Brian Birdnow

The Romney campaign scored a sorely needed victory and a jolt of energy last Wednesday night, and many election watchers, including many Townhall readers earnestly hope that this will have some staying power. Many liberals are hard at work trying to explain Obama’s fumbling performance away as a fluke brought about by thin Rocky Mountain air or some such foolishness. This new spin is forcing the Left to temporarily shelve the narrative that they have been attempting to impose on the 2012 election, which is relatively simple and deceptively straightforward. To wit: The American voters do not necessarily support President Obama’s policies, but they like Obama on a personal level. As the new mantra goes, “…While the American people do not support all of President Obama’s initiatives, he remains personally popular with the public.” The media tells us that this salient fact makes Obama an even money bet to win re-election.

A more enduring and time-tested theorem of the political scientists is the old standard that people vote with their pocketbooks in the Presidential elections. This has proved itself true for well over a century starting in 1896 and continuing in 1920, and 1932. The pocketbook-voting phenomenon can be seen much closer to our own time, as well. Ronald Reagan’s 1980 rout of Jimmy Carter owed mostly to the economic troubles of the age, and Bill Clinton hammered away at what he called the worst economy in fifty years in the process of toppling George H.W. Bush in 1992. There have been certain exceptions to the rule, but the voters tend to stick with incumbents in good times like 1984 and 1996, but throw them out in bad times, or perceived bad times.

In one month the American voters will go to the polls to select a president. Here we will witness a train wreck of sorts, a wreck in which one of these mantras will prove durable and the other will be exposed as an illusion. This election shapes up as a referendum on President Barack Obama’s administration and his stewardship of national affairs, as is the nature of every re-election campaign. The people will decide whether their supposed personal affection for Obama outweighs the fact that the country is indisputably worse off that we were in 2008. Thus, one of the competing epigrams will be exposed as a hoary myth on November 6th.

Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.