President Obama is riding high in the afterglow of his second Inauguration — but the signs of trouble ahead are already becoming clear.
First off, it now looks like the US economy peaked in the third quarter last year — growing at 3.1 percent, a huge leap from 1.3 percent in the second quarter and 2 percent in the first.
That was perfect timing for his re-election, bringing unemployment below 8 percent for the first time since Obama took office and robbing Mitt Romney of one of his top talking points.
But top economists believe things slowed in the fourth quarter and again this year. Many are openly predicting that fourth-quarter growth will come in at between 1 and 1.5 percent, and growth is unlikely to top that rate in the near future.
We’re already seeing the signs of an economy far from recovery. Retail sales in December, the most important shopping month of the year, were a flop. Holiday-related sales rose just 0.7 percent from Oct. 28 to Dec. 24, compared with a 2 percent rise the year before.
And according to a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan report, consumer confidence is at its lowest point since December 2011.
The president may continue to claim that the economy’s woes just aren’t his fault, but in his fifth year in office, those excuses are wearing exceedingly thin. It won’t help that his Inaugural Address included barely a mention of jobs or economic growth: He’s made his real priorities clear.
Meanwhile, he’s dealt himself another problem that will frustrate all his efforts to deal with the economy.
A year ago, Democratic pollsters Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell warned in an oped column that Obama could only win re-election by running “the most negative campaign in history,” and that the political damage from such a campaign would leave him unable to govern in a second term.
It was one of the boldest predictions of the election season — and it was right.
No sooner had Romney secured the GOP nomination than Team Obama hit him with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of negative ads, casting him as, in Haley Barbour’s words, a “wealthy plutocrat married to a known equestrian.”
The Obama blitzkrieg defined Mitt Romney before he could define himself. And despite an inspired first debate performance, he never recovered.
Nor did the president let up after Election Day. In his inaugural address, his usual lofty rhetoric thinly veiled the same partisan attack lines he used in his campaign, complete with references to “the shrinking few who do very well” and those who believe in “happiness for the few.”
Even after the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was willing and able to strike a conciliatory tone with his political opposition. Not Obama.
The start of Obama’s second term looks a lot more like the beginning of FDR’s second term in 1937, when he launched his Supreme Court-packing plan — and wound up losing 81 seats to the Republicans in the 1938 midterms.
Like Roosevelt, Obama is overplaying his hand. His favorability rating has dropped sharply, from 55 percent immediately after his re-election to 48 percent today. He is now the only president in history to be elected to a second term with fewer popular votes than he won for his first term.
But none of this is good for the country.
After all, he won re-election despite a vastly unpopular domestic-policy record, with no plan for a second term and an electorate that believes the country is on the wrong track.
If the president continues to treat Republicans — who control the House and a strong minority in the Senate — with such contempt, it will be almost impossible to legislate much of anything.
Yet the country needs Washington to actually resolve at least a few issues — to find some grounds for principled compromise. The current standoff produces massive uncertainty. What will future tax rates be? Which government programs will be cut or expanded? What parts of the government might wind up shut down for extended periods while the two sides fight?
And uncertainty leaves businesses and others afraid to invest — afraid to take risks when the rules are too likely to change, and maybe change again within the year. Not enough people will risk putting money into long-term ventures when the future is so cloudy.
All of which will make it nearly impossible to get the economy truly moving again, creating massive numbers of jobs to bring unemployment down below 5 percent, where it should be.
As Americans, we are dismayed at the pain the president is imposing on the country, but as Republicans with solutions, our future as a party is bright.
Ed Cox is the Chairman and David Laska the Communications Director of the New York State Republican Party.