WHY THE STAKES IN 2016 ARE SO HIGH

Wall Street Journal on April 22, 2015, published an article by Fred Barnes on the gigantic task of cleaning up after Obama. The importance of a presidential election depends on what’s at stake. In 1980, a lot was. The economy was stuck with double-digit inflation and interest rates, and Soviet communism was advancing in Africa, Asia and South America. Ronald Reagan was elected president. Excerpts below:

Now, as the 2016 presidential race unfolds, the stakes are even higher than 36 years ago. Not only is the economy unsteady but threats to American power and influence around the world are more pronounced and widespread. And those problems are only part of what makes next year’s election so critical.

Like it or not, the next president must deal with the world President Obama leaves behind. It won’t be easy. A Republican president will be committed to reversing a significant chunk of Mr. Obama’s legacy, as most GOP candidates already are. That’s a gigantic undertaking. A Democratic president, presumably Hillary Clinton, will be forced to defend Mr. Obama’s policies, since they reflect the views of her party. That will leave little time for fresh Democratic initiatives.

The most immediate issues confronting the new president are strategic and military. The U.S. role in the world is in retreat. Allies such as Israel and Poland have been alienated. American leadership against Russian intervention in Ukraine and Iran’s dominance of neighboring countries in the Middle East was fleeting. Mr. Obama’s promise of a foreign-policy “pivot” toward Asia turned out to be merely rhetorical.

Ashamed of past American policies, Mr. Obama began his presidency with an apology tour. When the next president takes office a tour of reassurance may be required, along with an effort to persuade the world of America’s intention to stand up to Russia, Iran, China and Islamic terrorists.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military has shrunk to pre-World War II levels in troops and arms. “Our leaders have painted a fictional picture of the state of our military,” said former Texas governor and likely GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry in a speech in early April.

Mr. Perry did not exaggerate. But a military buildup as massive as Mr. Reagan’s in the 1980s would be expensive, take years to complete, and face political opposition. The Democratic Party no longer has a hawkish, internationalist faction.

Next in line of importance is the economy, which has not experienced annual economic growth of more than 3% since 2005. Like the diminished military, this has weakened America’s ability to project power and influence outside U.S. borders.

… a Republican won’t be blocked from altering the ideological balance on the Supreme Court. It’s very much at stake in the 2016 election. Four justices are 76 or older. Two, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (82) and Stephen Breyer (76), are liberals. Antonin Scalia (79) is a conservative. And Anthony Kennedy (78) is a swing vote. The next president’s nominees, assuming there are several, will be pivotal.

…“If a Republican wins, he’ll almost certainly have both houses of Congress,” says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. But “GOP ranks in the Senate won’t be at or even near 60 due to the seats that are up for grabs in ’16. Still, it’s an end to extreme gridlock.”

When attacking eight years of Obama policies, Republicans would be wise not to treat Democrats the way Democrats treated them. Mr. Obama did himself no favors by shunning Republicans when ObamaCare, the economic stimulus and Dodd-Frank were passed. Democrats had large majorities in the House and Senate at the time. They spurned even a hint of bipartisanship.

…an important issue in the 2016 election [will be] the possibility of a “new normal” in the way Washington works. The parties are deeply divided. They don’t like each other. Mr. Obama made things worse. With Mr. Obama and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid gone, the next president can improve relations.

Mr. Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, is a Fox News commentator.

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