Political commentary may be focused on health care reform right now, but some commentators believe that the economy, not health care, will ultimately determine the fates of Obama and congressional Democrats. They contend that jobs, and the unemployment level, will matter more in the 2010 and 2012 elections. If they're correct, what should Obama and the Democrats do differently?

  • Focus on the Economy, Push High-Profile Programs  John B. Judis argued in the New Republic that "[e]ven a successful resolution to the current health care debate is unlikely to do Obama much good." After all, "Economic good news trumped Monica Lewinsky." Judis believes Obama could follow Roosevelt's path, enjoying big political gains on a weak-but-improving economy, or Reagan's path, suffering defeats over an economy whose fundamentals were strengthening, despite clear signs of short-term weakness.

    "For both Roosevelt and Reagan, what mattered was not the actual state of the economy, but whether things were getting better or worse," Judis wrote. "In both 1936 and 1984, the trajectory of unemployment was downward, and that was the key. Moreover, history suggests that it is not enough for the economy to be headed in the right direction; it has to be headed in the right direction in tangible ways that voters can see." Judis advocated more programs like "cash for clunkers" and, perhaps, a second stimulus. "If Obama wants to follow Roosevelt's precedent, he'll introduce programs that provide jobs and capture the public's imagination."
  • Focus on Economy, but Ditch the Big Programs  Jennifer Rubin, writing for Commentary's blog, said Democrats "must get off the health-care kick (replete with taxes, mandates, and fines) and deploy policies that would spur job growth." How? Through free-market policies of course, not regulation or big federal programs. "If in fact some maze of taxes and regulations is enacted, deepening the private sector’s slump, then Obama will only have worsened the country’s economic predicament and his own political problems," she wrote. "They have plenty of academics and liberal politicians, but precious few entrepreneurs. So they throw up their hands–and even worse, devise policies that discourage job creation. Obama might not want to focus on jobs, but the voters certainly will."
  • Don't Bother, Economic Predictions Are Just Guesswork  Walter Shapiro in Politics Daily, noting that many experts did not foresee the dramatic economic recovery in 1984, wondered if forecasts for "a long, hard slog of a recovery" could be wrong. "Guessing the political terrain with any precision a year in advance of the 2010 elections is nearly impossible," Shapiro wrote, arguing that no single indicator is definitive. Shapiro ran down the last four midterms, each "shaped by large national themes" bigger than the economy: "Bill Clinton's health-care failure and voter antipathy toward congressional Democrats (1994); Republican over-reach in the drive to impeach Clinton (1998); rally-round-the-flag patriotism and fear-mongering in the aftermath of 9/11 (2002); and ire at George W. Bush over Iraq and Hurricane Katrina (2006)." None of these, of course, was economic.