Saturday, June 11, 2011

What About Bob?

When I was growing up in Arkansas, the Arkansas Gazette — which was, at the time, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi — would run editorials endorsing candidates in various races during the campaign and then would publish a list recapping those endorsements in the days just before the primary or election.

I knew people who would cut out that list and take it with them to the polls so they would know who not to vote for.

Now, I grew up appreciating the writing in the Gazette — and I was proud to work for the Gazette for nearly five years — but I would be the first to tell you that the Gazette's editorial board and its readers seldom saw eye to eye on the candidates and issues of the day.

Even when the candidates who were endorsed by the Gazette actually won, it often seemed that, when the voters went along with the Gazette's choices, they did so grudgingly — as if they really had no alternatives. That wasn't true, of course. There were almost always other choices, but sometimes they were so objectionable that even voters who habitually voted against the Gazette's selections really could not rationalize voting for them, even out of spite.

The Gazette went out of business nearly 20 years ago, and sometimes I wonder what some of those Arkansans do for political guidance now.

I can't provide them with a website or the name of a local publication that can fill that particular void.

However, if they are looking for a crystal ball in reverse, I'd like to point them in the direction of Bob Shrum, a Democratic political adviser.

In The Week, Shrum writes of his concern about "the emergence of a consensus that Barack Obama could lose next year."

Until recently, Shrum writes, his perception was that there was sense of "a gradually strengthening if not yet popularly perceived recovery" combined with "a weak Republican field most notable for those who opted not to run," all of which indicated that Barack Obama was on course to win a second term next year.

But some clouds have appeared on his sunny horizon — in the form of the latest unemployment report, an article in the New York Times that points out that no president since FDR has been re–elected when unemployment was 7.2% or higher and a Washington Post/ABC News poll that shows disapproval growing over Obama's handling of the economy.

But not to worry, Shrum assures his readers, even though he acknowledges that the "bump" in popularity that Obama enjoyed after the killing of Osama bin Laden disappeared almost as quickly as it came.

"[M]uch of the new mood is too instant, too superficial, and too casually ahistorical," Shrum writes.

And I will admit that he makes a good point when he says that perception is really what matters when voters go to the polls — not necessarily those troublesome facts.

When Ronald Reagan — who was re–elected with a 7.2% unemployment rate in 1984 — won his second term, Shrum observes, "joblessness was almost exactly the same — only one tenth of a point lower — on Ronald Reagan's 'morning in America' [as] it had been on his inaugural morning four years earlier."

In the interim, "the rate spiked to 10.8 percent; what Americans believed and felt when they re–elected him was that the subsequent decline proved the economy was on a steady upward trajectory," writes Shrum. "That's what counts, not any absolute benchmark for jobs or growth."

We'll see if Shrum is right. After all, this is the guy who assured Democrats last fall that they would retain control of the House.

And history tells you how accurate that prediction turned out to be.

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