Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Incumbency Advantage

Even in tough economic times, incumbent presidents have certain political advantages. The New York Times reports:
Every president lives at the intersection of policy and politics, never more so than during a campaign season. Locked in a tight race with Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama and his team have been pulling every lever of the federal government within reach, announcing initiatives aimed at critical constituencies, dispatching cabinet secretaries to competitive areas, coordinating campaign events to match popular government actions and forestalling or even reversing other government decisions that could hurt the president’s chances of a second term.
On Friday, Mr. Obama will designate Chimney Rock in Colorado a national monument, preserving thousands of acres and aiding tourism in another swing state, a decision shared Wednesday with a Denver newspaper. When he flew to Iowa last month, Mr. Obama arrived just as his administration announced drought relief for farmers and released a report promoting his support for wind power. After critics attacked him for inhibiting oil and gas production by considering an obscure lizard for the endangered species list, the administration decided it wasn’t so endangered after all.
The Chimney Rock move comes 16 years after President Clinton did something similar during his own reelection race.  Carl Cannon reported on September 19, 1996:
Hoping to galvanize his support among conservation-minded voters, President Clinton yesterday declared 1.7 million picturesque acres of federal land in southern Utah a national monument.

"Seventy miles north of here lies some of the most remarkable land in the world," Clinton said, bathed in sunlight and framed by the spectacular South Rim of the Grand Canyon. "Today, we are keeping faith with the future."
...
The decision was denounced by Republican leaders, especially those in Utah, as an election-season stunt. They argued that the move was intended to shore up Clinton's support among environmentalists in Western states such as California, Colorado and even usually Republican Arizona.
Clinton carried California and Arizona, and came very close in Colorado. His gambit inspired a story on The West Wing:
BARTLET [to Josh] What have you got?
JOSH The Antiquities Act. You're gonna establish Big Sky National Park. 
Bartlet laughs at the idea.
JOSH Yeah.
BARTLET I can do this?
JOSH Yeah.
BARTLET You understand it's a bunch of rocks, right?
JOSH I'm sure someone with your encyclopedic knowledge of the ridiculous and dork-like will be able to find a tree or a ferret that the public has a right to visit. 
As was often the case, the show took liberties with the facts.  Under the law, presidents can designate national monuments, not national parks.