Presidential Issues Preview: The Economy
Here we are, a little under eight months before the next election, and it’s becoming more and more evident who the Republican nominee will be. So let’s take a quick look at some of the current hot issues and the topics that may dominate this campaign season. There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, and things could change at any moment — but at this point, things don’t look like most thought they would even as recently as a year ago.
The economy seems to be improving faster than had been expected, with nearly four million jobs having been created since the depths of the Great Recession. At this rate, with around 200,000 new jobs per month, that number would be over five million by election day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is over 13,000, having roughly doubled its value since March of 2009. We’ve had close to two years of nearly uninterrupted economic expansion. Unemployment is dropping to close to eight percent, and could be well below that mark by November. If Republicans thought they could run on economic issues, they may well be mistaken.
Late last year, President Obama released a series of proposals aimed toward creating jobs — the American Jobs Act. With the improving jobs situation, it isn’t clear whether this will still be an issue next fall. It would take a certain amount of courage for Republicans to talk about the jobs market, when they campaigned on jobs in 2010, did nothing to create jobs after taking control of the House, and opposed the President’s jobs plan — and then, in many states where Republicans had control of state governments, threw tens of thousands of public employees out of work. This would seem to be a far better issue for Democrats in 2012 than for Republicans.
Manufacturing continues to grow, an expansion we haven’t seen in decades. In 2009, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney claimed that helping Chrysler and General Motors survive the economic collapse would mean the end of the U.S. auto industry. But GM overtook Toyota last year to become the world’s biggest auto maker, and Chrysler recently posted its first profits since 1997. In the industrial Midwest, particularly in the valuable auto-manufacturing heart of Michigan, this could sway the Presidential vote, particularly if Romney is the Republican nominee. Indeed, recent Michigan polls show Obama with a solid double-digit lead.
Other factors may additionally impact blue-collar Midwestern voters. A series of anti-union laws in states like Arizona, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin have fomented a sizable backlash. As a result, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker is facing a recall election, and Ohio’s Governor John Kasich has become perhaps the least popular governor in the nation. Kasich’s union-busting law has already been repealed in a public referendum. Republicans had hopes of winning both Wisconsin and Ohio in the Presidential contest. That seems less likely now. Bear in mind that a Republican candidate has never won the Presidency without winning Ohio.
There are a few more economic considerations. Congressional Republicans were forced to surrender the issue of the payroll tax holiday. There are valid arguments about whether extending the temporary payroll tax cut was a good idea, but Republicans had to go on record as favoring a middle-class tax increase — or, at the least, as standing in the way of extending the temporary reduction. In the end, the extension was passed very quietly last month, a significant event after the drama late last year when Republicans tried to tie the extension to a series of unrelated social-agenda poison pills.
None of this will prevent Republicans from accusing the President of raising taxes, even though taxes have been reduced. It’s unlikely Republicans will stray from their traditional script.
Taxes and spending may become bigger issues as the year progresses. Recall last year, when Congressional Republicans repeatedly held America hostage to various economic demands over the debt ceiling and the federal budget. We have more budget decisions ahead of us, and the Bush tax cuts are again set to expire on December 31. One result from last year’s debt ceiling fiasco is a scheduled automatic sequestering of funds, to the tune of around a trillion dollars, divided between domestic and military spending. There have been rumors of attempts to get around that law, mostly on the side of Republicans who don’t want to accept the military cuts, or who want to blame Democrats for reducing the Pentagon budget. These all could become campaign issues, particularly if there are more brinksmanship games.
The price of gasoline is rising, and Republican Presidential candidates are trying to make that an issue. Newt Gingrich has made outrageous promises about getting the price under $2.50 per gallon in a matter of weeks after his inauguration. Talk like that will be easy to counter, but the purpose of such rhetoric isn’t to make realistic policy proposals. Rather, the intent is to direct frustration at rising gas prices toward the current Administration and away from a discussion of alternative energy sources. If fuel prices keep rising — particularly if saber-rattling over Iran succeeds in driving those prices higher still — this could become a fertile source of campaign memes.
These are only some of the economic topics likely to be discussed in the coming year. There are signs, however, that the economy will be less of a central issue than was expected, mostly because economic conditions are improving faster than many thought they would, and this strengthens the President’s hand when talking about his record. Increasingly, there has been a focus on social issues and military questions. We’ll talk about them in a future article. For now — what have I forgotten on the economic side? What other aspects of the economy could become the talk of the town?
- Obama Gets Boost In Battleground State From Failed GOP Effort(huffingtonpost.com)
- Dionne: Republicans are missing the primary issue(goerie.com)
- Strickland: Democrats should paint Romney as ‘élitist’ in Ohio(politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
- Labor dispute shadows Republicans, boosts Obama in Ohio — Chicago Tribune(chicagotribune.com)
- Why the Big Winner in Ohio May Be Obama(usnews.com)
- Ohio GOP civil war taints 2012 race(politico.com)
About dcpetterson (186 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson