"Nobody" Is a Very Tough Political Opponent

06/05/2011 08:31 pm ET | Updated Aug 05, 2011
  • Jared Bernstein Fmr. Obama administration economist; CNBC and MSNBC contributor

I did some media commentary last week on what impact the recent slowing of the economy might have on President Obama's re-election. It's a tempting topic, but there are lots of ways it's pretty off point right now.

First, it's too early. Opinions on the economy that affect the election will be much more the stuff of next summer than this one.

Second, economic indicator analysis can be too reductionist. This is the analysis that goes, "if the unemployment is X, the incumbent is toast." I like the way Nate Silver explains it here. There are so many more moving parts to this, and even if the level of unemployment stays too high (as is likely to be the case), as long as it's coming down, that can matter more than the level itself.

But here's the most important shortcoming of this analysis: "nobody" is a tough opponent. Like my old boss the VP used to say, "don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative."

This is especially germane on the economy. Obama's potential opponents will be singing from an economic policy songbook that's no different from the one that got us into this mess. Here's a good guidepost: the recent jobs plan from House Republicans. More tax cuts, less regulation, and remember, it was the House Republicans that all supported Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare, cut the safety net, and hand much of the savings over to the wealthiest households.

These ideas tickle the base, no doubt -- though the Ryan plan may prove to be too much for even the party faithful. But it's hard to imagine this policy set resonating with the independents who may ultimately decide the next election.

I have no idea what the electoral dynamics will be a year from now and neither does anyone else. But I do know the president will be running against someone. She or he may be a tough opponent, but they'll be a lot less tough than nobody.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.