While GOP candidates are bent on detracting from Obama's term, his position actually improves

By Thomas Fitzgerald

McClatchy

Published: Sunday, Feb. 19 2012 12:24 a.m. MST

"We don't begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it," Obama said in the State of the Union. "When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it's not because they envy the rich. It's because they understand that, when I get a tax break I don't need and the country can't afford, it either adds to the deficit or somebody else has to make up the difference — like a senior on a fixed income, or a student trying to get through school, or a family trying to make ends meet. ... Americans know that's not right."

The nation can endure only if there is a sense of "shared responsibility," Obama argued.

Republicans frame Obama's tack as "class warfare," and it may come to be seen that way by a majority of Americans. Populist appeals traditionally have had limited success in U.S. politics.

In fact, statistical modeling of presidential elections has found that fundamental economic indicators such as the rates of unemployment, inflation, and economic growth determine the fates of incumbents — and that trend lines are more important than a "magic" number for any of the factors.

The populist message "may help, but I don't think voters are willing to listen unless they feel things are changing for the better," said Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire. "When the wind is at your back, a fly ball carries out to right field. ... The key is what the economy does in the next several months. If January was a blip and things turn south again, even an embattled Republican nominee will look a lot better."

(c)2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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