Yesterday, Time’s Joe Klein may have produced the single dumbest analysis post ever. Absurd as it is, it’s still important, because it probably betrays Barack Obama’s election strategy, with which the press will gleefully cooperate. The strategy is: Make it about anything and everything besides what I and my administration have and haven’t done, because it hasn’t impressed anyone, and we know it.
Klein’s entry (HT Hot Air Headlines) at Time’s Swampland, which should be named Fever-Swampland, was so brain-dead that he failed to cite a single example of an incumbent facing reelection (vs. a successor seeking election for the first time) in attempting to make his case:
A Choice, Not a Referendum
Bill Galston has a piece in The New Republic listing the reasons why Barack Obama is going to have a tough time winning reelection in November. He’s … wrong about the one at the very top–he buys into the political science mythology that some presidential elections are referendums on the incumbent’s record and others are straight-ahead choices. I’ve seen some elections that are referendums on the President, but those have almost always been Congressional campaigns, like 2010 and 2006 or 1994. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a presidential election that was a pure referendum, and every presidential election I’ve covered involved a choice. There are good reasons for this.
… In 2008, for example, the causes of the financial collapse were abstruse, but Obama gave the impression that he understood what was happening and would handle it calmly. John McCain did not.
Some presidential elections have referendum aspects. In 1976, Jimmy Carter tried to make the election a referendum on Richard Nixon–and was in the process of failing at that, when Gerald Ford turned in a weak debate performance and saved the election for Carter. 1988 should have been a referendum on the Reagan presidency–Michael Dukakis surged to an early lead in the polls because people wanted a change, then crashed when he couldn’t answer a debate question about what he’d do if his wife were raped and murdered (We haven’t heard a debate like that in a while). I could go on.
Actually, Joe, no you couldn’t even if you wanted to, at least not substantively.
Barack Obama is an incumbent president facing reelection. Though his opponent’s qualities are relevant, the evaluation of Obama’s record is what will primarily matter to voters, just as it has in every election involving an incumbent since 1956:
- That year, voters decided they were okay with where incumbent Dwight Eisenhower was taking the country.
- In 1964, incumbent Lyndon Johnson won largely on continuing what John F. Kennedy and he had done (including a big tax cut generating impressive prosperity, while fearmongering the supposed perils of a Barry Goldwater presidency and promising that he would get the U.S. involved militarily in Vietnam (which, of course, he then did).
- In 1972, Dick Nixon’s battle cry was “Four More Years.” If that isn’t a plaintive attempt to run on one’s record, I don’t know what is. Nixon’s opponent, George McGovern, was pathetically weak, but voters didn’t see anything in Nixon’s record justifying an ouster.
- In 1976, incumbent Gerald Ford had to defend his Nixon pardon, while growing inflation and a stagnant economy were seen as part of his record. The “failure” by Carter was to make an effective case that he would be any better, until Ford’s gaffes occurred.
- In 1980, it was all about Carter’s record of double digit interest rates, high inflation, and growing unemployment. Carter got trounced by Ronald Reagan.
- In 1984, Ronald Reagan asked, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Translation: “This election is about my record.” Reagan was reelected in a historic landslide based on that record.
- In 1992, it was about George H.W. Bush’s supposed “worst economy in the last 50 years.” That trumped all of the concerns raised (many squashed by the press before they could become widely known, as the Media Research Center so thoroughly documented at the time) about Bill Clinton’s past and his character.
- In 1996, the country was okay with the economy, and reelected Clinton based on that record and his performance in the second half of his first term, after a disastrous fist half which gave control of Congress to the GOP for the first time in 40 years.
- In 2004, the election was primarily a referendum on George W. Bush’s performance in the War on Terror and with the economy.
Other than that, presidential elections have never, ever been about the incumbent’s record. (/sarc)
No matter how much the Joe Kleins of the world will attempt to obscure it, this election, consistent with past history, is almost entirely about Barack Obama’s record.
It’s amazing that people pay for brain-dead nonsense from the likes of Klein. Thankfully, fewer and fewer do.
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.