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 Ã¢€” which measures all the goods and services America produces and sells Ã¢€” dealt a sharp blow to the Democrats’ chief domestic issue.
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.