- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
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
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.
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.”
More from Ken Silverstein:
Perspective — October 23, 2013, 8:00 am
How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy
Postcard — October 16, 2013, 8:00 am
A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits
Number of free condoms handed out by the Brazilian government in advance of Carnival this year:
The best way to measure happiness is simply to ask people how happy they are.
Following three weeks of clashes between protesters and government forces that killed at least 17 people, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro announced a two-day extension of Carnival. “Happiness will conquer the embittered,” he said during an appearance at a recreation center.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”