Four more years?
A president who has had a patchy first term now needs to make a convincing case for a second oneThe defence of Mr Obama’s record comes down to one phrase: it could all have been a lot worse. He inherited an economy in free fall thanks to the banking crash and the fiscal profligacy that occurred under his predecessor; his stimulus measures and his saving of Detroit carmakers helped avert a second Depression; overall, he deserves decent if patchy grades on the economy (see article). Confronted by obstructionist Republicans in Congress, he did well to get anything through at all. Abroad he has sensibly recalibrated American foreign policy. And there have been individual triumphs, such as the killing of Osama bin Laden.
But this does not amount to a compelling case for re-election, in the view of either this paper or the American people. More than 60% of voters believe their country to be on the wrong track. Mr Obama’s approval ratings are well under 50%; almost two-thirds of voters are unimpressed (however harshly) by how he has handled the economy. Worn down by the difficulties of office, the great reformer has become a cautious man, surrounded by an insular group of advisers. The candidate who promised bold solutions to the country’s gravest problems turned into the president who failed even to back his own commission’s plans for cutting the deficit.
Were he facing a more charismatic candidate than Mitt Romney or a less extremist bunch than the Republicans, Mr Obama would already be staring at defeat. The fact that the president has had to “go negative” so early and so relentlessly shows how badly he needs the election to be about Mr Romney’s weaknesses rather than his own achievements. A man who four years ago epitomised hope will arrive in Charlotte with a campaign that thus far has been about invoking fear.
Mr Obama must offer more than this, for three reasons. First, a negative campaign may well fail. The Republicans are a rum bunch with a wooden leader; but Mr Romney’s record as an executive and governor is impressive, and his running-mate, Paul Ryan, is a fount of bold ideas. Mr Obama’s strategy of blaming everything on Republican obstructionism will strike many voters as demeaning.
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