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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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Biden Time

Whenever we start to feel anxious about the sorry state of the Republican presidential nomination race, which is pretty much every time we read the latest reports about it, we can always find some comfort in the even sorrier state of the Democratic contest. The latest reports about that fiasco suggest Vice President Joe Biden could soon enter the race as a front-runner, which is saying something, and we suspect that would prove even more compelling to the press and the public than Donald Trump’s currently top-rated reality show.
The Democratic race would not only gain some much-needed comic relief by the entry of the foul-mouthed, gaffe-prone, creepily touchy Biden, but the sub-plots would involve enough palace intrigue to fill another three or four seasons of “Game of Thrones.” The foul-mouthed, gaffe-prone, creepy aspects of Biden’s personality shouldn’t prove much of a problem for him, not when it seems so darned authentic compared to the robotic former front-runner Hillary Clinton, and not when the current Republican front-runner is Donald Trump, but all that palace intrigue will certainly prove more complicated.
Although it goes politely unmentioned in the mainstream press, it should be obvious to the more objective observer that President Barack Obama doesn’t much like Clinton. He once sneered at her that “You’re likable enough” during one of those ’08 debates when they were both still mere rivals to the throne, but even at the time we doubted he really meant it, and by now we’re sure that he did not. Clinton’s once-inevitable coronation suddenly seems once-again in doubt for a number of reasons, including a noticeable lack of accomplishments and a quarter century’s worth of scandals and and a multi-million-dollar foundation of corruption and an unlikable robotic personality, but her biggest problem seems to be that pesky e-mail scandal that keeps dripping out with in drops of stories quoting Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation and bi-partisan Congressional committees and other high-ranking federal officials. At best this suggests the president in charge of the DOJ and FBI and the Democratic half of those bi-partisan committees and all those other high-ranking officials isn’t interested in helping out his former administration officials in the usual ways, and at worst is acting against her with the sort of ruthlessness that has made “Game of Thrones” such a hit.
As we see the plot line playing out, Obama looks about for a candidate willing to continue his policies for another four years, and to cement his historic achievements of Obamacare and endless quantitative easing and appeasement of radical Islam and open borders and environmental policies that export all the global warming to China and the rest of his hope and change agenda. Although he’d normally be sympathetic to the self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who looks and sounds just like all those radical professors who created Obama, Sanders has had the effrontery to note that the economy is horrible and open borders are likely to strain the Democrats’ beloved welfare system and that an even more insanely socialist agenda than Obama’s must therefore be pursued. There’s that O’Malley guy, but his only accomplishments as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland were effective tough-on-crime measures that saved hundreds of black lives but have somehow run afoul of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that currently holds sway in the Democratic Party, and he’s only polling a percentage point or so. Obama clearly doesn’t like Clinton, or any of the Clintons, so he has to find a more suitable proxy.
As foul-mouthed, gaffe-prone, and creepily touchy as he is, Biden can at least be counted on to run for Obama’s third term. Hence we expect Biden will soon enter the race with the tacit yet deafening endorsement of the president and all the support of his dwindling but still-significant number of supporters, as well as the gentle treatment of a mainstream press that would rather report on Biden’s latest “spontaneity” than the latest leaks from high-ranking officials about Clinton’s latest scandal, and that Clinton will soon find herself at the back of a small and undistinguished pack. Most of Sander’s following seems to be people who actually like his crazy ideas, and like what he says about the Obama economy, so we don’t seem him losing much support to Biden, even if some of them were simply on board because he’s not Clinton. Most of Clinton’s support seems to come from Democratic partisans who expected her to be the party’s nominee and the most likely winner in the general election, which no longer seem such compelling arguments even to a Democratic partisan, and whichever candidate gets Obama’s followers will have a significant plurality of the party, along with all those “Black Lives Matter” activists who hold such sway, so we can’t see a Biden candidacy helping Clinton at all.
These series take strange twists, though, and we’ve often been surprised by events. There’s still that anxiousness about the Republican race, too, and sooner or later the two shows will merge like one of those “Beverly Hillbillies” episodes where the Clampetts visited the Hooterville of “Green Acres.” At that point there’s no telling what the writers might come up with, but for now it’s hard to see it ending well.

— Bud Norman