Now more than halfway through his third year in office—with the economy flat-lining, American prestige evaporating, and public anxiety spiking—Barack Obama is the most vulnerable incumbent president since Jimmy Carter. The election is still 14 months away, but it’s not too early to see the broad outlines of the GOP’s case against the president.
Economic Malpractice: Obama inherited a tough economy, but his stewardship has in many respects made the situation worse.
The unemployment rate stands at 9.1 percent (it was 7.8 percent the month Obama took office). July marked the 30th consecutive month in which the unemployment rate was above the 8 percent level that the Obama administration said it would not exceed as a result of its stimulus program. Chronic unemployment is worse than during the Great Depression, while the share of the eligible population holding a job (58.1 percent) has declined to the lowest level since the early 1980s.
The housing crisis is also worse than in the Great Depression. Home values are worth roughly one-third less than they were five years ago. Consumer confidence has plunged to the lowest level since the Carter presidency. And from the first quarter of 2010 through the first quarter of 2011, we experienced five consecutive quarters of slow growth. America’s GDP for the second quarter of this year was an anemic 1.3 percent; in the first quarter, it was 0.4 percent. Even more problematic for the president, there are virtually no signs that things will improve anytime soon. He now has to hope for an economic miracle.
Given this atrocious record, Republicans should repeatedly affirm what Obama’s senior counselor, David Plouffe, has acknowledged: The president “owns” the economy. It’s the product of his handiwork. And if Obama is reelected, we will get more of the same. The Republican theme for the 2012 campaign should consist of two words: Had enough?
Leading from Behind: The president’s foreign policy has been characterized by strained relations with our allies and weakness toward our enemies. He’s shown indifference to human rights and an eagerness to cede American sovereignty to international bodies. And he has been half-hearted in fighting the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. The commander in chief is “psychologically” out of Afghanistan, Bob Woodward said in 2010, and that’s now true across the board.
The GOP line of attack against the president’s national security record should be three-fold. First, he has virtually no foreign policy successes to speak of (even Jimmy Carter could claim the Camp David Accords as a success).
Second, the president is sending young Americans to fight and to die in wars he finds distracting and barely worth mentioning.
Third, Republicans should (once again) build their case around the words of Obama’s own aides. One adviser, quoted in the New Yorker, infamously described the president’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.” And in discussing the Obama administration’s belief that the relative power of the United States is declining, this adviser said, “It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world. But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.”
At the heart of Obama’s foreign policy is the belief that America’s days as a dominant world power are over, and it’s a good thing at that. The president and his aides, after all, tend to view America’s role in the world as arrogant and imperialistic. It tells us something that every previous president was instinctively inclined to defend the United States, while Obama is far more inclined to apologize for her and place himself above her. He has undermined America’s moral self-confidence.
In contrast to Obama’s endless apologies, the GOP candidate needs to speak with authentic pride and confidence in America and explain what that belief is rooted in—a commitment to liberty and self-government, democratic capitalism, and civic and character-forming institutions.
Political Fraudulence: Obama’s appeal in 2008 was aesthetic. He promised to make politics less fractious, our debate more elevated and honest, and America more unified. He would “turn the page” on the old way of doing business.
In fact, an astonishing number of Obama’s promises have turned out to be fraudulent, including doing away with earmarks, not hiring lobbyists in his administration, being the most transparent administration in history, and working in a bipartisan fashion.