Published for www.commentarymagazine.com, June 15th, 2012

Why is Barack Obama’s road to re-election so steep and uncertain at this stage?

There are five important reasons.

1. An indefensible record. Every election which features an incumbent is, at least in good measure, a referendum on the record of the incumbent. The problem facing Obama is that he can’t offer a convincing case that his policies have succeeded. Recall that at the outset of his presidency, Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “I will be held accountable. I’ve got four years… If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.” Yet last October, Obama had to concede to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that “I don’t think [people are] better off than they were four years ago.”

In addition, the main achievements of the Obama presidency – including the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus package – are deeply unpopular. By virtually any measure, then, the president has presided over a failed first term. He cannot reinvent, and therefore he cannot successfully defend, his record.

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