Obama's Problem: Election And Economic Cycles Don't Align

Jun 3, 2011
Originally published on August 24, 2011 12:35 pm

We have it from no less an authority than David Axelrod, his political strategist, that President Obama knows better than most that it was the prevailing economic gloom in 2008 that helped put him in the White House.

Axelrod recalls once saying wistfully to the president during a White House meeting as crises abounded: "I wonder what it would be like to be here during good times?"

To which Obama said: " 'Don't kid yourself. If things were good, we wouldn't have gotten the job.' "

Thus, the president surely knows that if the jobless recovery persists deep into 2012, it may be the biggest reason why he's denied a second term.

The May jobs report was even more disappointing than economy watchers had predicted, with only 54,000 jobs created and the jobless rate creeping up to 9.1 percent from 9.0 percent.

But it's still only early June of 2011. A year from now, the Republican primaries will just be finishing, leaving about five months still before the election. A lot can happen between now and then.

Of course, the White House, like most of us, has to be worried that, at worst, we could be in the throes of the dreaded double-dip recession by the summer of 2012. Or that the economy continues to meander from bad to slightly less bad to bad again.

And, it is the nature of our politics that the party out of power, whether Republican or Democratic, is in the position of quietly rooting for the economy to do poorly. It's easier to convince voters change is needed if the economy is weak and jobless rates are high.

The president can't depend on a GOP field that's been deemed charismatically challenged for victory. By the time Republicans have selected a nominee and put the resources of the party behind that person, that nominee is likely to look much more impressive than now.

The president is going to need to be able to make a persuasive argument to voters that he has a path out of the doldrums.

Unfortunately for the president and the nation, this recession was caused by a financial crisis of global dimensions, not by an oil shock or other events. And economists have repeatedly pointed out that recessions created by financial crises take longer to recover from than those created by other causes.

For Obama, there just may not be enough time for the economy to turn around to the point where it helps his re-election prospects. Election cycles just don't align with economic cycles.

Should the May employment data prove to be a trend, it would mean if the president wins re-election, it would be despite the economy not because of it.

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