What should we not expect during next summer’s presidential campaign, given what was put off limits in 2008 and later?
There is much talk about what some are perceiving as the fringe religiosity of Republican candidates such as Michele Bachman and Rick Perry. But the media established the precedent four years ago that no candidate can be held responsible for his church. Barack Obama’s pastor of more than 20 years, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was an unapologetic racist, an anti-Semite, and a raving conspiracy theorist whose parishioners gave him standing ovations for his hate-filled “G*d damn America” rants.
Prior education and college preparation should not be 2012 issues either. Recent articles have referred to a leaked Texas A&M undergraduate transcript of Texas governor Rick Perry, showing some dismal grades and thus apparent proof that Perry was not much of a past student — or current thinker. But Obama has never released either his Occidental or Columbia transcripts. In response, the media in 2008 shrugged and chose not to pursue the matter the way it had with the C-grade records of George W. Bush, Al Gore, and John Kerry. Apparently, Obama has established a wise precedent that long-ago college transcripts, like churchgoing, are irrelevant.
Civility is off the table, too. Candidate Obama once called sitting president Bush “unpatriotic” for borrowing $4 trillion in eight years — a sum he matched in less than three. He advised Latinos to “punish our enemies” and mocked opponents for wanting to put “alligators and moats” on the border. Obama’s advisers reportedly promised to “kill Romney.” So civility is out the window, and 2012 will once again be a typically American no-holds-barred slugfest of anything goes from both sides.
Public campaign financing won’t come up either. Both sides will raise obscene amounts of money. You see, in 2008, Obama set another election precedent: He was the first president in the history of public campaign-financing laws to shun federal money and oversight in the general election, largely because he wanted — and got — a record level of private cash, much of it from Wall Street.
The old bogeyman George W. Bush won’t matter much either by 2012. Since 2008, Obama has blamed Bush for chronic high unemployment, record annual deficits, massive national debt, the erratic stock market, credit downgrading, a continuing housing slump, and near-nonexistent growth. But even the president’s supporters confess that Obama finally now “owns” the economy, especially given the newly elected president’s boast in early 2009 that if he didn’t fix things in three years, he would not deserve reelection.
In the 2008 campaign, Obama derided the War on Terror as ineffective and unconstitutional. That issue in 2012 will be ancient history, too, since President Obama has simply embraced all the major Bush-Cheney antiterrorism protocols and wars, and expanded many of them, from renditions to Predator-drone targeted assassinations to a third war in Libya. Obama’s campaign commercials will highlight the commander-in-chief who ordered the successful hit on bin Laden, not the civil libertarian who closed Guantanamo Bay as promised.
A supposedly do-nothing Congress that has thwarted Obama — like an earlier Republican one that had blocked “Give ’em Hell” Harry Truman — won’t come up much either. Remember, Obama had large majorities in both the House and Senate until January 2011. That’s how he rammed through everything from Obamacare to trillion-dollar subsidies along strictly partisan-majority votes. The “do-nothing” Congress of Obama’s first two years that failed to pass alien amnesty and cap-and-trade legislation and failed to grow the economy was controlled by his fellow Democrats. Even now, the loud but largely still impotent Republicans only control one-half of one-third of the U.S. government.
So if we know what won’t be campaign issues, what exactly will be?
The economy. If the current bleak picture stays the same or gets worse, Obama will be forced to argue, as did incumbent Herbert Hoover in 1932, that after four years his borrow/print/spend remedies still have not kicked in. And so he will claim that he needs eight years, not four, for Keynesian economics to finally work. Good luck with that silly argument.
But should things improve somewhat over the next year, Obama will insist that his spending tonic is at last working, and he deserves another term to further nurse the recovering economy.
It is that simple: Almost every campaign issue other than the economy either will be off the table or irrelevant — thanks largely to the past protocols of Barack Obama himself.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.