Democrats were thrown out of office in droves last week largely because the economy tanked and the Democratic president didn’t do enough to revive it. Voters thought President Obama had pushed policies that diverged from their primary concerns and, worse, had doubled the federal deficit in the process.
But what would happen if the president stopped spending so much and if the economy revived? The answer: Democrats and Mr. Obama would resurge.
Get ready for Mr. Obama’s comeback. It’s already under way.
Politics is all about timing, and the White House has been wildly off-cycle. The economy fell into a deep decline a few years ago and has not noticeably reversed course. Mr. Obama’s party was punished for holding power on an Election Day that featured high unemployment - even after historic governmental intervention.
If the midterm elections were held two months later, however, a different scenario might have played out. The economy looks as if it’s beginning to turn around, and by year’s end, voters probably will be feeling a lot better about themselves and their futures.
That means they would be feeling a lot more willing to vote for the party in the White House.
In the past two months, job creation has accelerated, and the trend is expected to continue. Retailers, who often lead the economy out of recessions, are starting to hire at an impressive clip, reflecting not just the coming Christmas season but also a general optimism that consumers are starting to spend again.
What’s more, the Federal Reserve is pumping at least $600 billion into the economy, which is sure to lower interest rates and spur businesses to hire more people and make more products.
Don’t be surprised if the unemployment rate begins to tick downward in a way that will make Democrats wish the midterm elections were held in 2011 rather than 2010.
In addition, the bloated federal budget was already on track to be reined in whether Republicans won control of the House of Representatives or not.
The president already had set in motion a slew of efforts to trim federal outlays. He has long been determined to start withdrawing U.S. solders from Afghanistan next year, a move that will be both popular and fiscally prudent. Billions of taxpayer dollars will be saved.
Mr. Obama also clearly was determined to put the brakes on spending. He would not have put his name to a deficit reduction commission - set to complete its report in December - if he weren’t willing to sign on to at least some cost-cutting measures, and probably some significant cutbacks at that.
In fact, the big-ticket items on the Obama agenda, other than climate-change legislation, already have been passed, and the spending splurge was coming to an end on its own. The president has long said that the second half of his first term would be restrained by comparison, especially after the binge he had just gone through.
As for the climate bill, no one thinks the “cap-and-trade” bill will go forward. Then again, not many insiders thought it had much chance even if Congress remained unchanged after the midterm elections. Dealing in a comprehensive way with greenhouse gases was going to be a long-range dream rather than anything the Democrats were going to get in a first Obama term.
Republicans succeeded this month in making Mr. Obama’s policies seem unrealistic and far too liberal for most voters. But the caricature went overboard. The president already was preparing to be more moderate and temperate in 2011, and now he will seem outright conservative by comparison to the GOP’s depiction of him - or at least he can position himself that way.