Well, it’s been fun. It was only 20 months ago that I stood in Grant Park, marveling at the turn of events that made Barack Obama president. Since then, he passed the health care reform that every Democrat since FDR had tried; passed a stimulus package that every economist said was minimally necessary to avoid a depression; honored a major campaign pledge by ending combat in Iraq; named two women to the Supreme Court; stopped torture programs and closed Guantanamo (What? What’s he waiting for?); kick-started the peace process in the Middle East; and won the Nobel Peace Prize. One would think that would be an OK record for someone as personable and convincing as Obama to run on. So it was a shock to catch Fox News in a bar the other night and find out that not only were the Democrats going to lose big this November, but that it would be a blow from which no president could recover.
Fuck… oh well, we tried. But just for fun, let’s look at the first mid-term elections of post WWII two-term presidents, and see if we can find some glimmers of hope.
1946: This one is a bit unique, as it involved a President who hadn’t yet been elected. Truman had to deal with the switch from a war to a peace economy, and didn’t have any goodwill built up with the American people. He lost the Senate, which went from 57 seats to 45 for Democrats; he lost the House, which went from 242 seats to 188. There was no way that he was ever going win a term of his own.
Fox News Headline: “President” Dewey Looks Forward To Working With New Senators
1954: Uncle Ike might have been popular, but he didn’t have long coattails. He brought a bare majority into the Senate when he won in ’52; in ’54, a small shift brought it back to the Democrats. The same scenario happened in the House, and the Democrats won both chambers of Congress. Not really applicable, unless Obama turns into a genial white war hero. But it does show that anybody can lose Congress in two years, and roll to a second term.
Fox News Headline: War Hero Betrayed By Commie Voters
1962: Theoretical, because JFK never lived to serve a second term… but he almost definitely would have. On the surface, the results are troubling for Obama, as JFK held onto both houses of Congress easily, picking up a couple in the Senate and losing a quartet in the House. However, this election came a month after the Cuban Missle Crisis, which may have had something to do with it. Now, if we could only get Iran to try to bring nukes to Columbia… boffo box office!
Fox News Headline: Bootlegger’s Son Seduces Hollywood Starlet
1966: LBJ is kind of strange outlier because of how and when he took over, but let’s take a look anyway. He lost three seats in the Senate but kept control. He lost 50 seats in the House but kept control. In 1968, he was so unpopular that he didn’t even seek reelection. Unless Afghanistan turns into Vietnam, probably not much to learn here.
Fox News Headline: Was LBJ’s Daddy Part Negro? Columnist Asks
1970: Good old Richard Nixon… how much less fun would American history be without him? Two years after winning a close election, he chipped away at the Democratic lead in the Senate, lost ground in the House, but gained neither. Four years later, he’d be hounded out of office. Not much to learn here either, unless Obama turns into a drug-addled paranoid.
Fox News Headline: Nixon Blames Democrats’ Dirty Tricks For Loss
1982: Pretty bland election here… The Senate stayed exactly the same, with a slim Republican majority… The House stayed in the Democrat’s hands, who picked up 27 seats. Important only in that Reagan had huge problems from an inherited recession that lingered with high unemployment, but didn’t engender the backlash that Obama has.
Fox News Headline: President Reagan GGHHGGHHGGHHGGHH!!!
1994: The most pertinent, and the most encouraging. Slick Willie took a good ol’ pig-fucker beating, in a large part because of his failed health care push (and now Obama’s going to take one for a successful health care push – what the fuck do you people want?!?). He lost 8 seats in the Senate and 54 in the House, losing both. Of course, this didn’t keep him from coming back and throttling Dole in ’96. One big factor… Newt Gingrich was crazier than he was. One big hope… Tea-partiers get into a position of power. They might sell the Capitol for some magic beans.
Fox News Headline: Clinton Refuses To Confirm Number Of Dildos On ’04 Christmas Tree
2002: Just as the Cuban Missile Crisis helped JFK, 9/11 and the run-up to the Iraq War undoubtedly helped W. The Democrats held the Senate only because Jim Jeffords switched parties… the voters gave it back to the Republicans with two seats. The G.O.P. also added 8 to their House majority. Somehow I doubt voters, of whom 12% think Obama is Muslim, would rally around the President in the same prolonged way today.
Fox News Headline: People Who Doubt WMD Existence Ruled Clinically Insane
2010: According to 538.com, which has proven to be as reliable as polling gets these days, in probability, Obama will lose seven seats but keep the Senate by two, and will lose 43 seats in the House, giving the Republicans a 15 seat majority. This will be read by the television and internet commentators as a crushing repudiation of President Obama. Maybe so… but keep these things in mind:
1.) Elections aren’t one-sided affairs… no matter what, Obama is going to be an impressive campaigner, and the Republicans don’t have a deep roster of conceivable Presidents.
2.) Politics changes quickly. In 2004, after W. won his second term, the bulk of the stories talked about Karl Rove building a permanent Republican majority. Four years later, they held neither the Presidency or Congress. The number one thing that’s going to determine the 2012 Presidential election is the economy. And it doesn’t matter if it sucks for the next year… as long as it is robust in the Fall of ’12, Obama wins. If it still sucks, he loses.
3.) Politicians can change things (in elections at least). Presidents can campaign hard and well and turn the tide (see Truman ’48). Presidents can turn their own enemies against themselves (see Clinton v. Gingrich, which won Clinton his second term). Presidents can use smart campaign tactics (and lies) to crush their opponents (see Bush ’04).
Two years is an eternity… political news that is based on today’s conditions as if they’ll always continue is as worthless as sports journalism. Not to say Obama will win… he’s black, he’s liberal and he’s elitist. It’s not as if the notion that American could have him on a very short leash is out of the realm of possibility. But he’s not running this year… moreover, he knew he wasn’t running this year. Presumably, he’d rather take any hits now rather than ’12. And let’s pray for Nominee Palin.