Great victories don’t always equal great electoral success

Screen cap from Real Clear PoliticsWords, I’ve found, are completely inadequate to describe some things. That includes my feelings when I found out, May 1, that Osama bin Laden is dead. It wasn’t really joy – I’ve yet to feel that over the death of anyone – but it wasn’t sadness, either. It was somewhere in between melancholy, peace and pride. I was sad for all of those who have suffered because of bin Laden’s evil, at peace knowing he could hurt no one else, and proud of my country and my military for making sure that was the case.

The past few days have been maddening, watching those on the left and right spin this for their own benefit, using it to validate their point of view and invalidate the other. Those angles have all been covered, I’m sure, by people who are much more interested in that kind of thing than I am. But there is one thing I don’t believe I’ve seen addressed.

The question was posed – in several places – Does this ensure Obama’s re-election in 2012. I think the answer is “Not necessarily.” Recent history bears that out.

In early 1991, after the liberation of Kuwait, George H.W. Bush’s job approval ratings skyrocketed up to nearly 90%. It didn’t last long. Soon thereafter, as they economy soured, so did the public’s opinion of him. By ’92 unemployment hit 7.8% and his approval was down to 40%. In 1993 he was out of a job, replaced by Bill Clinton.

It was the same for his son, George W. Bush. The United States invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 and Bush’s approval ratings skyrocketed to about 85%.  But a slow, steady declined followed and by the time the U.S. entered Iraq it was down to 60% and Bush just eked out re-election against John Kerry. By the time hurricanes Katrina and Rita had ravaged the country, his job approval was in the 40s.

All of that hardly makes Barack Obama’s current 51.3% approval rating seem unbeatable. His undoing as president could be the same as it was for H.W. Bush. In the words of James Carville – during the Clinton campaign – “The economy, stupid.”