Panic Time at the White House?

Most of the political prognosticators are focusing on whether Obama can be re-elected if the unemployment rate is still near 9 percent by election day next year, but most of the fancy quantitative political science models suggest that this is the wrong variable (or perhaps the dependent variable if you are into multiple regressions).  Most of the models find that the most important economic factor is income growth.  If incomes are falling, or growing very slowly, incumbents or the incumbent party usually loses.  I’ll put in my caveat here that I’m a skeptic of these kind of quantitative political science models on several grounds, not least of which is that the sample size of presidential elections is just too small to call these model results definitive or statistically robust.  But Democrats pointing to Reagan’s landslide re-election in 1984 amidst still high unemployment (still over 7.5 percent on election day) miss that personal income had been growing very fast for more than a year before the election in 1984.

Caveats noted, this morning’s Wall Street Journal brings multiple doses of horrible news for Obama and the Democrats on this front.   The lead story is that household income has fallen to 1996 levels when adjusted for inflation.  Some of the internal details of the story are even more worrisome: “Earnings of the typical man who works full-time year round fell, and are lower—adjusted for inflation—than in 1978.”  So what does Obama want to do?  Raise taxes of course.

Meanwhile, Republican Bob Turner won the special election to replace Anthony Weiner in the heavily Democratic district in New York City—the first time a Republican has won that seat in a century.  Yet the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, gamely tried to shrug it off saying, “It’s a very difficult district for Democrats.”  (Cue Kevin Bacon in Animal House here; “All is well!”)  Anger at Obama’s anti-Israel policy is clearly a factor at work in this district, but keep in mind that one factor in Ronald Reagan’s 1980 landslide was anger among Jewish voters about Jimmy Carter’s anti-Israel policy.  Reagan got something like 35 percent of the Jewish vote that year—more than twice what Republicans usually get.  It was a factor in Reagan winning New York.

But wait, the hits keep coming!  The Journal front page also updates a story I’ve been following for a while out of California.  Seems the Democratic Party’s state treasurer has embezzled more than $1 million in campaign funds from candidate treasuries—perhaps several million.  She’s been doing it for years, apparently, and party leaders simply ignored red flags and $190,000 in fines for reporting errors from the state agency that oversees campaign spending accounts.  I can imagine the treasurer’s courtroom defense now: I was only doing privately what my party’s office holders do to the public on a daily basis—redistributing wealth.

And to top it all off, Al Gore’s “24 Hours of Reality” climate change telethon begins tonight.  I’m sure the White House is thrilled to have Gore back up in everyone’s face.  Must-flee TV.

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