On the brink
The Obama Administration has essentially been the third Clinton Administration, and it seems to be counting on a replay of 1995-6, when the brief government shutdown saved the Clinton presidency and led to his re-election. President Obama has indeed positioned himself as the rational, mature, neutral elder statesman in the crisis, and he has won some points in public opinion surveys as a result. Yet there remains one overwhelming difference between 1996 and 2011. In 1996 we were in the early stages of an economic expansion that lasted the whole of the Clinton presidency. In 2011 we are sunk in something very like a depression and there is no sign of a real recovery. And I am increasingly fearful that that will do the Obama Administration in.
This table, from today's New York Times, tells a terrifying story. (For some reason it will not upload.)
It has been a fantasy both of liberals and political consultants like James Carville that Obama won in 2008 because of a profound demographic shift that would keep the Democrats in power for a long time. The new Millennial generation is very liberal socially and, they thought, politically. It gave Obama his biggest majority. But it turns out that their loyalty--surprise, surprise--depended on his response to the economic crisis, and that response has failed to reverse the economic decline. He has offered just as little way out of our crisis as Herbert Hoover, and it seems increasingly likely that he may pay the ultimate price for that no matter who the Republican candidate is.
Even in the best case--a deal, without a market crash--the country will continue going backwards. We need more spending and more taxes; we will get less of each. President Obama does in fact have one more card he could play. After the ceiling is raised--after, that is, it is raised beyond the next election--he could announce that he will not sign any bill extending the Bush tax cuts further. We need more revenue, he could say--perfectly truthfully--and this is evidently the only way to get it. That would be good policy and conceivably, good politics. Everything we have seen about him so far, however, suggests that that will not happen.
Welcome to the new Gilded Age. I'll have another post tomorrow.