"It's the economy, stupid!"
That was the campaign phrase that made Bill Clinton a president years ago and if Tuesday of this past week was any indication, it could very well be the phrase that haunts Barack Obama all the way back to Chicago come November.
Earlier in the week Obama was caught on microphone whispering promises of more flexibility in arms negotiations with Russian President Dmetry Medvedev after the November elections.
"This is my last election," Obama said. "After my election, I have more flexibility."
With all due respect, Mr. President, I might not be purchasing that ticket to Moscow just yet.
The folks I was with Tuesday evening weren't whispering. They were quite vocal in their anger with the government, particularly President Obama, and the price per gallon of gas they soon would be pumping into their vehicle.
In a scene that reminded me of the gas rationing days of the Carter administration, I waited in line at Murphy Oil Tuesday to fill my tank. Cars in line at every bay extended back well into the parking lot at Walmart.
Sometime in a span of two hours from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, gas jumped 18 cents at Alpena stations from $3.97 for regular unleaded, to $4.15 a gallon at most stations. Murphy was the last holdout and at 8 p.m. when I filled the tank, it seemed most of Alpena knew it.
Since this is a family newspaper, I will refrain from some of the comments heard in that gas line Tuesday. Suffice to say, the president wasn't a favorite among the group. Truth is, his ears should have been ringing. No, his ears probably were burning.
That fact is important, and should offer Republicans some slight hope, while at the same time keep Obama's re-election team up at night.
I doubt this year's election will have anything at all to do with terrorism, foreign policy or the environment. This week's Supreme Court hearing on health care will play a role, but nothing will determine the outcome of the election like this simple question: "Are you better off economically today than you were four years ago?"
With gas now at over $4 a gallon, I doubt many people have loose change in their pockets. I can't imagine too many believing they are better today than they were four years ago.
Let's put things in historical perspective for a moment.
In 2006 under George W. Bush, gas prices reached $3.75 across much of the country. At the time, then Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told an audience "I know how bad people are feeling" in reference to gas pricing.
People were smarting, and we editorialized then about that pain. In national elections in November, that pain translated into a huge Democratic sweep into power across the United States. Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as a majority of governorships and state legislatures across the country.
Fast forward to President Obama's inauguration in January 2009. According to various reports I researched from the Internet, the average price of gas was $1.85 a gallon. With gas today at $4.15 in Alpena, that is an increase of $2.30 a gallon. Imagine if you had even half of that amount still in your wallet for every gallon you fill up your tank with.
How could the Obama re-election team not be concerned by those numbers, with the history lesson of 2006 still fresh in their minds?
If that lesson isn't enough, however, then let me propose one more.
We started the column today with the 1992 presidential slogan about the economy. Despite the fact that then-President George H. Bush started the year as a hugely popular president following the end of the Gulf War and the end of the Cold War, ultimately it would be a disastrous national economy that come November, would cause him to lose to Clinton.
Nothing matters more to voters than how they feel about their wallets and checkbooks.
No, Mr. President, I wouldn't be packing my bags just yet for the Kremlin.
"It's the economy, stupid!"