Carville coins famous phrase: ‘It’s the economy, stupid’

Published 2:11 am Wednesday, April 16, 2008

By By Steve Flowers
In the 1992 presidential campaign, where Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush, the economy was in the doldrums which contributed greatly to Bush Sr.’s defeat at the polls. Clinton’s chief strategist James Carville saw the economy as being the pivotal issue of the campaign and stressed the importance of staying on message. Carville’s entire election strategy was to keep the message simple and on course. Thus he coined the famous phrase that was repeated to his campaign staff daily, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
If the downturn in the economy was the issue in 1992, then without question it is the issue this year. This is the worst economic year since the Great Depression. We are in a recession that is the worst in over 60 years. There are monthly reports of over one million homes in foreclosure and 63,000 jobs per month are lost. Our stock market is collapsing and our dollar is dropping overseas to the lowest point in history. Real estate prices have dropped for the first time in decades and the deficit is mounting to a dangerous level that may never be rectified in our lifetime. All of this bad economic news has come under the watch of George W. Bush and regardless of whether he is at fault or not he has been at the helm of the ship.
This terrible economic news, coupled with a very unpopular war in Iraq, is a recipe for a Democratic presidential victory in November. It has the ingredients for not only a presidential victory but a landslide and coattails for more Democratic inroads into Republican numbers in the House and Senate.
Early signs portend a Democratic tsunami. There are almost double the number of participants in the Democratic primaries this year than Republican. Every open House seat has gone Democratic, even in historically Republican seats like retiring former House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois.
The Democratic contenders, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have overwhelmingly surpassed the Republicans in fundraising. For example, in the last month alone Obama raised $55 million, Clinton $35 million and McCain $12 million. That is a 90 to 12 money advantage and money is the mother’s milk of politics.
However, in an incomprehensible twist John McCain, the apparent Republican nominee, runs dead even with either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Clinton and Obama each run even 46 to 46 against McCain. It is apparent that despite all the traditional indications of a Democratic victory it will be a close race in November.
The protracted contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to capture the Democratic nomination plays perfectly into McCain’s hands. This script of an Obama vs. Clinton feud for several more months will only accrue to an advantage for McCain and the GOP. The turmoil and acrimony that will persist for a few more months will give them little time to recover. Even if they kiss and make up and even if the winner picks the loser to be his or her running mate they will have wasted precious planning and recovery time.
Obama and Clinton are both thoroughbreds who will be tough to beat. However you cannot give a weaker horse a mile head start and still win. McCain is like an old plow horse. He looks old, lacks charisma, and is saddled with George Bush’s legacy of massive debt and an unpopular and many say unnecessary war that contributed significantly to the national deficit and economic recession. However remember as Yoggi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.”
One certainty is that the next president will come from the ranks of the U.S. Senate. McCain, Clinton, and Obama are all U.S. Senators. Even though most of the aspirants for the White House are generally U.S. Senators, they are rarely successful. The American electorate either instinctively, intuitively, or intentionally in recent decades has opted to pick a governor to sit in the Oval Office. The last candidate to move from the Senate to the White House was John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Also, if recent history is any indication you can bet that Alabama will probably vote for the Republican nominee in November, whether the Democrats nominate Obama or Clinton. It has been 32 years, eight presidential elections, since Alabama has voted for a Democrat for president. Also remember “it’s the economy stupid.”
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at

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