“A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” — Ronald Reagan, 1980
This message resonated with Americans who elected Reagan in a landslide. Of course, finding the way to recovery proved to be easier said than done for The Gipper. When the 1982 mid-term elections rolled around, the national unemployment rate was at 10.4%. Not surprisingly, there was a backlash against Reagan as more than 50 Republicans lost their seats in the House of Representatives that November. Reagan appeared destined to become yet another one-term wonder just like his predecessor.
Yet by November 1984, the unemployment rate had fallen three points to 7.4%. Forty-nine out of fifty states put their faith in Reagan and gave him a second term in office. If it wasn’t morning again in America, the sun was surely shining towards that city on a hill.
When the oceans began to recede following the election of Barack Obama in November 2008, the national unemployment rate stood at 6.6%. By the 2010 mid-term elections, unemployment had shot up more than three points to 9.7%. When the tides rose, a lot of Democratic Congressmen and Senators joined the ranks of the unemployed.
Though it would make sense for President Obama to look closely at how Reagan overcame tough economic times to regain the confidence of the American people, it doesn’t appear that Obama has embraced the Reagan way. How could he? After all, Obama believes government can create jobs whereas Reagan believed government could create the conditions in which an economy could thrive. So it is hard to imagine Reagan presiding over a recovery plan that would have boasted job gains in non-existent congressional districts, browbeating Democrats as “enemies” to be punished and claiming that job losses are evidence that the stimulus plan is a success. Moreover, Reagan possessed neither the arrogance nor, dare I say, the audacity to insult the intelligence of the American people in that manner. How can Obama expect to possibly replicate Reagan’s success? While Obama shakes vinegar, Reagan spread honey.
As of June 2011, the national unemployment rate stands at 9.2%. While this does represent a half-point decrease since the mid-term elections, Obama is going to need the unemployment numbers to fall further if he seriously wants to tout his economic policies to a skeptical American public whose high expectations he has thus far failed to satisfy.This isn’t to say that Obama is a lame duck ready to be brought out of the oven. Incumbency brings many definitive advantages to go along with a sympathetic press, a billion-dollar war chest and a base that has not seen fit to back a challenger for the Democratic Party nomination.
But this too could change. In light of President Obama’s proposed benefit reductions to Social Security, Moveon.org has begun to urge its members to withdraw financial support for Obama’s re-election bid. Nancy Pelosi is behaving like a jilted lover who has just uttered, “He loves me not” after pulling out the last petal. Now this might prove to be little more than posturing on the part of Moveon.org and Pelosi but it does demonstrate that this alliance is on less-than-solid footing.
Then, of course, there are those voters in nine states who took a chance on Obama after supporting George W. Bush in 2004. Four of those states (Colorado, Florida, Nevada and North Carolina) have reached all-time highs in unemployment during Obama’s term in office. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in Indiana has gone from 6.9% in October 2008 to 8.2% in April 2011. Unemployment has also increased by 1.3% in Iowa from 4.7% to 6.0% over the same period. In New Mexico, the unemployment rate went up by nearly two and a half percent from 5.2% to 7.6%. In April 2011, Ohio’s unemployment rate stood at 8.6%. When Obama was elected, it was 7.3%. The unemployment rate in Virginia has gone from 4.5% on election night to 6.1% in April 2011. If voters in these states aren’t better off next November than they were in November 2008 why would they want another four years of Obama?
Of course, I am mindful that much could happen in the next sixteen months. The employment numbers could get better. Or Obama could rise to the occasion amidst an unforeseen national crisis. But what if those things don’t happen? Suppose things don’t get better. Then it will be a question of who the Republicans nominate. At this point, it remains to be seen if that candidate has thrown his or her hat into the ring. Will the American electorate take another leap of faith or will they stay with the devil they know? Will we stay an uncertain course or will we heed Ronald Reagan’s advice and choose recovery by tossing President Obama out of work?