Obama should pretend there’s a Republican Clinton

by Jonathan Todd

I recently saw a TV pundit – admittedly on Fox News, which I watch for perverse laughs – assert that Barack Obama will not win the next presidential election. Another pundit came back that he would, because the Republicans don’t have anyone to beat him. This is the prevailing establishment view. Andrew Neil recently tweeted: “A prediction you can hold me to: Obama will serve a second term”.

Obama’s position now is probably about as ascendant as that of George H W Bush at the same stage in 1991. Then Bill Clinton fatefully emerged. Few today deny that Obama has vulnerabilities. The existence of a Republican Clinton is more uncertain, however.

Mitt Romney has the kind of business background that helps in sustaining a claim to economic competence. This matters, particularly in the present economic climate. He may be the strongest Republican candidate and Obama may fear that further economic turbulence, as well as carrying its own risk, will lead Republicans to put aside their reservations about Romney-care and his religion to select him.

Romney is hardly Clintonesque, but Obama hasn’t always been so either. Can you imagine, for instance, Clinton being as remote as Obama seemed during the Gulf oil slick? James Carville blasted him for this. He has done better with recent tornados and, of course, the capture of Osama Bin Laden.

What kind of rocket would Donald Trump have fired at BP if he were then president? While his birther views diminish his limited credibility, his tough stances on China, oil producers and anyone else who is perceived to threaten immediate American economic interests both push at a promising political marketplace and position him as a robust operator who would have had no compunction about getting tough with the likes BP.

Trump’s colourful private life means that he has bridges to build with the religious right if he is to secure the Republican nomination. That said, the economic climate is such that the Republican candidate may end up being someone closer to the party’s business-friendly tradition, rather than someone, like Sarah Palin or Mike Huckabee, enamoured by the religious right.

A Republican Clinton – a candidate capable of beating Obama – would need to pacify the religious right enough to secure the Republican nomination without so pandering to them as to infuriate the independent voters who will decide the presidential election. They would also trade on Obama’s vulnerabilities: lack of empathy; having come to embody the Washington establishment that he once ran against; a tentative economic recovery; indecisiveness; and a reluctance to assert American leadership and authority.

“America must lead”, said John McCain recently on Libya. Obama’s multilateralism – insistent, for example, upon unambiguous UN support for intervention in Libya – and realism about gas prices – “there is no silver bullet to address rising gas prices in the short term” – may be to European tastes. But Trump’s line may be closer to the views of Americans irate at the gas pumps and war weary: “Either I’d go in (to Libya) and take the oil or I don’t go in at all”.

If the fundamentally un-presidential Trump can get closer than any other Republican to hitting the soft spot of Americans, then Obama is likely to serve a second term. Nonetheless, Obama should act as if the Republicans were possessed of the kind of Clinton figure who would be able to consistently hit these spots.

This person might be Tim Pawlenty. While he probably isn’t, the former Minnesota governor may end up as the GOP nomination by having fewer major weaknesses than anyone else. Jon Huntsman and Mitch Daniels are also both intriguing figures, who might be capable of winning a Republican race that no one is yet dominating.

Whether or not any of these candidates fulfils their potential, the point is that Obama has big enough flaws that he should be compensating for them, irrespective of whether the other side has yet found the candidate to exploit them. Such a Republican could yet materialise and even if they don’t (as seems most likely), this approach would produce the biggest possible Obama win.

Which means rejecting any inclination towards a safety-first, steady-as-she-goes strategy. It calls for a sufficient emotional connection to embody the latest manifestation of the American dream. Winning presidential candidates always make it morning again in America – except that it has long been winter in America for many. The annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since around the time Gil Scott Heron recorded that song in the early 1970s.

Hard working families felt that Clinton was on their side. His secretary of labour, Robert Reich, now argues for putting “money into the pockets of average working families. Not until they start spending again big time will companies begin to hire again big time”. Obama should boldly lead the debate on national debt by placing tax reforms that would ease the squeeze and power economic recovery at the centre of his response.

Jonathan Todd is Labour Uncut’s economic columnist.

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One Response to “Obama should pretend there’s a Republican Clinton”

  1. Miranda says:

    Thank you, Jonathan, but I really don’t think Barack Obama needs advice from you or anyone else in this country about what he needs to do to get reelected. Did you even support his campaign to win the Democratic candidacy? Barack Obama has been confounding the naysayers his whole life and he will continue to do so. No rushing into politics at 3 years old for him. He worked on the ground, with the poor, with those same “hard working families” he’s currently being lectured about. He’s probably met with, worked with and been friends with more “hard working families” than any of the fat cat upper-class pundits who are always wagging their finger at him. His own WIFE came from a normal “hard working family” for goodness sake (I suggest you read “Dreams of My Father”). Barack Obama WILL be reelected and will go down in history as one of the greatest two-term Presidents ever elected. The spirit of Yes We Can! is still alive and well in my world and will be again in November 2010

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