Obama's Victory After Cyclical Adjustment


Obama's re-election is good news. He's a better choice than the markedly inferior alternative, I believe -- but that's about as much enthusiasm as I can muster until he gives us a better idea of what he intends to do with his second term. The confrontational tone he struck in the campaign succeeded -- he won -- though I continue to think he would have won by a bigger margin if he'd governed and campaigned more like the Obama of 2008. In any event, I doubt the harder line is a formula for a successful second term. My main hope is that he reverses what I think was the biggest error of his first four years and starts making the case for a Bowles-Simpson approach to medium-term deficit control. That's an opportunity the Obama of 2008 wouldn't have needed to be offered twice.

I enjoyed Tom Bevan's and Carl Cannon's thorough and persuasive account of the 21 things that decided the election in Obama's favor. A useful document. I'd be interested to read the article listing the 21 things that would have decided the election for Romney, had he won not all that many more votes in just the right places. I'm sure that piece was written and ready to go. Maybe I can prevail on Carl, a friend of mine from his National Journal days, to give me a look. Shame to waste it.

The big question of historical interpretation -- and I'm not sure of the answer -- is how much of a negative, if at all, the economy was for Obama. Democrats will want to believe, and hence will manage to believe, that it was a very big negative, so that what we've just seen is a victory against the odds and an amazing triumph (cyclically adjusted, as it were). From here, on this view, as the economy continues to recover, everything just gets easier for the Democrats and the GOP is done for. Republicans aren't in much of a position to disagree, much as they might want to. They've stressed the economy throughout, and it didn't work. All they've got left is to conclude it was all Romney's fault.

My guess is that the economy wasn't that much of a negative. Enough voters were smart enough to see that Obama inherited an exceptionally severe recession and that the struggles of the past four years weren't his fault. I also think Romney fought a mostly terrible campaign, following an orgiastically self-destructive season of GOP primaries. The party needs to ask itself whether it is now systematically incapable of producing attractive electable candidates. Taking these two things together, I think Obama should have won by a bigger margin. If you're a Democrat, look at it this way. The lower your opinion of the Republican offering this year, and the greater your contempt for the process that made Romney the nominee, the more disturbed you should be by Obama's relatively narrow margin of victory.

And then there's the House. This is something that I find endlessly perplexing about US politics. The country also elected a chamber of representatives yesterday, and unless I've misunderstood, its powers in shaping taxes and spending are at least equal to the president's. This chamber will continue to be run by a GOP majority--and nobody seems to care, or feel this lopsided and apparently irrational outcome is worth examining. I find the imbalance of attention paid in the US to the election of the president and the elections to Congress in presidential years completely mystifying. Nothing personal, but anyone would think the president was an elected monarch, and the House an assembly of courtiers...

In electing its supreme leader, at any rate, America chose well.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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