Deficits and the Midterms

Edward Luce of the FT writes that Barack Obama should pay more attention to the long-term structural deficit:

A plausible alternative scenario is that Mr Obama will head into next year’s midterm congressional elections, which will help determine his re-election chances in 2012, facing a sullen electorate that fears the Democrats are taking their country towards bankruptcy. It might not be fair – Mr Bush, rather than Mr Obama, deserves most of the blame for America’s deepening structural deficits. But it is the kind of message that could help bring a moribund Republican party back to life.

If this strikes me as somewhat politically naive. For one thing, there’s no reason to think that the midterms “will help determine” Obama’s re-election chances. Note the divergent outcomes in 1994 and 1996, or in 1982 and 1984. If anything, it’s arguably easier for a president to play off an opposition-dominated congress. Meanwhile, the basic geography of the 2010 Senate midterms is very favorable to the Democrats, with open GOP-help seats in New Hampshire, Missouri, and Ohio.

Last, I think there’s just common sense. With the common bad and getting worse and long-term deficit projections looking grim, sure voters say they’re upset about the deficit. But if by the fall of 2010 unemployment is lower than it is today and heading downward, how worried are people really going to be? By contrast, if things keep getting worse, how impressed will they be by an improvement in the projected state of things in 2024? Something’s going to have to be done in the 2011-2014 period to make this graph look different but doing climate and health (which is related) in 2009-10 looks substantively and politically justifiable to me.