Is The Current Economy President Obama’s Civil War?
Why the President Should Study the Election of 1864 to Win in 2012
It’s the beginning of June – approximately five months to go until the only US presidential poll that counts. Worries abound in the Obama camp: Large Democratic donors have dried up; the fragile economic recovery is looking weaker; unemployment rates are inching up again after seven straight months of shrinkage or stagnation; independents are, well, being independent; and the Republicans have finally found their nominee and maybe their voice too – even if that voice is oftentimes obnoxiously crazy. (Hey!! Did someone say “Donald Trump”?)
There are some Democratic strategists and commentators who privately agree (and some publicly, like DINOs Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell) with Republicans while comparing President Obama to Jimmy Carter, another Democrat who remains the post-war benchmark for a failed president.
Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist in North Carolina – a swing state President Obama is likely to struggle to retain in 2012 – said: “Democrats are worried. He looks weak, he doesn’t say anything that grabs you, and people are looking for some kind of magic.”
The President’s approval rating has fallen dramatically since the killing of Osama bin Laden in early May 2011, and he has failed to outline a vision for how he will improve chronic unemployment and a housing market in which one of five mortgage holders is in negative equity.
A huge piece of the President’s first-term legislative agenda hangs in the balance as the Supreme Court considers the Affordable Care Act, and any number of foreign policy challenges, including Iran, North Korea, Russia and the Middle East, could bubble to the surface and completely dominate the media narrative at a moment’s notice.
I liken this situation to the election of 1864, where you had an unpopular incumbent presiding at a time of enormous strife and dissension (literally) in the country and where the people, who elected him with great hope and optimism, had soured on his leadership and become exhausted by the circumstances they found themselves in. It’s a bit of a stretch to compare the Civil War to our nagging economic downturn; however, the state of the economy is, by a wide margin, the biggest issue of the day. Additionally, along with the steady drumbeat of deficit and debt that goes hand in hand with it, the economy casts a pall over any discussion of domestic politics and what direction this country will move toward going forward.
Records show that Abraham Lincoln was re-elected in 1864 by a huge electoral vote majority, taking 221 votes to McClellan’s 21. But until a month or two before the election, it looked as though Lincoln would be defeated. For a while, it looked like the Republicans might even nominate someone else, not even giving Lincoln a chance to be re-elected.
As the war dragged on and looked as though it would continue indefinitely, things looked bad for Lincoln’s chances. Thurlow Weed, a powerful editor and Lincoln supporter, told Lincoln that his re-election was impossible. Henry J. Raymond, chairman of the Republican national executive committee, urged Lincoln to make a peace move, but Lincoln refused. The Cincinnati Gazette suggested that both Lincoln and candidate John C. Fremont withdraw from the race so that the Republicans find someone who “would inspire confidence and infuse a life into our ranks...”
The Democrats emphasized the “ignorance, incompetence, and corruption of Mr. Lincoln’s administration.” They counted on war-weariness to win them votes (replace that today with economic anxiety and partisan politics fatigue). On August 23, Raymond wrote Lincoln, saying that the chances of a Republican victory were extremely slim.
Just about the time Lincoln reconciled himself to defeat at the polls, the military situation began to change. Admiral David Glasgow Farragut took Mobile Bay, General William Tecumseh Sherman took Atlanta and began his devastating March to the Sea, Ulysses S. Grant made progress at Petersburg, and General Phillip Sheridan won a resounding victory over Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley.
President Obama needs to take a page from Lincoln and go on the offensive – not just in rhetoric, but also in feat, securing the “game changers” that Lincoln’s generals produced for him in 1864. The President should continue pushing for a common-sense long-term deficit agreement that locks in higher tax rates for wealthy individuals, and eliminates corporate loopholes with as little sacrifice in entitlement programs as possible. More importantly, on the economic front, he must continue to push for investments in infrastructure and other parts of the American Jobs Act while demanding that Republicans (specifically, Mitt Romney) approve needed infrastructure funding to put large numbers of Americans immediately back to work – all while infusing a new spirit of rebuilding our cities, roads, waterways, and schools for the 22nd century.
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