Commentary Magazine


The Big Stories

It’s only the morning after Super Tuesday, but it still’s not too early to think about the really super Tuesday—the one that comes in November. In that regard I was struck by the two major stories of this morning after the election news. One is that the economy is apparently continuing its slide into recession. The other is the testimony of Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, that Al Qaeda is improving its ability to attack the United States.

The former story seems to favor Clinton/Obama (or Obama/Clinton), the latter McCain. Of crucial importance will be the weight assigned by voters to the two. At the moment it appears that the economy and health care edge out the war in Iraq and terrorism as issues of concern in the polls. Of course a president can do far less to influence the economy than national security policy, and even if we’re in a recession it will probably be over by the time the next president is inaugurated. Moreover, since McCain is not closely associated with the Bush administration it is an open question to what extent voters will punish him for what may be seen as the Bush recession.

Admittedly, there is a strong tendency among voters to use a general election as a referendum on the state of the economy with the incumbent party being punished if the economic news is bad. But that could be trumped if terrorism and war stay in the news since McCain is so much more better qualified than Clinton/Obama to “keep us safe”—the only voter concern that can rival the economy in importance.

I don’t profess to have the foggiest notion of how these dynamics will play out. The only safe prediction seems to be that it will be a wild ride until November—as wild as the past year, and that’s saying something.