Some good news for Obama in the final campaign days

Ninety dead, including 38 only in New York City, and around 50 billion dollars in damages — Hurricane Sandy could be the costliest hurricane in the United States, ever.

And suddenly, in the last frenetic hours of the presidential election, the environment, climate change, and global warming have become part of the campaign. When New York City’s independent Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, endorsed Obama’s re-election yesterday, he referred particularly to the president’s vision on global warming, a priority issue for Bloomberg, but something that neither Obama nor Romney unfortunately have talked about at all in this campaign.

“Our climate is changing. And while the Increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the danger that it might be – given this week’s devastation – Should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action … . One (Obama) sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet, one (Romney) does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.”

The think tank Center for American Progress writes in a new report about the links between extreme weather and climate change. The report, called Preventing Future ‘Frankenstorms’, states that Sandy is unfortunately just the latest in a long series of extreme weather events over the past two years. These include droughts, heat records, forest fires, floods, tropical storms, hurricanes, winter storms, and they have collectively caused nearly a thousand deaths and over 110 billion dollars in damage.

However, only four days to Election Day, the environment and climate change are unlikely to decide the election. But Hurricane Sandy has given Obama a new wind in his back. According to a new Washington Post/ABC survey 79 percent of the respondents said that Obama did a good job during Sandy. And today, the president got more good news when jobs figures from October pointed to the continued rise — 171,000 new jobs in October – far more than the expected 125,000. Unemployment rose slightly, from 7.8 to 7.9 percent, but that was mainly due to the fact that many more Americans now actively are looking for jobs, another positive signal for the economy and its future.

Not since the days of Franklin Roosevelt has a president been re-elected with an unemployment rate of more than 7.2 percent. It was in 1984 and Ronald Reagan. Roosevelt was re-elected in 1936 as well as in 1940 with unemployment at 16.6 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. When Obama became president in January 2009, unemployment was 7.8 percent. That’s almost exactly like today. Will that be enough to bring Obama four more years? I think so.


Lower unemployment brings consolation to criticized Obama

Unemployment in the United States has fallen below 8 percent for the first time since Barack Obama became president in January 2009. The new figures suggest that unemployment in September fell 8.1 to 7.8 percent.

Jubilation in the Obama campaign? Hardly, but, surely, relief, and, definitely, consolation for the president after all the brutal criticism of his performance during the Denver debate last Wednesday.

“Never has such a strong political hand been so needlessly, carelessly, calamitously thrown away,” wrote historian and Columbia University professor Simon Schama on the Daily Beast.

On the Republican side, joy is mixed with relief and new hope. Columnists like George Will, David Brooks, and Charles Krauthammer lined up in their praise for Mitt Romney’s effort. The Romney campaign has undoubtedly new wind in its sails. But will it last? And is there enough time in campaign for Romney to reinvent itself in the eyes of voters?

Obama campaign will of course make every effort to prevent this from happening. Counterattacks are already underway zeroing in on the question: who is really Mitt Romney — the candidate who moved steadily to the right during the Republican primary election campaign, or the new, “moderate Mitt”, the Massachusetts Governor who worked with Democrats and passed Romneycare?

The Democrats have plenty of ammunition. Just look at Jonathan Cohn’s blog at The New Republic!

In the remaining three debates, on 11 October between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan and on 16 and 23 October between Obama and Romney, we will certainly see a very different president than Wednesday. He, with the help of Biden, must now go on the offensive, because we have a new race.

Democrats come out ahead after Charlotte convention

The two political conventions are over and the question is: who won?

We will know in a week or so. The Republicans, with a bland speech by Mitt Romney, a speech by Paul Ryan that drove the fact-checkers crazy, and with Clint Eastwood…, they did not have a strong convention. It seems that they received only the smallest of bounces in the polls, but the verdict is not in yet, for either party.

I would be surprised, though, if the Democrats do not come out ahead, thanks to the cumulative effect of the past three days in Charlotte. It had the better speeches and the greater enthusiasm. It had the unforgettable testimony by Michelle Obama and the equally unforgettable, masterly lecture by Bill Clinton. And, of course, last night it had Barack Obama himself, whose speech left the delegates enthusiastic and strengthened in their resolve to win in November, although he did not deliver another glorious, mesmerizing speech that we have almost been spoiled with. It was a good speech, more than ok, solid, and, at times, eloquent, but there was also somehow something missing.

Joe Klein on his blog in Time Magazine was disappointed. He wrote that the president did not close the deal and it left Klein him wondering what Obama will do in his second term, if he is re-elected. And John Cassidy in The New Yorker wrote that the president was playing it safe, short on new ideas and policy proposals, knowing he was head in the polls and not wanting to give the Republicans new ammunition.

I don’t know, maybe our expectations were set too high, maybe we failed to take into account the fact that, this time, it was the President speaking, not a young State Senator like in 2004, or a presidential candidate like in 2008. Here was a battle-hardened leader of the country, who had been dealt an awful hand, and who realized that things were not improving as fast as he, or the country, would like. Yet, he said that the country was better off today than four years ago and that the choice in November was one between going forward and turning back to the failed policies of the Bush years, policies that got us in this fix in the first place.

“All they have to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last thirty years: “Have a surplus? Try a tax cut.” “Deficit too high? Try another.” “Feel a cold coming on? Take two tax cuts, roll back some regulations, and call us in the morning!”

And, he asked for more time:

“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.”

Today, on Friday morning, the hard reality struck when the latest job figures were published, pointing to a continued slow recovery. Only 96,000 new jobs were created in August, although unemployment decreased from 8.3 to 8.1 percent, but mostly because so many had stopped looking for a job.

Will such numbers decide the election or will the American people let Obama continue his unfinished work? That’s the big question.

Can Obama win with high unemployment?

The numbers were not good – only 54,000 new jobs in May, compared with an average of 182,000 per month earlier this year – and unemployment increased slightly, to 9.1 percent.

The figures underline the fragility of the U.S. economy’s recovery. The hopes from earlier this year that the economy was firmly on the upswing got a knock. The Republicans got new ammunition in their criticism of the president’s economic policies. Concern rose in the White House and among the Democrats looking ahead to next year’s election.

Can a president with such high unemployment rates be reelected? That question has been debated vigorously in recent days after an article in The New York Times that stated that not since Franklin Roosevelt’s days has a president been reelected with unemployment at over 7.2 percent.

This was not the case with Roosevelt himself, of course. He was reelected in 1936 with an unemployment rate of 16.6 percent, and in 1940 with 14.6 percent unemployed. However, Roosevelt was able to point to falling unemployment figures from when he first stepped into the White House, in 1933, when unemployment was at 19.8 percent. President Obama cannot do that. When he entered the White House, in January 2009, unemployment was 7.8 percent.

With that in mind, things do not look good for President Obama, as Nate Silver points out in his excellent blog, He adds that the unemployment rate is not the only thing that determines an American presidential election, although the higher the rate the less likely Obama will win.

Daily Beasts political commentator Michael Tomasky does not contest Nate Silver’s conclusions, but he adds that Richard Nixon won in 1972 even though unemployment had risen by almost 2 percent during his first four years, and thanks to the fact that the Democrats that year went a little “cuckoo.” Obama may next year benefit from a large dose of “Republican Crazy”.

These Republicans have their own problems with putting together a strong team to oppose Obama in 2012. So far, one must say that they have failed, and polls support that. Asked in a recent poll by the Pew Research Center to describe the candidates with a single word, 44 percent responded by calling them “unimpressive.”

That might be a bit of consolation for Obama and the Democrats in these somber economic times.

Upwards for the American economy

There seems little doubt that the U.S. economy is on the rise after today’s employment and unemployment figures for February.

The figures suggest the creation of 192,000 new jobs last month, which is higher than predicted and the most since last spring. At the same time, unemployment fell for the third straight month, from 9.8 in November to now 8.9 percent, the lowest figure in two years. This means, however, that nearly 14 million Americans are still without work and that six million of those have been unemployed for over six months.

The new jobs are found exclusively in the private sector, while 30,000 people last month lost their jobs in the state and local public sectors. This figure reflects the nationwide budget problems with huge deficits in both federal and state governments. It is these budget problems that lie behind the ongoing intensive negotiations here in Washington on this year’s budget as well as behind the ongoing battles about state budgets and public employees’ pensions and wages and right to collective bargaining.

In Wisconsin, ground zero for this battle, the outcome is uncertain. The governor is threatening to lay off 1,500 employees in early April if no settlement is reached until then. But the state’s 14 Democratic senators persist in their “exile” thereby continuing to prevent the Republican majority in the Senate to vote, and pass, the governor’s drastic proposal, which includes the abolishment of the right to collective bargaining.

In Ohio, the Democratic members of Congress did not take the same drastic action. They stayed and voted, and lost, thereby failing to prevent a similar proposal from another Republican governor to become law. Not even the fact that six Republican members of Congress voted with the Democrats could stop Ohio’s public employees from losing not only their right to negotiate collectively but also their right to strike.

Meanwhile, the budget negotiations here in Washington about the cuts in this year’s budget, which has not yet been approved by Congress, intensified. The 61 billion dollars in cutbacks by the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives voted will not be accepted by either the Senate’s Democratic majority or President Obama. The negotiations, led by Vice President Joe Biden, are now about which major cutbacks the White House will accept. The final figure is unclear, but it is clear that the cuts will be in the billions of dollars and they will affect many laudable programs in various areas, not the least education and health.

The negotiators have until 18 March to agree. If they fail, the threat of a government shutdown will again be an issue. However, it seems that no one really wants this in view of the political implications of the shutdown under President Clinton in the mid-1990s. A final compromise seems likely.