2012-03-09 / View From Here

The View From Here . . .


As this is written, it is Super Tuesday, with Republican primaries or caucuses in ten states. My best guess is that Mitt Romney will do pretty well but will not close the deal, but we'll discuss this next week.

Still, this column will touch on a related subject - the uncertain events in 2012 that might affect the presidential race in very significant ways. And none of these issues involve the current kerfuffle of the week - Rush Limbaugh's unfortunate comments about a Georgetown law student. While I personally think Mr. Limbaugh has a good point on his religious liberty argument and indeed on the overall free contraception mandate, he (as he now recognizes) is not going to help his cause by over the top and personalized rhetoric.

The biggest uncertainty is the economy. Yes, there appears to be something of a recovery, but the 2-2.5% projected growth rate in 2012 is far below the norm achieved in previous recovery years like 1983. Unemployment has inched down to 8.3% at this writing, but this number is dependent on the overall economy and also may look rosier than it is because it does not take into account discouraged workers who have given up looking for a job and the underemployed.

And whatever economic progress we have seen is threatened by the rise of gas prices, which have hit above $4 in many places. This has a direct effect on the standard of living of many people as well as on overall economic growth. It also affects heating prices and the cost of airline travel.

And there are continuing questions about the stability of the European economy, as national leaders attempt to cope with weak members of the European Union like Greece. At least from afar, it seems that the "one size fits all" euro currency is a part of the problem, since in other times Greece would have had the option of a devaluation, which would have had fewer ripple effects on other countries. Now, however, a default by Greece or the breakup of the euro currency would have potentially serious effects on the European economy and might well have a strong impact on the United States as well.

Obviously, if things get significantly worse on the economic front or on the gas front, the Obama Administration certainly will have defenses of its record. It will note that it inherited an economic meltdown from the Bush Administration and blame Republicans in Congress for their intransigence. It will argue that energy policy is complex and not just about drilling. And it will argue, completely correctly, that it has had almost nothing to due with the European Union problems. But, now that President Obama has been in office for over three years (and had a Democratic Congress for two of them), Mr. Obama will likely be thought of the captain of the economic ship, largely responsible for what goes right and wrong.

Then there are foreign policy questions. For example, no one really knows what Israel will do if Iran continues to develop a credible nuclear weapon. If Israel does decide to act, President Obama will have to make a politically difficult decision on how much aid to give, including potentially providing the Israelis with "bunker buster" technology to destroy the weapons project. He could alternatively be viewed as a weak leader or a warmonger.

Obviously, all Presidents face challenges in their reelection year. But Mr. Obama may have as difficult a time in coping with news events as he does with his Republican opponent.

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