An underperforming president
How Barack Obama allowed the Republicans to rout him over the debt ceiling.
Aug 6th 2011 | from the print edition
AT THE very last moment, and just before his 50th birthday this week, Barack Obama got the deal that raised the debt ceiling by between $2.1 trillion and $2.4 trillion and so prevented the United States from going into default on his watch. But this does not mean that the roof is not still in danger of falling in on his presidency. The superstar of 2008, who once looked like a shoo-in for re-election, now appears extremely vulnerable. Despite talk that he will raise a record $1 billion war chest, Democrats in Congress have begun to whisper that Mr Obama’s fading chances of winning a second term are coming to depend on the absence—so far—of an exciting Republican challenger.
Single events seldom determine the fate of a presidency. Those who said just over a year ago that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would doom Mr Obama were as wrong as those who thought May’s killing of Osama bin Laden would make him unbeatable. The debt fight is in similar danger of being over-interpreted. Mr Obama’s fate depends more on two big bets he placed well before the Republican capture of the House in November’s mid-terms. The health-care reform that chewed up political capital in his first two years tanked with voters, and more than $800 billion of stimulus spending has so far failed to deliver the hoped-for growth in jobs. The outcome of the next election will depend more on unemployment than on Mr Obama’s handling of the past month’s comic opera on the debt ceiling.