BIRNBAUM: Obama’s already on the rebound

A growing economy changes everything

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.

If he agrees to extend former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts and accepts some modest rollbacks in federal programs, he will look like an entirely new president - flexible, willing to listen and open to change.

Those views might not endear him to the left wing of his own party, but he will win back the hearts of the independent voters who put him in the White House but abandoned him and his party on Nov. 2.

The big test will occur this spring, when Congress will be faced with passing and the president will be asked to sign into law yet another increase in the federal debt ceiling - the legislation that will allow the government to keep operating largely on borrowed money.

It’s in the best interest of neither party to allow the government to shut down over the issue. If the president is able to navigate his way through to a higher debt ceiling - and if he does so with bipartisan support - he will prove himself to be a leader of the nation and not just his own political clan. Surely that’s what he wanted to do anyway.

The economy looks like it’s finally getting its legs back, and Mr. Obama is already walking a more moderate path. The combination will bring him and his party back from the brink, and soon.

Jeffrey H. Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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