Get Real

Monday morning quarterbacking

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WASHINGTON, DC—The Monday morning quarterbacks are now out in full force, some pointing out Mitt Romney’s fatal mistakes (why he lost), others perorating on why Barack Obama won—analyses that, while coming from different perspectives, had tremendous overlaps.

Reading them, one cannot help but wonder why, if all these losing or winning strategies (depending on who we are talking about) were so obvious, the surveys showed the two candidates running neck and neck up to election day. Ah, but of course there’s the term “Monday morning quarterbacks.” How easy to have 20-20 hindsight.

From what I gather, though, it was more a case of Romney losing the voters than of Obama winning them. Or a case of Obama making less mistakes than Romney. Or Romney failing to capitalize on Obama’s weaknesses, while Obama certainly capitalized on Romney’s. The only positive thing I seem to have read about the Obama campaign was that it had a far superior organization than Romney’s, one that operated on a street-by-street basis, particularly in the so-called swing states.

What were some of Romney’s mistakes? In retrospect, they were real doozies, starting with the one where he was caught on camera talking (to an audience of the very wealthy) about the 47 percent of the voters “who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this President no matter what.”

Ooh. One wonders what Romney thought of the Millennium Declaration and its accompanying Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which emphasized minimum standards of food and health, among other things. It was signed by 189 countries, including the United States, in September 2000. Of course, that was when Democrat Bill Clinton was President, but the George W. Bush administration did come up with the Millennium Challenge Corp., after all.

Then there was Romney’s stand on the DREAM Act, and on “illegals” and making it difficult for them to live in the United States so that there would be self-deportation. Another horrified ooh.

Which must have contributed to Obama’s winning 93 percent of the African-American vote, and 71 percent of the Latino vote. And although in the preelection surveys, the women’s vote was divided equally between Obama and Romney, the women went for Obama on election day, according to the exit polls, by a ratio of 55 percent to 45 percent nationally. The women apparently went for him in every swing state, and by as much as 59-40 (Iowa). The only reason I can think of for this showing has to do with Romney’s fellow Republicans, senatorial candidates Todd Akin (Missouri) and Richard Mourdock (Indiana), and their really asinine comments on “legitimate rape” and “God’s will.” They lost, too.

And speaking of Republicans (no offense meant to many American Chamber of Commerce [Amcham] members), Romney’s defeat was also attributed to their ideology, if one can call it that. The most damning comment I have come across was made by Simon Schama of Financial Times, writing on why Obama won: “What bit the dust on Tuesday was the world of denial in which Republicans have immured themselves ever since the rise of the Tea Party in 2009. This is a universe in which the financial crash was caused by over-regulation; one in which, despite years of brutal drought and violent weather patterns, climate change is a liberal hoax; a country that can correct a vast structural deficit without ever raising additional revenue, while expanding the military budget beyond anything sought by the Pentagon; a belief system in which Mr. Obama was the source of all economic ills rather than the steward of the most intractable crisis since the Depression. The mantra was that a business executive would, simply by virtue of that fact, effect a magical rejuvenation of the staggering American economy.”

Aside from the Monday morning quarterbacking, analyses on what Obama faces are also very much de rigueur at this time. What almost everyone seems to agree on is that the problems he will have to resolve are going to be horrendous. And foremost, or the most immediately pressing, among them, because it could happen at the close of this year or the beginning of 2013, is what Federal Reserve Board chair Ben Bernanke called the “fiscal cliff.”

What exactly is this fiscal cliff? It is a combination of two major fiscal events in the United States: the expiration of several revenue cuts (Bush tax cuts, plus payroll tax cuts and other tax relief provisions undertaken as part of the economic stimulus), and the spending cuts as a result of a bipartisan deficit-reduction agreement (Budget Control Act of 2011).

So what? Well, tax increases have a contractionary effect on an economy; spending cuts also have a contractionary effect. The two together will result in a double whammy, which, per the US Congressional Budget Office, will in turn result in a deep recession (as much as a 4-percentage-point reduction in GDP growth), plus a 1-percent increase in unemployment or a loss of as much as two million jobs.

As if that weren’t enough, there is also the possibility of what is called the “second-term curse”—i.e., a predisposition to failures. This apparently is not unique to Obama, but has afflicted other second-termer US presidents from George Washington onward. What is the basis of this “curse”? Being a lame duck is one reason; overconfidence is another; losing valued Cabinet members and other subordinates, to be replaced by people of lesser quality/competence, is yet another.

For all our sakes, let us hope Obama is equal to the challenge.

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