William Galston

To what extent is demography destiny in politics? That’s the question that Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin’s much-discussed analysis of the 2012 presidential race puts front and center.  Teixeira and Halpin posit that the balance of two forces, “the shifting demographic balance of the American electorate, and the objective reality and voter perception of the economy in key battleground states,” will likely determine the outcome of Obama’s reelection. At that level of generality, it’s hard to disagree.

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Three questions emerge from the collapse of the super committee. First and least, what will be the immediate political fall-out? Second, will there be other occasions to put broad fiscal issues on the table, or are we condemned to inaction until 2013? And finally, how should President Obama respond? On the first question, Americans were more inclined to blame Republicans than Democrats for this summer’s debt ceiling fiasco, and the early returns suggest that this trend is continuing with regard to the super committee.

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Senior officials don’t define administrations; presidents do, by making the strategic decisions that reshape events. For the latest confirmation of this age-old truth, we need look no farther than Jackie Calmes’s excellent article on Tim Geithner, the one economic advisor Obama “fought to keep.” Toward the end of her piece, she reports the following, which occurred on a conference call shortly after the 2008 election: Mr. Obama spoke of the transformative domestic policies he had promised and now would pursue. Mr. Geithner, say people familiar with the exchange, cautioned that the crisis Mr.

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As the headline in Thursday’s Politico boldly touted (“Ohio back on Obama’s dance card”), the Obama campaign is suddenly refocusing on the Buckeye state. There’s a positive reason for this reported shift in the Obama campaign’s thinking: Coupled with the rebuke Ohio swing voters administered on Tuesday to an overreaching Republican governor, Mitt Romney’s lack of populist appeal makes Ohio a more tempting target than it appeared just a few months ago.

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Tuesday night’s election results illuminate the terrain on which the 2012 election will be fought. The American people want government to address their problems, but not at the cost of excessive intrusion in their lives. They recoil from ideologically motivated attacks on workers and on women.

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The latest Gallup report, based on a massive sample of more than 39,000 adults, contains troubling news for Democrats. Individuals identifying with the Democratic Party are a smaller share of the American people than they were early in 2008, and their views are less representative of the people as a whole. This means that the Obama team, which faces the crucial choice of either doubling down on its 2008 winning mix of professionals, young people, and minorities or rebuilding support among Independents in the heartland, should emphasize the latter option.

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With little more than a year until the presidential election, two new reports—a survey from CBS/NYT and a CBO brief on household income—illuminate the treacherous terrain on which the campaign will be waged. The candidates will be fighting for the sympathies of an electorate that is utterly dispirited and in no mood for promises of uplift from either party.

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By all accounts, the Obama campaign wants to avoid having the 2012 election turn into a referendum on the president’s first term, hoping instead to turn it into a choice between the two major parties’ candidates and visions for the country’s future. But if history is any guide, that will be an uphill battle. Some presidential elections do consist of a head-to-head comparison of the candidates: They just happen to be the ones involving non-incumbents, candidates whose competence to serve as president can only be predicted.

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William Galston lays out a program for action.

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George Will and I have something in common: We were both trained in the close reading of political texts. Will recently applied his interpretive skills to a statement by Elizabeth Warren, who is running for the Democratic senatorial nomination in Massachusetts. Here is what Warren said:  There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.

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