The temptation to compare the coming presidential contest of incumbent President Barack Obama against his Republican adversary, Mitt Romney, to the 1980 contest between incumbent President Jimmy Carter and his Republican adversary, Ronald Reagan, are not a totally accurate comparison. President Barack Obama is not exactly a President Jimmy Carter and Mitt Romney, despite the expected attempts to describe him so, is no Ronald Reagan. Granted, there are some similarities between the Presidency of Barack Obama to the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, but there are also differences. The differences of Mitt Romney to Ronald Reagan are somewhat more glaring and is the weaker half differentiating these two periods. The other differences are the state of the United States, the composition of the American populace as well as the electorate, and the current state of the world in general. So, let’s make a more detailed inspection and determine the similarities which may be helpful and the differences which could change the outcome.
We will start with a comparison of both the men and the Presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama and how they apply to the coming contest. There is little doubt that many parallels can be drawn between the economies each President experienced with peaking unemployment, a weak dollar, high gasoline prices, and a general sense of malaise and a high misery index, two terms invented to describe the economy under President Carter. But the differences are probably more important than are the similarities. The most evident difference is that we do not have lines forming at 6:00 or earlier in the morning to fuel your car or odd and even day rationing as we experienced during the Carter years. High prices are one thing, getting up hours earlier and hoping the station does not run out of fuel before you get to fill your tank is another. Despite the lagging economy, President Obama is not being berated by the press on the evening news every night with terms like malaise and misery index becoming a part of the daily discourse. The other helpful item which President Obama enjoys that President Carter did not is the fact that the economy has had its ups and downs over the last twenty-five years while the twenty-five years before the Carter Presidency was one of the longest and fastest growing economic periods in American history. Another large difference is that Wall Street has had periods of recovery that has given hope that maybe the worst is over, unfortunately right before the next bubble bursts or reports come in with lower profits or other negative economic indicators forcing the next crash. Despite the truth that in many ways the two Presidencies of Carter and Obama may numerically appear very similar, somehow the coverage and mood of much of the populace does not seem to hold President Obama as directly accountable as the populace did President Carter. The months leading up to the election will end up telling the whole story and it may result in the economy being an even larger problem for President Obama if anything else goes seriously bad on the economic front.
Both President Carter and President Obama have had their share of difficulties in dealing with the Middle East. Even though President Carter could claim the Egyptian and Israeli peace treaty as a major accomplishment, it meant absolutely nothing as the hostage crisis took center stage. As for President Obama, he had his most ambitious military operation with the capture and death of Osama bin Laden which was seen as a complete success despite the loss of the stealth helicopter compared to President Carter and the horrific failure of his attempt to go in and free the embassy hostages in Iran. On the other side, President Carter only turned one Middle East country over to the rule of hostile Islamic rulers, Iran; while President Obama has managed to turn a number of countries over to hostile Islamic rulers. The list includes Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. During the Obama Presidency, Turkey has also completed its long and drawn out march from being a secular country towards becoming an Islamic ruled country under Prime Minister Erdogan. The final plunge was assisted by the actions of the European Union and a number of the member states along with President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton when they all backed Prime Minister Erdogan and preempted any attempt by the Turkish military to force Erdogan from office setting up a new election when it became obvious that the country was slipping away from its secular governance as they are empowered by the Turkish Constitution to implement as a protection of the state from overt religious influences. The main advantage that President Obama has over the predicament President Carter faced is that unlike President Carter who faced the daily reminder of his Middle East problems with the ongoing hostage crisis throughout the election cycle, nothing has yet to completely blow up in President Obama’s face, though Iran may once again provide such for an incumbent American President.
The comparison of Mitt Romney to Ronald Reagan is both stark and subtle. The most obvious difference is the ease with which Candidate Reagan was able to appear with the people. He had a level of comfort and reassurance that has not been duplicated by Mitt Romney. Where both men have the air of assurance and a strong presence, Ronald Reagan had a certain comfort about him where Mitt Romney sometimes seems a little stiff and almost out of sync. Ronald Reagan had an earthiness that is lacking in Mitt Romney though both men have a good sense of humor and are quick on their feet though Mitt Romney comes across more formal while Ronald Reagan appeared more folksy. The biggest difference between Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney is that Ronald Reagan had a definitive turning point in his life where he made an obvious and complete change of views and a longer run as a true and strong conservative while Mitt Romney still needs to assure many that his conservatism is real and he has made an honest change from his more liberal leanings when he was Governor of Massachusetts. This will very likely be where Mitt Romney will sink or swim gliding into the presidency, assuring the most conservative of his base that he is truly allied with their desires and meets their demands while still satisfying those in the Republican Party and those independents who are demanding he prove to be a moderate. How he can satisfy both camps without being cast as duplicitous is the real test Mitt Romney will face. Perhaps he may want to watch some of Ronald Reagan’s speeches and debates and realize that one can be a real conservative and still sound rational and a man of the people. Ronald Reagan did it; can Mitt Romney pull it off?
This race may appear on the surface to have numerous similarities to the 1980 Presidential election but I have my suspicions that it will turn out to be very different. Granted, President Obama cannot run on his record just as President Carter had to try to hide from his record. President Obama is a much more accomplished speech maker than was President Carter and he will need every ounce of that ability if he is to sway sufficient voters to give him another term. Truthfully, I believe that Mitt Romney is facing the greater challenge as he not only has to compete and defeat the incumbent President, he has to go against a press that is far more hostile against him than the press faced by President Reagan. Still, Mitt Romney has to win over a large portion of his base to have any hope of becoming President. Polls have shown Mitt Romney actually comfortably ahead of President Obama among independents but they also show Mitt Romney being very weak among the conservative Republican base, and without the base his chances are almost nil. The one thing that is guaranteed to put an end to President Obama’s chance for reelection is if the Middle East catches fire and explodes in his face. Such could obviously happen with Iran, but there are also some very precarious problems which could come to the surface and make things very difficult coming out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the possibility of a conflict between Israel and any one or more of the neighboring countries as well as the Palestinians. This election is just another case of the more things change, the more they appear to be the same.
Beyond the Cusp