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The Obama Referendum

Being president of the United States is heady stuff. The immense responsibilities and the trappings of the office might turn even the most grounded of individuals into a bit of a narcissist. While not all of those who worked in the Oval Office have succumbed to this temptation, listening to President Obama lately it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that being the commander-in-chief has gone to his head a bit. The tone of his statements about the debt ceiling debate as well as his behavior in the negotiations has been consistently high-handed and condescending toward his opponents. In Obama’s worldview, he is the voice of reason while others are squabbling, small-minded midgets who just don’t get the picture he alone sees.

So it is little surprise that in an interview with a Kansas City television station quoted by the Associated Press, the president dismissed his prospective Republican opponents as more or less irrelevant. For Obama, the outcome in 2012 will be all about Obama. This is in keeping with the somewhat imperial style he has adopted lately, but it must be admitted that when it comes to what will happen next year, he’s not wrong.

When the president says, “I’m probably going to win or lose depending on their assessment of my stewardship,” he’s entirely correct. Despite all of the attention we are giving the Republican candidates these days, 2012 will ultimately be a referendum on Obama. And given his consistently poor poll numbers lately, that’s hardly good news for his party.

Ironically, the president’s evaluation of his prospects next year is exactly the opposite of the way his campaign is likely to frame the election. Unless a major economic turnaround occurs, the president won’t be able to run on his economic record. Nor are there any foreign policy triumphs for him to trumpet other than the killing of Osama bin Laden. While he will continue, as he has since the moment he took the oath of office, blaming the nation’s troubles on his predecessor, the Democratic campaign will almost certainly focus on trying to demonize the Republican who winds up being nominated.

But no matter whom the president’s opponent turns out to be, his statement about the judgment of the voters will still hold true. The 2012 election will be a referendum on Obama and all he has done, from the billion dollar stimulus to the massive expansion of entitlements that Obamacare mandated to a debt ceiling crisis orchestrated by the White House in order to force his ideological agenda on the Congress. Unless he can make the election turn on the unsuitability of his opponent, it is the public’s view of the president’s record that will decide the outcome. As things stand now, that is a sobering thought for any Democrat.



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