The deteriorating situation in the Middle East may end up making this election an unexpected battle over foreign policy.
Given the new dangers and uncertainties sewn by the Arab Spring last year, particularly the emboldened regime in Iran and the anxiety in Israel, the chances for a regional conflagration are higher now than at any time since U.S. troops, now withdrawn, invaded Iraq in 2003.
That could bring $5 gasoline, economic disruption and a severe testing of old alliances. It would also mean that the preferred foreign-policy platform for the incumbent president’s re-election bid – dead terrorists and troops headed home – would be thrown over.
Maybe the election will be about social issues.
The Obama Democrats are certainly hoping to make the case to suburban female voters that Republicans are hoping to rob women of access to birth control. Republicans, meanwhile, will argue, as they did with Planned Parenthood funding and federal subsidies for elective abortions, that President Obama’s health law compels citizens to violate their consciences.
Perhaps the election will be about income inequality.
That’s the fond hope of the Obama Democrats. Stoking resentments already on display in the Occupy Wall Street effort, the president has staked out a re-election plan predicated on resentment of the super-rich and the deepening anxieties of middle class voters. As with his health law and other initiatives, Obama is arguing that the federal government needs to rearrange costs and benefits so that the very rich have less and the middle gets more. More taxes to finance more spending on infrastructure, government jobs and welfare programs is the idea.
Democrats have been promising for 40 years that government programming can rebuild the blue-collar middle class and reverse the decline of American manufacturing. It may be more or less attractive when coupled explicitly with class resentment.