic as Pat Nixon always topped the most-admired polls even, and the gracefully non-controversial Laura Bush held the spot even as her husband was being pilloried in the press and popular culture. Michelle Obama will reap the same benefits, and a press ridden with white guilt will strive to give her just a bit more, so as long as she isn’t running for president she should be formidable.
Any possible Michelle Obama campaign is still two years away, however, and if current trends continue her name will be less valuable even in Illinois, but we suppose she could run on her own qualifications as a candidate. She went to Princeton and graduated with honors on the strength of the papers she wrote about racist and awful it was, parlayed that and her husband’s political connections into a three-hundred-grand-a-year diversity gig at a hospital, spent her years as First Lady staying at ritzy vacation spots and living high on the taxpayer hog while giving speeches about how tough she used to have it, promoted a school lunch menu that children everywhere hated, and fueled endless tabloid rumors about her marriage with photographs of herself sizing up the French Prime Minister’s far hotter wife or glaring with clearly hostile intent at her husband as he poses for “selfies” with comely European heads of state and otherwise looks foolish on the world stage. She famously declared that her husband’s likely victory in a presidential race was “the first time in my adult life I’ve been proud of my country,” a quote that Sen. Kirk might want to revive in his campaign advertisements, and she’ll have to make a case why she’s still proud that Barack Obama hasn’t allowed us to live our lives as usual. The people of Illinois might buy it, but at least she won’t be selling it to the entire country.

— Bud Norman

Fiscal Cliff Notes

After careful consideration of all the possible “fiscal cliff” outcomes we have concluded there is no way that President Obama can lose or the congressional Republicans can win.If your only rooting interest is for the country at large, well, that also doesn’t look good.
For those who have been blissfully unaware of the goings-on in Washington, the fiscal cliff is what the country will fall off of if the Bush-era tax rates are allowed to expire at the beginning of next year. This would mean a tax increase for nearly everyone who actually pays federal income taxes, which almost every conservative economist believes would result in a severe recession, and it would also cut $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years, which every liberal economist believes would not only cause a recession but also push the earth out of its orbit and send it hurtling into the sun.
With such near-unanimity of opinion that the fiscal cliff is not something any sane nation would want to go over one might expect a quick agreement on the matter, but alas, this nation is insane. The original sticking point was on taxes, with Republicans preferring to retain the current rates for everyone and Democrats absolutely hell-bent on a tax hike for the hated top 2 percent of earners, but now comes word that the president’s list of demands has grown to include $255 billion in “stimulus” spending and no more congressional authority over the government’s credit limit. Although the demands might seem outrageous, if you consider the president’s personality and political position it is more surprising he didn’t insist on an immediate repeal of the twenty-second amendment and a new constitutional arrangement along the lines of what his pal Mohamed Morsi has decreed for himself in Egypt.
Why not? If the Republicans capitulate, always a distinct possibility, Obama will enjoy unprecedented spending power to buy all the votes needed for that third term. If the Republicans resist even at the price of going over the fiscal cliff, they’ll be widely blamed for the dire economic consequences.
That the Republicans would lose in the court of public opinion is a foregone conclusion. Not because of Obama’s vaunted rhetorical powers, which have proved wildly overrated, but because the still-powerful Washington news media and their colleagues on the comedy shows will constantly reiterate that Republican intransigence forced the country into an avoidable recession. The newly unemployed will get louder and more sympathetic than at any time in the past four years, with every sob story conveying the familiar message that Republicans care only for the rich. What little there is of conservative media will argue on the Republicans’ behalf that it would have been irreparably disastrous to hand Obama an unlimited line of credit, but they made the same sensible argument during the election and the result is what has led the country to its current sorry condition.
Nor should the Republicans doubt that Obama is entirely willing to take the country over the fiscal cliff, a destination that looks quite acceptable from his unique perspective. Taking the fiscal cliff dive would allow Obama to raise taxes on everybody, a Democrat’s dream, and do so without political consequences, something beyond the Democrats’ wildest dream. The automatic budget cuts will come mainly from national defense, which Obama has always wanted to gut anyway, and the rest of the spending can quickly restored by the Democratic House that is installed 2014. Spending cuts can always be rectified, but the tax money will never be returned.
The estimable Charles Krauthammer has argued that Obama won’t want his second term marred by a deep recession, but we fear that on this rare occasion he gives the president too much credit. A lousy economy that persisted through his first term didn’t prove sufficiently harmful to Obama’s political standing to prevent his re-election, and he has no reason to believe that his uncanny luck will change now. What’s more, a second recession will give him the same opportunities that the first afforded to push pork-laden stimulus spending and extraordinary money-printing to pay off his loyal constituencies.
There are the millions of Americans who will suffer greatly from the loss of jobs and wealth if the fiscal cliff recession comes to pass, but we doubt their plight will trouble Obama much during his upcoming multi-million dollar vacation. If their suffering helps the president achieve his dream of expanding the welfare state even further he can always console himself that it was well worth the price. We realize this is a very harsh assessment of an American president, but four years of watching his actions, rather than just listening to his lofty speeches, have led us to this conclusion.
No matter the outcome of the current negotiations, the country will continue its headlong rush toward financial insolvency. If the government can’t stop short of this relatively shallow fiscal cliff, don’t expect it will avoid that grand canyon.

— Bud Norman