Were Barack Obama to be re-elected on Tuesday, America would have one of its weakest second-term presidents ever precisely when it needs a strong one.
First, Obama would be re-elected with fewer popular and Electoral College votes than he received in his first election, which would be the first time since 1940 that an incumbent president has been re-elected without improving on his previous electoral performance. Few would see this as a mandate.
Second, Obama would be weakened further by scandal. The president and his aides lied to the American people about the attack in Libya. This was merely outrageous. What might be an actual crime is that Obama’s CIA director, David Petraeus, apparently lied to Congress about the attack. There will be a prolonged, fatiguing investigation of who knew what when, followed by hectoring of the Justice Department to name an independent prosecutor. History shows these matters consume nearly all of the energy of a White House.
Third, Obama is congenitally unable to work across the aisle, which would further undermine a second term.
In the final presidential debate, Obama said he’d make a deal with Republicans on issues like looming cuts to the Pentagon and tax hikes on all Americans who pay income taxes set to take effect on January 1. But voters should know this is unlikely. Obama has yet to compromise with Republicans seriously in his professional life; it was this refusal that originally endeared him to the far-left, which has taken over the Democratic Party. Obamacare passed without a single Republican vote. Obama hasn’t signed a real budget in two years, mainly because he wouldn’t even make the smallest of spending or policy concessions to congressional Republicans.
Those Republicans would be in little mood to compromise further. They already have little to show conservatives despite two years of running the House, and would have limited room for the unilateral concessions Obama would demand. The House is all but certain to remain Republican and the GOP should pick up seats in the Senate. Moreover, midterm elections that occur in the sixth year of a presidency tend to be devastating for the president’s party, so if President Obama is re-elected, congressional Republicans can look ahead to the 2014 midterms.
Furthermore, the problems America faces are set to get worse — much faster than the mainstream media has let on. The private-sector economy is buckling from uncertainty over tax rates and the looming impact of Obamacare. The economic numbers are being goosed by deficit spending that now totals a trillion dollars every year — an amount no economist thinks is sustainable. When this party ends, a new recession will make everything worse.
Finally, Washington is getting closer to killing the goose that lays golden eggs — the status of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. This is what has allowed the U.S. to borrow cheap money in crises far beyond what the market would allow for other countries. The Federal Reserve’s debasing of the dollar to fund Obama’s deficits is already causing sky-high gas prices, with foreign oil suppliers requiring more decreasingly valuable dollars to stay even. Without change, once the Eurozone reforms or a basket of stable currencies challenges the dollar, we’ll have to go hat in hand to global lenders like any other banana republic in search of a higher credit limit. Interest rates would spike and the American Century really would be over.
All of these problems can be solved, but they require a strong chief executive with both a mandate for action and the ability to work with Congress. A re-elected George W. Bush remarked in 2004, “I earned capital in the political campaign and I intend to spend it.” In fact, like most second-termers, he had precious little and it soon showed. Obama would be in a far worse position, politically and temperamentally unable to balance leadership and compromise in order to weather the coming storm.
Christian Whiton was a senior advisor at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration. He is a principal at DC International Advisory.