John Baer: Politics, like hot weather, comes in waves

And, with both, we've about reached our limit

Posted: July 26, 2010

IT STRIKES ME that in the heat of summer everybody hates everything that isn't water ice or air-conditioned.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Web site, extreme heat can kill "by pushing the human body beyond its limits."

Same can be said of extreme politics. I'm reaching my limits.

A midsummer heat wave corresponds with the Sherrod charade and bigots' signs at tea-party rallies, both showing that there's little restraint or intelligence on race inside the White House or out.

Congress is horrible. Overheated politics says that Democrats are dead, Republicans are rising and Barack Obama is a one-term president.

(Congress, by the way, is horrible. It does not respect your money. See the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation's report on in-house spending? It says a nine-month House food/beverage bill was $2.6 million, including $604,000 for bottled water and $397,000 for catering.

(GOP Rep. Joe Pitts is the only Pennsylvania congressman singled out - for spending $1,400 at Yoder's Country Market, in New Holland, Lancaster County.

(Yoder's offers "delicious Golden Guernsey milk in glass bottles" and a 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. breakfast special: a short stack of buttermilk pancakes "with syrup" for $1.99.

(Pitts' office says that he spent your money on two large-group breakfast buffets, one for local elected officials and the other for local educators. I'm not sure why tax dollars are buying breakfast for folks who can buy their own, but I'll bet they didn't do the early-bird thing. Pitts, after all, is a former member of the state Legislature.

(But I digress.)

I don't doubt that Republicans have a good shot at taking the House and snagging some Senate seats. Polling says that even generic GOPers are preferable to those in charge. But pundits and others pushing the president's plummet are out in the sun too long.

Newt Gingrich said in May that Obama has a 20 percent chance of being re-elected. This is the same Newt Gingrich who said in fall '07 that Hillary Clinton had an 80 percent chance of being the next president.

Point is, things change, politics is event-driven and no one can say what's down the road. Still, there's an emerging path to a second term.

Obama ain't Congress. An average of five recent national polls puts Congress' approval rating at 22 percent. The president's approval rating, despite national angst, is more than double that - close to 50 percent.

Obama delivered stimulus to stop a depression and he'll remind voters of that; the first-ever major health-care-reform law fulfills a principal promise of his campaign and likely shows quantifiably positive results by 2012; Wall Street reform, although nobody gets it, can be sold as aggressive action on behalf of average taxpayers.

Even extending unemployment benefits in the face of GOP opposition shows Obama responding to people in need while the other party looks callous.

I'm no fan of the ongoing waste of human and monetary resources for two wars; the unemployment rate is too high; recovery is too slow (or, a cynic might suggest, tailored to upturn in 2012; hey, I don't trust anybody), and a fight looms over restoring, ending or modifying the Bush tax cuts.

But you need somebody to beat somebody. Who is that? An also-ran, such as Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee? A brand name like Newt or Sarah? Another Bush? I don't think so. And while a little-known challenger could emerge Obama-like, history's on Obama's side.

American University Professor Allan Lichtman has a formula - "13 Keys" - to predict presidential-election outcomes. He's been right since '88, even calling Al Gore's '00 popular-vote win and saying in '07 that any Democrat would win in '08.

His "keys" for incumbents are basic: Is there a serious primary; is there a recession or major scandal during the campaign; is the opponent charismatic or a national hero? Two weeks ago, Lichtman said that his "keys" favor Obama.

I say two things: 1) much of politics is about the heat of the moment; and 2) heat waves don't last.

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/baer.

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