WHEN THEY'RE not attacking one another, Republican presidential candidates are making what appears on the surface to be a strong case for denying President Barack Obama a second term.
However, Obama's backers can counter most GOP points and make some of their own, while recognizing the handicap of an uncomfortably high unemployment rate and public pessimism about the country's direction.
As the president enters his fourth year and prepares to lay out his 2012 agenda in next week's State of the Union address, here are some of the arguments his foes and supporters are making:
• Obama has failed to cure the economic mess he inherited. Critics repeatedly cite his administration's overly optimistic prediction that its stimulus program would hold unemployment to 8 percent, a figure not yet achieved. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that, without the Obama program, unemployment would have been much higher. And the administration cites steady improvement. Private-sector employment has increased more than 3 million in the past two years, after dropping 4.2 million in 2009.
• He has failed to unite the country and is creating class warfare. Obama oversold his ability to end partisan discord in Washington and bears considerable responsibility for failing to reach out to top Republicans. But the GOP also deserves blame for resisting his initiatives from the start, especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for proclaiming in 2010 that his main goal was to deny Obama a second term. The class warfare charge stems from Obama's effort to reduce the nation's growing income inequality.
• Obama's re-election won't end partisan gridlock, but election of a Republican president and Senate might lead to needed changes. Both are probably true to some degree. An Obama second term would be tough if Republicans keep opposing everything he proposes. But even if the GOP achieves its electoral goals, efforts to repeal the health care and Dodd-Frank financial regulation laws could tie lawmakers up in partisan knots.
• Obama's foreign policy has been weak and failed to halt Iran's nuclear development. A favorite GOP target has been the phrase, attributed to an unnamed adviser in a New Yorker article, that Obama was "leading from behind" in dealing with the revolution in Libya. But Obama has pushed ever stronger sanctions against Iran, and working with European leaders behind the scenes helped oust Moammar Gadhafi and facilitate change in Egypt.
Moreover, Obama has achieved significant success overseas.
His administration's more targeted effort has reduced al-Qaida's effectiveness by killing many top leaders, notably Osama bin Laden. Obama ended the Iraq war and launched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan while seeking to strengthen government forces.
Finally, Obama kept many 2008 promises: His aggressive effort rescued the economy from collapse; he passed the nation's first comprehensive health care measure and greater regulation of financial markets; and he moderated the tone of U.S. foreign policy.
Other initiatives failed, including a cap and trade program to cope with climate change and closing the Guantanamo prison for suspected terrorists.
Like many presidents facing re-election, Obama's record is mixed.
Ronald Reagan underwent a deep recession before the economy strengthened in 1984, Bill Clinton suffered significant first-term failures but spurred economic growth and passed a long-awaited welfare reform bill, while George W. Bush rode the public's post-9/11 support of his war on terror to a narrow triumph.
In the end, voters will decide whose version of Obama's record to accept.
As the president … prepares to lay out his 2012 agenda in next week's State of the Union address, here are some of the
arguments his foes and supporters are making …