President Obama has had four years to fix the economy, and it’s not his fault he’s failed so far. He’s tried very hard, and he’s made some headway. But the task is so great that no one, not even FDR or Bill Clinton, could have done any better than he has. Thus, on effort and good intentions alone, Obama has earned four more years.
That’s a pathetically weak argument for reelection. But aside from attacking Mitt Romney, it’s the best Obama, Clinton, and Vice President Joe Biden could come up with at last week’s Democratic convention to defend a president bent on imposing policies that have produced consistently poor results.
Yet there’s a bigger problem with this tale—or narrative, in the political vernacular—of a determined president unfairly criticized. It’s simply a message that doesn’t fit the moment. Millions of voters—especially disillusioned backers of Obama in 2008—fear that neither Obama nor Romney nor anyone else can revive the economy and halt America’s decline. And their pessimism is deepening.
Just before the two conventions, a Fox News poll asked this question: “Do you think the United States is on the rise as a civilization or is it on the decline?” The response was decline 57 percent, rise 31 percent. To me, this reflects despair—well, near-despair, anyway—not just fleeting unhappiness with today’s stagnant economy and high joblessness.