Which is just what Reagan did in 1984. Whatever small gains the Democrats had gotten out of bashing the Gipper's economic plan turned sour as the economy boomed, and the public naturally credited Reaganomics. All that was left for their 1984 presidential nominee, Walter Mondale, to criticize was the ballooning national deficit. The 2012 GOP nominee will undoubtedly do the same — and learn, as all deficit-hawk candidates have before, that it doesn't work.
At some point, this economy, like that of the early 1980s, will improve, and — deservedly or not — the American voters will give Obama credit for his accomplishments: stimulus funding, "toxic assets" purchases, foreclosure-protection legislation, credit-card regulations, Cash for Clunkers, homebuyer tax credits, and extended unemployment benefits. They will also remember that the Republicans stood adamantly opposed to all of it.
Assuming reasonable success in winding down the wars he inherited in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama should win an easy re-election. One might even say it will be Reaganesque.
Eye on the future
It's easy to get distracted by the day-to-day political pinball. Our national news networks have become 24/7 Obama-analysis machines, dissecting each day's developments as though great tides of public opinion are at stake with each town-hall outburst or procedural nuance in a bill's progression.
But one thing we have learned about Obama and his political advisors, from the 2008 campaign and their first year in office: they keep their eye on the future, and don't let the bumpy road distract them along the way.
They know, for instance, that people get nervous about change— even change they want. Some three-quarters of Americans say they want significant health-care reform (or, put another way, virtually every voter other than the knee-jerk, anti-government conservatives who would never vote for Obama anyway). Inevitably, the specifics of the actual plan under consideration — or the hyperbolic claims about that plan — have scared many away from supporting it. But Obama and the Democratic leadership are confident that passage of the law will prove extremely popular once it's done— even if it takes six months longer than the summer '09 deadline once promised — and they are probably correct.
While Obama strategizes for the long-term political consequences, Republicans have taken the opposite route, concentrating exclusively on "winning" the day-to-day shout-fest. It's a poker match between a shrewd player and a guy who blindly raises on every bet; the one making the most noise at the table is destined to lose in the end.
Thanks to the Republicans' short-sightedness, Americans, who truly wanted bipartisanship as recently as this summer, have now been convinced that the GOP is too consumed with mindless antagonism to make it possible.
And any legitimate criticisms of Obama— on provisions of the health-care bill, as well as on foreign policy and handling of the economy — have been subordinated to wild-eyed claims of socialism, death panels, appeasement to dictators, and even crazier allegations.
This was how the right treated Clinton, too. By the time they got through impeaching him, nobody could remember which scandals were true and which were invented.