Assuming that 2012 things are about like 2011 things or worse (N.B.: big assume; a few months ago most mainstream economists thought happy days were almost here again), then the election will be a paradigm test: Political pseudo-science calls for the Prez under bad economic conditions to be thrown out. Against this theory – immortalized in the famous motto, “It’s the economy, stupid” – the Obamians would counterpose a re-election strategy that will presumably equate, in politically permissible/marketable language, with “the social democracy of fear.”
Indeed, the O-team has, apparently, long seen 2012 that way. Ed Kilgore explains it in consultant-speak:
Barack Obama (barring some truly shocking turn of events) will not only have the luxury of avoiding a base-tending primary challenge, but will have pursued what amounts to a general election strategy for the entire span of his presidency. From all appearances, Team Obama has long concluded its ace-in-the-hole for 2012 will be its ability to frighten both persuadable swing voters and unhappy progressives with the specter of what an extremist Republican government might do. Conservatives in Congress and in the early primary states are certainly doing everything they can to help Democrats paint devil horns on their eventual nominee.
That strategy must in turn be understood as aiming for the replacement of one political paradigm by another, not the end of economistic politics, but the advent of a politics for a different economy (and a culture-state in transition): Second term as a completed transition into the new American epoch announced in the Fall of 2008 – what some wanted to call the Age of Obama, what others have called a Post-American Age. Those terms do not contradict, though I’m not ready to declare either more than serviceable.
As for political science – I’m a fan, but much discussion, at specialist blogs and in the endlessly repeated “strategist” discussion on TV, puts me in mind of Leo Strauss’ notorious statement about the discipline, which he liked to call “new” in order to contrast it with “classical,” and which his counterparts on the Marxist left would have called “bourgeois”:
[O]ne may say of it that it fiddles while Rome burns. It is excused by two facts: it does not know that it fiddles, and it does not know that Rome burns.
Get ready for lotsa fiddlin.