Both stories fit the classic pattern of post-cultural-revolution politics: The left demands that society “progress” beyond the point at which the majority is comfortable, a backlash occurs, and social conservatives win victories at the polls. No surprise that the Obama administration is reportedly trying to seek a compromise on contraceptives and the Church. What first seemed like a clever way to corral feminists, single women, and pro-choice suburban women under the Obama banner now seems like a mistake…
The importance of the economy to politics, moreover, is routinely overstated. Certainly global meltdowns will affect electoral outcomes. Barring such a disaster, however, it is difficult if not impossible to make a direct connection between the unemployment rate or job creation and whether a president or Congress wins reelection. One can only rely on correlations and coincidences. FDR won reelection three times despite the Great Depression. The economy was improving when George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton. The economy was on the verge of a boom in 1994 when Republicans won Congress for the first time in 40 years. So, too, the economy was approaching the peak of a bubble in 2006 when the Democrats took back Congress because of the wars and GOP corruption.
Just because the economy was central to 2008 does not even mean that it was necessarily the most important factor in the GOP comeback of 2010. Jeffrey H. Anderson’s rigorous analysis of swing districts shows that House Democrats who voted against Obamacare were more likely to survive the “shellacking” than those who voted for it. Sean Trende points out in his must-read book, The Lost Majority, that Republican challengers emphasized Obamacare more than jobs in campaign communications. “The economy” is a large and undefined term and can be interpreted to mean many things.
The president is far more vulnerable to criticism on social and cultural grounds than he is to criticism of the “economy.” To paraphrase Reagan, the economy is big enough to take care of itself.