By the lore of politics, the economy, such as it is, should trump in 2012, and the election should be for Republicans to lose. Nevertheless, the GOP is on track to hand Barack Obama an undeserved second term.
Mr. Obama has done a great job convincing voters, especially his Democratic base, that he inherited a mess—no doubt, thanks to the sorcery of Republican free-marketeers.
Treasury Secretary Geithner proclaims, repeatedly, that the quarter century prior to the financial crisis was one of great instability. To wit, Americans must accept, to avoid another meltdown, mediocre growth, economic decline and nagging unemployment.
Messrs. Obama and Geithner appear not to read history.
Democratic President Clinton convinced Congress to repeal Glass-Steagall’s prohibitions on risky bank activities and unleashed the Wall Street excesses that caused the crisis.
The early-1980s through the recent crisis is called by economists “The Great Moderation,” because the U.S. economy enjoyed its greatest stability in growth, industrial activity, and employment since the Civil War.
President Obama did start out in a big hole, but just about everything he has done and left undone since then has put the country in deeper.
The economy suffers from too little demand. Americans buy too much abroad and our country exports too little. Every dollar that goes abroad but does not return to buy exports is lost purchasing power that could create jobs.
The $550 billion annual the trade deficit blows a hole in domestic demand, that temporary stimulus and fraud-ridden industrial policies like Solyndra won’t fix. Ditto for Mr. Obama’s free trade agreements—those create as many new imports as exports, and not much change in the trade balance, growth and jobs equation.
China accounts for about half the trade gap—Beijing blocks the sale of competitive U.S. products in the Middle Kingdom, and subsidizes exports and undervalues its currency to keep its products artificially cheap on American store shelves.
President Obama has repeatedly groused about these problems, but his policies of soft diplomacy and resisting the stronger measures advocated in Congress have failed.
Oil accounts for the other half of the trade imbalance, but shutting down drilling in the Gulf and blocking on-shore natural gas exacerbate foreign energy dependence, doesn’t cut environmental risks or hasten the sale of electric cars. Those merely shift risks of calamity to developing countries, slow down our growth and create unemployment in the United States.
Demand is not the only problem—doing business costs too much and credit is too scarce, thanks to Obama’s army of bureaucrats micro-managing the economy.
Mr. Obama’s health care reforms—by increasing federal subsidies and business mandates in a broken system—have driven up, not controlled health care costs. Americans pay about $8,000 per person for health care, while the Germans, who also have a private provider system, pay only $4,000. American businesses can’t compete carrying that rock on their backs.
President Obama's financial reforms concentrate deposits among a handful of Wall Street banks, and now loans are woefully scarce for small and medium-sized businesses that create most new jobs. At this point, it matters little how far the Fed pushes down interest rates.
Tomes of new bank regulations have also made many lending activities too paperwork-intensive and expensive for regional banks to continue. And so the story goes for many manufacturers seeking to expand or get started around the country.
The president retorts he has directed the bureaucracy to identify unnecessary rules—heck, that’s like asking an alcoholic to pick the day of the week he prefers not to drink.
Enter Governors Romney and Perry, Professor Gingrich, and friends—they’ve got plans to fix it all, but don’t articulate where the problems lie, how their remedies would work and by extension, why one of them deserves the top job.
Americans must be convinced they should expect better than the mediocrity Democrats so worship, and what the ultimate GOP nominee offers will work. So far the polls indicate Americans are unhappy but are unconvinced any Republican can do better.
In 2004, Senator Kerry spewed the usual Democratic diatribe: Republicans, in the person of President Bush, are naïve and don’t appreciate the need for progressive policies—an open hand to terrorists, embracing China with love, and socializing everything down to 10-grade Junior Achievemnet projects. Americans were hardly convinced and returned Mr. Bush for a second term.
Now, Republicans merely chanting get tough with China, drill and deregulate won’t cut it.
No Electoral College math puts a Republican in the White House without a strong showing in Ohio. In the latest Quinnipiac poll, Mr. Obama leads all GOP contenders in the Buckeye State.
The Republican cavalcade of candidates reminds me more of "Seinfeld"—from Mr. Perry’s gaffes, to Gingrich’s college-lecture jokes to Romney's straight man perfection—than Rocky training to knock off the champ.
Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. Follow him on Twitter@PeterMorici1.