BUSH’S PROSPECTS

According to today’s editioril pages, President Bush is either a virtual lock for re-election or in deep doo-doo. Robert Kuttner notes that the president’s liabilities continue to mount:

Bush’s foreign policy is a shambles. The architects of the Iraq war have been proven wrong on every contention they made — the imminent weapons of mass destruction, the alleged Saddam-Al Qaeda connection, the supposed ease of occupation and reconstruction. [The last of these was never claimed. -ed.] <...> Bush’s vaunted Israel-Palestine “road map” is a path to nowhere. Colin Powell, the prudent internationalist in the nest of reckless hawks, has been reduced to a pathetic token. Barring some improbable breakthrough, photo ops of Bush in a flak jacket won’t divert the spotlight from the real damage.

Then there’s the economy. Most economists believe that the recovery will continue to be jobless right through next year. Corporations are in such a profit squeeze that they are cutting jobs faster than they are accumulating orders. Even more seriously, the Bush program of serial tax cuts plus militarism has pushed the deficit into the half-trillion range for the foreseeable future. Not only does that kind of deficit force cuts in public outlays that voters actually value; at some point, it starts pushing up interest rates.

Kuttner believes these possibilities are offset by some advantages Bush has, including better fundraising and his position as commander-in-chief. He then jumps on the latest meme:

Yet this election will rouse the base constituencies of both parties like no election in recent memory. Democrats are in a state of rage about the stolen election of 2000, the gutting of public services, the assault of liberties, the economic damage, the environmental pillaging, and the foreign policy calamity. Republican conservatives, meanwhile, view Bush as Reagan redux, only better.

Recent conventional political wisdom has it that elections are won by appealing to swing voters. But in the great defining elections of American history — 1932, 1964, 1980 — the winner rallied his base and then persuaded independent voters that he could be trusted to do the right thing for the country. The 2004 contest, I suspect, will be one of those elections. And here is Bush’s greatest potential liability. His actual administration has been so unlike his moderate, conciliatory campaign of 2000 that even with the best campaign machinery, independent voters will be skeptical.

After years of declining turnout and passivity, 2004 will very likely see a reenergized electorate. Ultimately, the election will be a test of democracy itself: mobilized voters debating real substance versus imagery and organized money.

I’m still skeptical of the idea that swing voters won’t be determinative, given that the number of hard-core partisans is comparatively small.

Donald Lambo sees a much rosier picture for Bush.

The Democrats’ chances of beating President Bush in 2004 were sharply reduced last week by one closely watched economic number.

The Commerce Department’s report that the economy was expanding at a 3.1 percent annual rate in the second quarter must have sent a pall over the Democratic National Committee headquarters here, not to mention the campaign offices of the Democratic presidential contenders.

Barring some catastrophic setback in the war on terrorism, next year’s presidential election is going to be decided by the state of the economy. Who says so? Why, all the Democratic candidates. That single issue is at the core of their campaign agendas, such as they are.

But last week’s strong, upward revision in the nation’s gross domestic product — which measures all the goods and services America produces and sells — dealt a sharp blow to the Democrats’ chief domestic issue.

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My predictions: The GDP at nearly 4 percent, the Dow at 10,000, and unemployment in a steep decline by year’s end.

Well, we shall see. Frankly, a 3.1% growth rate isn’t that stunning. It was well over 4% in the last quarter of 1992, during which the first President Bush was defeated.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dodd says:

    Well, we shall see. Frankly, a 3.1% growth rate isn’t that stunning. It was well over 4% in the last quarter of 1992, during which the first President Bush was defeated.

    True, but we didn’t know that until well after the election. And public perception of the economy always lags its actual performance (just as employment does). We’re seeing the same thing again now; the economy’s been showing steady signs of improvement for months and people’s perceptions of it cratered even as that was happening. Fortunately for Bush, unless something catastrophic happens between now and then, he’s got a year for public perception to rebound. Which it almost certainly will.

  2. Kevin Drum says:

    They never claimed that occupation and reconstruction would be easy? Come on.

    They did virtually no serious planning. They expected to be greeted as liberators. They planned to reduce the troop presence to 30,000 by September.

    This attitude toward postwar Iraq was the reason I switched to opposing the war back in February. Their attitude was clear at the time and led me to believe that they had wildly underestimated the magnitude of the task ahead of them. I think it’s good that they recognize it now, but it’s disingenuous to pretend that they always recognized it.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Kevin,

    I think both are true: Clearly, they underestimated the situation they were facing. I tend to believe Rumsfeld that they planned for a lot of “worst case” scenarios that didn’t occur but didn’t understand the magnitude of the problems with the infrastructure. At the same time, they seemed to understand that it was going to be a long-term process.

  4. JohnC says:

    Yea, I’m sure Rummy prepared for the Alien death rays, Saddam’s Time Control Machine, his Mega Stink Bomb and Butt Itching Ray.

  5. jen says:

    Bush 41’s economy recovery wasn’t impacted by a terrorist attack on US soil that killed 3000 civilians and destroyed a large section of real estate in one of the largest cities in the US. I think the 3.1% growth in light of 9/11 is very good.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Jen,

    In terms of economic impact, I’d think 9/11 would be a net plus if anything: lots of rebuilding to do plus the big ramp-up to fight the war on terrorism.

    As I’ve said many times, I don’t think presidents have all that much to do with the economy. I just think the president is in trouble if the economy isn’t in pretty good shape by next summer. My guess is that it will be, simply because we’ve had time for the business cycle to run its course.

  7. jen says:

    James, true enough. Although the rebuild in NYC hasn’t started yet.

    I agree that President’s don’t have much to do with the economy, but the perception is that they do. And I hope you’re right about next summer’s outlook, because I do not want Bush to lose that re-election.

  8. Dodd says:

    In terms of economic impact, I’d think 9/11 would be a net plus if anything: lots of rebuilding to do plus the big ramp-up to fight the war on terrorism.

    This is a classic example of the Broken Window Fallacy (cf., Henry Hazlett). In short: It’s easy to see the ‘positive’ economic effects of replacing what someone has destroyed. But what we can’t see is all the stuff that never gets made at all because we have to spend money replacing something we already had. Absent the destruction, we could have both – which means greater wealth in the long run.