People of all political stripes along with the media are dissecting the not-yet-dead carcass of the Obama Administration’s behavior following the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs.
A Washington Times article entitled “Obama, aides struggle with post-raid miscues” is a perfect example. Replete with outside and self-criticism of the Administration about its first reports on the raid, “should we or shouldn’t we” debates about pictures of bin Laden, presumably with a bullet hole in his head, the media frenzy is a tempest in a teapot.
Here’s my take on how the Administration is handling these various posthumous details: Who cares?
Come election time, nobody will remember or care about whether bin Laden’s wife tried to shield him or whether there was a “firefight” or just a few gunshots. Already nobody except some American Indian (i.e., Native American) activists with nothing better to complain about care that the mission was called “Geronimo.” (If you were a Native American, wouldn’t you be extremely proud rather than irate at the choice, anyway, asks this Washington Redskins fan?)
Come election time, few will care whether they’ve seen a picture of the encephalectomized bin Laden. Heck, I can basically picture it in my mind already, with no little satisfaction knowing that the surgery was performed, without anesthesia, by Americans.
All that will matter about bin Laden in November, 2012, is that the villain is dead and that this president, with so few-and-far-between good decisions, made this one.
But all that will matter about bin Laden is, unfortunately for Barack Obama, not all that will matter in the election.
Indeed, unless unemployment comes down well below 8% and gas prices closer to $3 than to $4 (or $5 near where I am in Maryland), the only electoral benefit President Obama will receive is that Republican challengers will spend less time calling him a spineless apologist for American foreign policy (which he remains). Instead they’ll spend that time calling him a tool of the unions with no understanding of entrepreneurship whose hatred for fossil fuels has, in part, caused the equivalent of a massive (and massively regressive) tax on all Americans who drive to work, heat their homes with any petroleum product, or buy anything that required transportation other than horse-and-buggy to get to the store.
Prior to the killing of bin Laden, Barack Obama’s re-election odds (as set by those, including me, betting their own money on the question at Intrade.com) were hovering around 59%. In the hours after the news was announced, those odds briefly spiked up to nearly 70%. Less than a week later, as people realized that bin Laden’s death, as welcome as it is, did not suddenly decrease gas prices or the unemployment rate, Obama’s re-election odds dropped back down to 60%.
On Friday, as I passed a gas station and noticed — I really don’t know why I noticed — a gas pump from which someone had recently put 3 gallons of gasoline into her car at a cost of nearly $13, that reliable political maxim, attributed to former Republican Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn popped into my head: “… the universal truth about elections is that people vote their pocketbook.”
On the same day, the Department of Labor reported that while more jobs than expected had been created in April, the unemployment rate jumped back up to 9%. It was precisely as I (and others) predicted had to happen because the decline in the unemployment rate in recent months has been due less to job creation than to would-be employees giving up their job searches; the labor participation rate (the ratio of the labor force to the working age population) is still hovering around its lowest level since 1985.
Even if the employment situation improves, it will be a hard sell for President Obama to take any credit. Whether you look at the unemployment rate or the labor participation rate, the time when the bleeding stopped — even if the patient hasn’t actually recovered — is clear: following the massive Republican election victory in November when it became impossible for Barack Obama to continue to implement his anti-growth agenda (at least via legislation; he’s still trying through regulation), and following Obama’s reluctant agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts.
Although the ability of Americans to continue to believe that negative economic conditions should be blamed on former President George W. Bush remains a remarkable testament to the flexibility of human cognition, this too shall end before the next election except for among the far left base of the Democratic Party.
In the meantime, independent voters, along with Republicans, trust the GOP more than the Democrats to deal with the economic issues which will motivate their votes unless something extremely dramatic happens in the next 18 months — something very unlikely given the continued assault on the economy by the Obama Administration using the few but powerful tools they have left, such as the EPA, the Department of the Interior, and lately and perhaps most infamously, the National Labor Relations Board.
Recent Gallup tracking polls of President Obama’s job approval rating show about a 6% jump, “fairly typical for a rally event,” following the death of Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately for Obama, all this does is tie him with Bill Clinton at the lowest level of popularity of any of the last four presidents at this point during their terms in office. (Ronald Reagan’s popularity was actually lower but recovered, and Jimmy Carter’s much lower and didn’t recover.)
Perhaps more important than this headline number is the internal data in the poll: There was zero increase in job approval among Democrats, nine points among independents, and 12 points among Republicans. The gain among Republicans will be extremely short lived, as will much of the gain among independents — who have been tracking very closely to Republicans on most political poll topics in the past year. The job approval gain Republicans will result in zero additional votes for President Obama in next November’s election. The lack of gain among Democrats will thus not translate into additional Obama volunteers or campaign contributions. And the lasting political impact of bin Laden’s death on independents will, by their nature, be somewhere in between, which is to say also of very little benefit to Obama.
Barack Obama and his supporters may be hoping that the killing of Osama bin Laden will boost his slumping re-election chances. That’s why they’re sweating the media’s and public’s reaction to questions about whether bin Laden was or wasn’t shielded by his wife, or whether they should release a picture of bin Laden in which he would have an odd number of eyes (though without seeing the image I can’t tell you whether it’s one or three.)
At the end of the day, however, all that matters is high unemployment and crushingly high gasoline prices and the understanding by the public, which comes around sooner or later, that Obama-ism is bad for our economic health. So even with Obama’s re-election odds back down to 60%, I’m still selling.