A sick economy trumps everything.
Reminding us of the timeless wisdom of the 1992 campaign slogan, "it's the economy, stupid," Barack Obama's poll numbers are tanking. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows the president's so-called "Bin Laden bounce," which had elevated his approval rating to 56 percent immediately following the terror master's elimination, is down to 47 percent, with 49 percent of Americans disapproving of the president. With respect to his economic performance, the numbers are even more ominous. 59 percent of Americans disapprove of the way he's handling the economy in general, and a staggering two-out-of three dislike his approach to the nation's deficit. And for the first time in a long time, a Republican presidential candidate is polling in a dead heat with Mr. Obama.
None of this should surprise anyone. Despite relentlessly upbeat predictions by this administration for the past two years, from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's "green shoots" of recovery in March of 2009, to Joe Biden's "Recovery Summer" a year ago, the economy remains saddled with high unemployment, a moribund housing sector and creeping inflation reflected most sharply by rising food and fuel prices.
None of it is lost on ordinary Americans. A full 89 percent recognize the economy is in bad shape and 57 percent say no recovery has begun. Even more importantly, 66 percent are convinced the United States is "seriously" on the wrong track. Thus, it is no coincidence that Mitt Romney, who announced his presidential ambitions last week with the statement, "Barack Obama has failed America," and who promised to make economic recovery the centerpiece of his campaign, is the Republican in a statistical tie with the president. Each man garners a 47 percent share of the vote in general, while Romney gets the nod -- 49 percent to 46 percent among registered voters.
Despite this reality, the president remains outwardly unconcerned. "Obviously, we're experiencing some headwinds," Mr. Obama said during a joint news conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But he insisted the country was not headed for a double-dip recession. "I'm not concerned about a double dip recession. I am concerned about the fact that the recovery that we're on is not producing jobs as quickly as I want it to happen," he added.
Yet once again, the president retreated to the familiar territory that is rapidly becoming his fallback position should the economy show further signs of deterioration: he "inherited a recession," in an obvious reference to the Bush administration, even as he once again reminded Americans that his administration "created or saved" more than 2 million jobs. "Recovering from that kind of body blow takes time," Obama declared. "And recovery is going to be uneven."
Perhaps one could take this president more seriously if it weren't for his ability to completely contradict himself without the slightest acknowledgement or remorse. "I think it is important though to recognize that if we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, that at some point, people could lose confidence in the US economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession,” said the president in 2009, during a trip to Asia. “One of the trickiest things we’re doing right now, is to on the one hand make sure the recovery is supported and not withdraw a lot of money either with tax increases or big spending...at the same time, making sure that we’re setting up a pathway for long term for deficit reduction. It’s about as hard of a play as there is,” he added.
How sincere was the president then? In the last two years, the administration has engaged in a second round of Quantitative Easing (QE2), an odious combination of "big spending," as in $600 billion of added liquidity to the monetary system, and a de facto "tax increase" caused by the subsequent weakening of the dollar which has fueled inflation. Even more incredibly, the president submitted a 2012 budget of $3.7 trillion containing $1.4 trillion of deficit spending, which was so out of whack with the reality of "long-term deficit reduction" that the Senate rejected it by a vote of 97-0.
Such lack of seriousness in the face of monumental economic problems is as good a reason as any for explaining Mitt Romney's ascension in the polls, based on little more than his stated intention to confront the economic issue. Yet it is no secret that Romney is a bridge too far for many Republicans, especially those who despise the mini version of ObamaCare that the former Governor of Massachusetts imposed on that state. Just as "endearing" is his stance on global warming, reiterated at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on June 4, when he told the crowd that "the world is getting warmer," and that he believes "humans contribute to that." Romney also received bad reviews from the anti-tax organization the Club For Growth, which released a white paper noting that the candidate supports "positions that are simply opposite to those supported by true economic conservatives,” while maintaining his “unshakeable reputation as a flip-flopper.”
Yet according to the Post-ABC poll, only Romney and Sarah Palin polled in double-digits among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents "when asked whom they would vote for if a primary or caucus were held now in their state." But the same poll shows that two-thirds of all Americans say they “definitely would not” vote for Palin for president, including 42 percent of Republicans who claim they’ve "ruled out" supporting her candidacy. Palin also fares the worst in a head-to-head match-up with the president, losing by 17 points, and other than Romney, none of the other choices offered by the poll -- i.e. Newt Gingrich, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) -- come within ten points of ousting the incumbent.
What does it all mean? For some conservatives, the Washington Post-ABC News poll has been greeted with a high degree of skepticism. There is substantial suspicion among those on the right that the mainstream media is determined to "anoint" the Republican candidate most easily beatable by the president. They point to John McCain as Exhibit A. Whether or not this is true -- and the record of high polling for Romney suggests that it probably isn't -- skeptical conservatives may have a point about the prematurity of the polling results. Among the figures released is the number of Americans who say they’re currently following the 2012 presidential election “very closely.” The number stands at 22 percent.
Suspicions aside, it is not just Republicans who should be concerned with the results of the poll. By now, it should have occurred to the president and his supporters that being in a statistical tie with a Republican candidate despised by large portions of his own party may indicate far greater weakness on the president's part than this poll indicates. Another ominous development for Mr. Obama is the resignation of his top economic advisor Austan Goolsbee on Monday, less than a year after he was appointed chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Like Mr. Obama, Goolsbee insists the economy is on the right track despite last week's downbeat report, which he characterized as a "little bump" on the road to recovery. Ostensibly, he is leaving to preserve his tenured position at the University of Chicago.
Yet Goolsbee follows a parade of economic advisors who have left this administration, including Larry Summers, Christina Romer, Peter Orszag and Paul Volcker, with the lonely exception of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. And the economic insanity continues unabated, highlighted by a report showing that the government added $5.3 trillion in new financial obligations in 2010, bringing to $61.6 trillion the total of financial promises not paid for, which comes to $534,000 per household. That debt includes pension and health benefits worth more than $700,000 per retired civil servant, which is another detail likely to infuriate Americans disgusted with the seemingly endless expansion of government obligations. Obligations a growing number of Americans are coming to realize are responsible for keeping this country mired in an economic downturn that no amount of happy talk is likely to overcome.
There is no question the phrase, "it's the economy, stupid" resonates as much as it ever has. The real question with respect to the 2012 election is whether the phrase, "it's the Obama administration, stupid" resonates even more.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.com.