Pete Townshend put it best: “Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.” The same could apply to Obama’s re-election. Many of those who voted for change in 2008 are now deeply disillusioned with Barack Obama. This is natural, given that his entire candidacy was based on his being the blank slate candidate, a canvas onto which people could project their hopes and desires, and a phenomenon that the President himself has noted. In the three years since the 2008 election, Obama has had to deal with a deep recession and oversee American wars in the Middle East and South Asia, while at the same time trying to advance a backlog of Democratic priorities with mixed results. Obama promised both national unity and an explicitly progressive agenda, a maneuvering pleases neither moderates nor progressives. Nowhere is the resulting disappointment more palpable than in the great bellwether of American politics: Ohio, which has voted for the winner in the last 12 presidential contests and which has chosen only one loser (Richard Nixon in 1960) since 1948. Acting out of character and voting for a liberal in 2008, Ohio broke sharply to the right in the 2010 election because of persistently high unemployment and Democratic overreach on government spending, healthcare reform, and cap-and-trade legislation.
Ohio is the microcosm of America: urban and rural, liberal and conservative, and industrial yet wanting for jobs. As a native Ohioan, I can attest that all of the political clichés about the state are true, and they spell disaster for President Obama in 2012, barring a major economic pickup, a war with Iran, or some other unlikely boost. Up until last week’s elections, most Democrats would even agree with this assessment.
But now, the left is saying that Ohio Republicans scared off voters by going too far with State Senate Bill 5, which would have severely limited public-sector unions’ bargaining rights in a state where organized labor still has enormous political clout. With Issue 2’s defeat, one has to assume Governor John Kasich’s ham-handed treatment of government reform has changed the game and created an opening for the Democrats, right?
Wrong. While Ohio Republicans did overreach on Issue 2 and while Ohio will be competitive in 2012, the political fundamentals of the state have not changed. Unemployment is right around the national average at 9.1%. Obama’s approval ratings in the state are in the toilet, and even some Democrats are abandoning him. By failing to deliver on jobs and growth, the President has not endeared himself to Ohioans, and this failure thus far – not the issue of collective bargaining – is going to decide the 2012 election. If the President cannot create at the least the perception of an economic recovery sometime soon, then by this time next year, Obama will be pitching his memoirs to the New York publishing houses. The people of Ohio (and the rest of the country) sent Obama to the White House for one reason – to fix the economy – and in this 2012, they won’t get fooled again.