I've been wary of comparisons of this year's presidential race with that of 1980. I'd love it if the comparison holds, but have been worried 1) that the conditions aren't the same as in 1980 in all kinds of ways, and 2) that over-confidence the race will inevitably break to Romney at the end, as the 1980 race did to Reagan, could lead to complacency on the right rather than a sense of urgency, including a sense of urgency in pushing the Romney campaign to improve.
When Republican strategists like Karl Rove cite 1980 as a model for this year’s election, they usually have in mind two main elements: Ronald Reagan’s question in the late October presidential debate about whether voters felt better off than four years earlier, when they elected Jimmy Carter, and Reagan’s ability in that debate to reassure swing voters about his ability to serve successfully if elected, converting a very close race into a ten-point blowout by “closing the deal.”
President Obama is outside the ideological mainstream, viewed as very liberal by an electorate that’s moderate or somewhat conservative. His domestic policies are unpopular, notably his health care law, economic stimulus, and spending plans. His foreign policy initiatives—curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons program, improving America’s position in the Middle East, fostering better relations with Russia—have failed. The public wants Obama to jettison his ineffective economic policies and implement new ones. But he refuses.
According to a Newsweek/Daily Beast poll of likely voters, Barack Obama now rates behind Jimmy Carter in the pantheon of great presidents. The poll asked likely voters to list the two best and the two worst presidents the history of the United States. Here are the tallies, based on net results:
On January 23, 1980, Jimmy Carter gave what turned out to be his final State of the Union address. Ronald Reagan’s victory over Carter that November spared us any more of them. Will Barack Obama’s appearance before Congress on January 24, 2012, be his swan song?