Washington Babylon — August 25, 2010, 9:11 am

More on Obama’s Chances to Win Reelection

Nelson Hernandez (among others) took issue with my “clever analysis of President Obama’s excellent
chances of re-election.” Hernandez made a number of good points, though he made several comments (for example, Obama has “an insatiable desire to promote socialism”) that make it hard to take him seriously. But here’s an edited version of his email, to which I’ll reply below:

The economy is obviously in dire straits and may well be heading
into a full-scale, big-D Depression which will hit us full force
before the 2012 election. Even the most mainstream economic
commentators are now pretty much throwing in the towel after the
crushing GDP and housing numbers we’ve been hearing lately. In short:
do a little extrapolation on this disastrous economy and tell me that
the Democrats can win re-election in 2012. It’s not a question of
where we are today, but where we will be in two years. It doesn’t
look good.

Silverstein’s breezy dismissal of all the likely GOP candidates
totally fails to take into account the already well-advanced revulsion
toward the incumbent that animates broad swathes of the middle class
and independent voters. It is also very unlikely that youth and
non-black minority groups will mobilize for Obama in the same way they
did in 2008. Americans are in distress and are not going to fall for Obama’s
soaring yet lightweight rhetoric a second time.

Silverstein’s recollection of history is faulty. Mondale was not
the most boring candidate ever; Dukakis was. Mondale was actually one
of the better candidates (in terms of competence) the Democrats have
put up in the last 40 years.

Finally, Mr. Silverstein completely disregards four personages in
the GOP, of which at least one and possibly two will likely be on the
2012 ticket: Gov. Christie (NJ), Gov. Daniels (IN), Rep. Ryan (WI) and
Gov. Jindal (LA). All four of them could and would demolish Obama in
a debate on any topic in different ways: basic principles, factual
analysis, policy analysis. There is absolutely no hope of Obama
besting them in an impromptu discussion.

My reply.

Point One: I generally agree, the economy is very scary and if it drops off the cliff Obama will lose. But in my view, that’s the only way he’ll lose. It’s very hard to knock off a sitting president. Gerald Ford lost in 1976 to Jimmy Carter, but this was the first election after Watergate; Ford was Richard Nixon’s vice president; Ford angered the country by pardoning Nixon; and the American economy was in a terrible recession in the run-up to the election. And even so, Ford came back from behind (at one point by 34 percent) and lost by only two percentage points. A shift of very few votes in Wisconsin and Ohio would have given Ford victory in the Electoral College.

George Bush Sr. lost in 1992 but he had Ross Perot on the ballot; Bill Clinton won with just 43 percent of the vote. And in recent times, that’s it. Sure, Obama could lose but Hernandez’s breezy dismissal of his chances reveals his loathing of the president and sympathy for the GOP.

Point Two: I also agree in part, but see above. I’d also note that Americans fell for his rhetoric the first time, there’s nothing to prevent them from doing so again. Americans have a long track record of swallowing empty, overblown rhetoric (for example, that the GOP is the party with a track record of deficit reduction, even though under Presidents Reagan and Bush it ran up enormous deficits, and Clinton more or less eliminated it.) And underestimating Obama as a campaigner is a mistake Hillary Clinton, among others, has already made. He’s good on the campaign trail.

Point Three: OK, Dukakis was a dog of a candidate but it’s a photo finish with Mondale in terms of dullness. And competent? Mondale was best known as Carter’s vice president, hardly an auspicious record to campaign on.

Point Four: Good luck to those four candidates. If I were Obama I wouldn’t be losing a lot of sleep about any of them. The political scenario for Republicans for 2012 looks to be highly favorable (though obviously a lot could change between now and then), but the party has no charismatic candidate with new ideas, and whoever wins the GOP nomination is still going to have to knock off a sitting president with the powers and perks of incumbency. Possible, but unlikely unless Hernandez is right about the “big D.”

Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada



October 2015

Cattle Calls

Getting Jobbed

Lives by Omission

Lifting as We Climb

view Table Content


“One of the peculiar things about economic inequality is that the people who are most articulate about it are not poor, while the poor themselves have said little, at least in print, about their situation.”
Photograph © Reuters/Brendan McDermid
“It would be nice to get through this review without recourse to the term ‘writer’s writer.’ The thing is, in the case of Joy Williams, I have seen the cliché made flesh.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
“Miniatures originated in Persia and were brought to the Indian subcontinent when the Mughals conquered it in the sixteenth century. They could take on almost any subject: landscapes or portraits; stories of love, war, or play.”
Painting by by Imran Qureshi.
“The business of being a country veterinarian is increasingly precarious. The heartland has been emptying of large-animal vets for at least two decades, as agribusiness changed the employment picture and people left the region.”
Photograph by Lance Rosenfield
“Rosie and her husband had burned through their small savings in the first few months after she lost her job. Now their family of five relied on his minimum-wage paychecks, plus Rosie’s unemployment and food stamps, which, combined, brought them to around $2,000 per month, just above the poverty line.”
Illustrations by Taylor Callery

Ratio of children’s emergency-room visits for injuries related to fireworks last year to those related to “desk supplies”:


The ecosystems around Chernobyl, Ukraine, are now healthier than they were before the nuclear disaster, though radiation levels are still too high for human habitation.

The Islamic State opened two new theme parks featuring a Ferris wheel, teacup rides, and bumper cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


Subways Are for Sleeping


“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today