By Thomas J. Basile
Everyone’s a pundit in a year like this one, and those who’ve long been talking about the upcoming election have heavily debated whether 2012 will be similar to 1980. Conservatives are rightfully driving the line that it’s high time for another Reagan-style revolution in response to an unpopular, liberal president, a down economy and poor national mood gripping the nation. With an enormous opportunity to recapture the White House this year, Republicans should forget 1980. The electorate is going to approach this race much more like they did in 1968 and the GOP would do well to take notice now.
To be sure, there are a lot of parallels between the Obama and Carter Administrations. Jimmy Carter campaigned against the “imperial Presidency,” and for “making government more competent.” As president his sense of arrogance led him to be his own chief of staff in what became an insular, incompetent White House. Carter presided over an economy in turmoil marked by sky-high energy prices, double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment. A placating, rudderless foreign policy capped off what is widely considered a failed presidency. Carter seemed to be managing decline at best and a bungling, overwhelmed president at worst.
Similarly, Obama rode a strong wave of anti-Bush, anti-war sentiment into office, promising “hope and change” including millions of new jobs, tax cuts for virtually everyone and a commitment to getting the economy moving again after a devastating recession. None of which has materialized.
But 2012 could very well be more like 1968 than 1980 especially when it comes to how voters view the country and approach both the primary and general elections. There are clear similarities between then and the waters President Obama and the Republicans will be navigating this year.
In 1968 the Democratic Party was in crisis. As now, many Democrats didn’t like their own President. The hope and optimism of the Kennedy years had faded. Lyndon Johnson, who was never supposed to be President, rode the wave of nostalgia, raw emotion and loyalty for a fallen John F. Kennedy into office. After the ‘64 landslide and Johnson’s further escalation of the Vietnam War, reality set in for many Americans who felt betrayed by a President who wasn’t the product they originally bought. They felt betrayed by the Democratic Party. It was an era of sit-ins and protests. It was a time of angst and uncertainty as American values seemed to be slipping through our fingers.