Barack Obama, Down But Not Out

Don’t count out President Obama. If the past is any indication, the incumbent has a good chance of winning reelection.

President Barack Obama speaks on the phone in the Oval Office of the White House, December 12, 2009
President Barack Obama speaks on the phone in the Oval Office of the White House, December 12, 2009 (White House/Pete Souza)

When Barack Obama began his campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in early 2007, there weren’t many in the United States who put their money on him. The junior senator from Illinois didn’t just beat stalwarts in his own party however but resoundingly won the general election one year later.

Three years after that phenomenal success, political commentators have virtually written the president off. They’re busy watching the Republican debates and predicting which of the opposition candidates might really “change” America and restore hope to the nation. 24/7 cable news and a hyper active blogosphere have left the pundit class very impatient indeed.

When he ran for office, Obama promises to end the war in Iraq but continue the War on Terror. He surged troops in Afghanistan and terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was captured and killed under his watch.

Just before his election, the world tumbled into the worst recession in decades. Obama inherited an economic catastrophe that he could never hope to fix in a single term. The mistakes of four decades of economic policy could not be undone in a four year term. The only thing he could do was prevent things from getting worse. With little experience in economic policy, the president managed to do at least that. The American economy isn’t skyrocketing but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t in the next four years.

Skeptics have dismissed Obama as neither a Franklin Delano Roosevelt nor a Ronald Reagan, two popular presidents who led the American economy out of recession and affirmed the country’s status as a superpower. But closer scrutiny of their respective records reveals that Roosevelt also inherited a depression and was constantly criticized for both his New Deal and wartime decisions. After Reagan took office, it took years before the economy actually improved.

The difference between Obama and Reagan and certainly between Obama and Roosevelt is that their decisions weren’t so sharply observed on a day to day basis to magnify their failures and shortcomings.

If the past is any indication, Obama’s chances of winning reelection aren’t entirely dismal. He faces challenges at home, especially with regard to the economy, but that didn’t prevent Roosevelt from being reelected in 1936 and 1940. The odds seemed against that Democrat but lacking a convincing adversary and claiming progress on the recovery, he appealed to a majority of Americans nevertheless. There’s no reason why Obama shouldn’t be able to replicate his success.