This Is a 1980, Not a 2004, Campaign

by Victor Davis Hanson

At some point, will President Obama stop his surrogates’ war on Romney as a . . . (fill in the blanks: sexist, financial pirate, heartless killer, racist, cult religionist, etc.), and instead make the case that his administration’s policies worked well these last four years? E.g., that the stimulus and bailouts prevented unemployment from going to, say, 11 percent and that 42 months of 8-plus percent joblessness is not all that bad? Can he say this is at last the long-promised and belated “recovery summer”? Can he explain why the skyrocketing gas and food prices are the new, inevitable normal, or why we really don’t need new federal gas and oil leasing on public lands, and why approving the entire Keystone Pipeline would have been a big mistake.

Can he demonstrate why the GM bailout worked, and how we gained valuable research insight by funding green companies like Solyndra? Can he defend Obamacare and show how it will save money, protect Medicare, and improve care and that’s why the people like it? By the same token, will he explain why the new deficits are not all that bad, and an additional $5 trillion in debt is easily manageable? Or abroad, reset with Russia was a brilliant pivot; we are closer with allies in Eastern Europe and Israel; defense can be cut substantially without worry; talking to Iran and reopening the embassy in Syria smoothed the waters; Afghanistan is now at last controllable; and there is a new transparency about U.S. national security operations that allows the public first-hand inside information about what we are doing in Iran or did on the bin Laden raid or in Yemen? In matters of ethics, can he argue that he stopped the revolving door, earmarks, and the hiring of lobbyists, while offering more transparency at more frequent press conferences and demanding an end to silly Washington games, as he brought candor to campaign fundraising and a new level of civility in campaign decorum?

Obama’s challenges in 2012 are said to be similar to Bush’s in 2004; but, in fact, Bush ran on the argument that Afghanistan, Iraq, and the War on Terror were necessary, that there had not been another 9/11 as some had forecast, and that the 2004 economy was improving with moderate unemployment, moderate interest rates, better growth, low inflation, and that the deficit while peaking at over $400 billion was projected to fall in the next two or three years — and that if reelected he would finish the war in Iraq, try to reform Social Security, and address the deficits. One could argue with all of that, especially in hindsight, but at least he was willing to run on some record and promise something, in addition to making the argument that Kerry was not a viable alternative. As it is now, we are hearing very little of a defense of the last four years, nothing at all of Obama’s plans to address the deficit and the shortfalls looming in Social Security and Medicare, with silence on Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and foreign policy in general — and instead a great deal on Romney as some sort of satanic character.

The model, then, is Jimmy Carter’s 1980 failed reelection bid that had two themes — as noted by Reagan in the debate — namely, that all sorts of uncontrollable circumstances and other bad actors were responsible for his own dismal economic record, and that Reagan was scary and would be far worse.