One of the basic rules in American politics is that life just ain’t fair. Elected officials get credit for things they had nothing to do with. They get blamed for stuff that lies outside their control.
Another basic rule is that timing is everything. Which is one reason why the 2012 election will be definitive for both major political parties in the US, and for the way that American voters perceive them.
Consider Bill Clinton. The Democrat is remembered as a steward of good times, a man who ushered the republic back toward solvency and prosperity. Was he responsible for the dot-com bubble and the other upward trends that defined the 1990s? Hardly.
The next POTUS — Barack Obama in his second term, or Mitt Romney in his first — will ride a similar wave.
All economic indicators suggest that, unlike Europe, the American economy is muddling its way back toward vitality.
Housing foreclosures are down, and new home construction is up. We’ve had a couple of years of uninterrupted job growth. Tax revenues at the state level are back to record 2007 levels.
There’s also growing evidence that corporations have held off on hiring and expansion about as long as they can. Profits are sky-high again and the stock market is soaring.
That energy is startling to trickle down to average Americans. Consumer spending is up. A poll by Fox News found that the number of Americans who rate the economy as “poor” dropped from 66% last December to 45% this month.
That’s a big shift.
None of this is to suggest that America’s long-term economic challenges will evaporate in 2013. They won’t. The next president will make decisions that will shape our future for decades to come.
How many American kids are able to go to college? Who will be able to afford health care? What will our infrastructure look like? How will we bend the curve to cut deficits?
But I suspect that the next president’s power to influence those decisions will also increase, as Obama or Romney rides the optimism of lower unemployment rates.
Obviously, it’s possible that something will happen to derail next year’s recovery, but I suspect that a lot of the “threats” are overblown.
If Europe falls into economic chaos, for example, it will hurt a lot of American businesses and banks. But it will also cement the United States’ role as the most stable big Western economy, a safe place to invest and buy currency.
It’s also certain that during this campaign season there will be a lot of debate over who deserves credit for cuing up the recovery.
Did Barack Obama stave off an even deeper depression, and begin the hard work of rebuilding strong economic foundation? Or could he have made different and better choices to speed job growth and heal the housing market, as Mitt Romney argues?
Was it smart to bail out Wall Street? What about the car companies? Whatever voters decide, here’s my first big prediction of this election cycle:
Whoever wins in November, he will be remembered fondly as the president who sat in the Oval Office when America finally escaped the Great Recession. And his party will be viewed for years to come as the party of prosperity.