Friday, October 21, 2011
Obama Faces Same Re-Election Hurdles as W
An Andrew Sullivan Dish reader provides a good summary of the President's accomplishments. As I reviewed the list, it occurred to me that President Obama and former President Bush face some of the same challenges in seeking re-election.
President Obama's greatest accomplishment is avoiding the total collapse of our economy, which he did in large part by pumping gargantuan sums of money into key U.S. industries. Consequently, we incurred the loss of American confidence and amassed an incomprehensible amount of national debt.
President Bush's greatest accomplishment is avoiding another devastating international terror attack in the post-9/11 years, which he did in large part by waging war(s) in the Middle East. Consequently, we suffered the loss of thousands of lives and amassed an incomprehensible amount of national debt.
Bush was confronted by an all-consuming terror attack and security crisis just a few months into office. Obama was confronted with the threat of an impending economic disaster and financial crisis. Both presidencies are largely defined by the perceived success, or lack thereof, in managing through these crises, and in both cases, Americans underestimate the enormous good that was achieved.
For both the Bush re-election campaign in 2004 and the Obama re-election campaign in 2012, the challenge of "running on your record" is enormous because, in both cases, these most significant achievements are arguably the least appreciated.
Americans have high (unrealistic) expectations, short memories, no patience, and a lack of vision to see beyond the immeasurably short-term. Our narrow perspective and minimal context simply don't allow us to see the value of many of the things for which we should be grateful (planes don't fall out of the sky each day, polio is essentially eradicated in the Western world, and we deserve the clean drinking water we have, right?).
In America, avoiding something horrible isn't viewed the same as accomplishing something good, even when the "something" you sidestepped was pretty damn likely to occur without your actions, and even when the "something" would have been catastrophic and world-altering.
Still, it's understandably hard to take the leap of faith that is required to re-elect a president because of what didn't happen, and I will not be surprised if we have a change in the White House in 2012. On the other hand, W managed to run a successful re-election campaign in 2004, and it's my hope that President Obama can do the same next year. In light of the enormity of the challenges we face today, and in the absence of any inspiring (or competent) alternatives, some continuity of policy and leadership will be beneficial.