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How Obama might recover

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By David Broder
Sunday, October 31, 2010; 12:00 AM

When the midterm election cycle began, the prevailing opinion was that Barack Obama was cleverer and more inspirational than anyone else on the scene. As it ends, nothing appears to have changed.

OH, YES, I know that Democrats have fallen into a peck of trouble and may lose control of Congress. But even if they do, Obama can still storm back to win a second term in 2012. He is that much better than the competition.

In what respects is he enduringly superior? Let's start with the basics. He is much smarter than his challengers in either party, better able to read the evidence and come to the right conclusions.

Over time, his conclusions are likely to stand scrutiny better than those of other politicians. The crucial case in point is his analysis of economic forces. No one would pretend that this is anything but a daunting situation. The nation is suffering simultaneously from high and persistent unemployment, lagging investment, massive public and private debt, and a highly inefficient tax system.

The steps that have been ordered so far in Washington have done nothing more than put the brakes on the runaway decline. They have not spurred new growth.

But if Obama cannot spur that growth by 2012, he is unlikely to be reelected. The lingering effects of the recession that accompanied him to the White House will probably doom him.

Can Obama harness the forces that might spur new growth? This is the key question for the next two years.

What are those forces? Essentially, there are two. One is the power of the business cycle, the tidal force that throughout history has dictated when the economy expands and when it contracts. Economists struggle to analyze this, but they almost inevitably conclude that it cannot be rushed and almost resists political command. As the saying goes, the market will go where it is going to go.

In this regard, Obama has no advantage over any other pol. Even in analyzing the tidal force correctly, he cannot control it.

What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.

Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.

Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran's ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran's nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

davidbroder@washpost.com


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