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Which History Will Repeat Itself?

August 20, 2012

When trying to predict the outcome of the upcoming presidential election, the most common (and wishful) scenario from the past that conservative prognosticators reference is the Reagan landslide of 1980. It’s a rather easy default, since our side views Obama’s disastrous tenure as the “second Jimmy Carter term.” However, the Democrats may consider two other years much more favorable to them in forecasting President Obama’s chances – 1936 and 1964. And perhaps they have some good reasons for doing so.

First, let’s be clear that neither the 1936 nor 1964 scenarios (both Democrat landslides) are likely to happen this year. But there are some key elements of both years that are similar to what’s going on now.

In 1936, Franklin Roosevelt was running on a thin record of real accomplishment—yet he could look the voters in the eye and tell them that his programs for ending the Great Depression hadn’t had a chance to work yet, and he needed another term to see them to fruition. Whether he used the quote, “Let’s not return to the failed policies of the past” as Obama has done ad nauseam, I don’t know, but I’ll bet the tone of his message toward his hapless opponent Alf Landon was similar to that. And, like Romney this year with George W. Bush, Landon had the millstone of Herbert Hoover’s unpopular presidency around his neck as the most recent experience voters had had with a Republican president. This is the clearest example of a Democrat pulling off a big win even in the midst of severe economic downturn. And Obama, narcissist that he is, may actually believe he can do the same.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson was essentially running for a second John F. Kennedy term. However, it was clear in Johnson’s campaign that he was tilting more liberal and wanting to go faster than perhaps JFK would have regarding the social programs and civil rights legislation that would constitute the “Great Society.” But the impact of these programs on the federal budget was years away at the time, and all the voters had to go on were the rosy scenarios the administration presented of prudent spending as far as the eye could see. More importantly, since the majority of the Great Society programs were not even enacted yet, the taxpayers were feeling no pain. In this respect, 1964 does somewhat parallel 2012 in that most of the Obamacare rules and their associated costs have not yet come into play; in fact, most of the impact won’t be felt until a year or more after the election. It’s tough to convince voters of future potential pain without sounding like a fear-monger.

The 1964 election was a rout supposedly because Barry Goldwater was too conservative—but between Kennedy’s popularity, especially post-assassination, and Johnson’s astute use of negative campaign ads (the “daisy” nuclear blast one comes to mind), Goldwater didn’t stand a chance with a divided party’s lukewarm support. Still, the Obama team is clearly trying their best to paint the moderate Romney and the hardly flaming conservative Ryan as “extremists” in the same way Johnson attempted with Goldwater.

Even though we’re almost 50 years down the road from the Great Society and any objective observer can see the utter failure of these programs and their destructive impact on the federal budget, it still may be difficult to convince people that Medicare and Medicaid along with Social Security are headed toward insolvency unless some dramatic changes are made. Most people simply aren’t that future-oriented, and even as they may profess concern for the way things are going and what will be left for their children, they still want theirs now. Few people are comfortable with change; especially the type of change that they perceive negatively affects their security, financial or otherwise. This is the all-too-common perception that Romney and Ryan must contend with and somehow overcome if they hope to repeat the 1980 scenario. Hammering on the economy will only get them so far, since in 1980 two of the key economic measures (inflation and interest rates along with unemployment) were far worse than now and, in general, people were feeling a lot more immediate pain in the pocketbook. And that pain was linked directly to Carter in the voters’ minds, not his predecessor—another important difference. Many of today’s “independent” voters are still trying to decide whether Obama or Bush 43 is more to blame for our current woes.

Unfortunately (since it probably favors the Democrats), this election may end up a lot closer to the 2000 election’s razor-thin margin of victory than the landslides of 1980, 1936 or 1964. That is, the ubiquitous polls may actually be predictive of the real result this time, since that’s how evenly divided the electorate seems to be. Don’t discount the motivation of Democrat voters to be just as anti-Romney as we are anti-Obama. Therefore, along with the illegal votes the Dems are famous for in big cities, their numbers could be formidable. And, should it be close enough and rancorous enough to get to the Supreme Court again, it will be the Democrats’ turn to win. Justice Roberts will see to that.

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Copyright ©2012 Phil Perkins