Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 15, 2010

'BIG-GOVERNMENT LIBERALS'.... It appears that the story of the day -- at least the one that's generating the most discussion in political circles -- is the big "Why Obama loses by winning" piece in Politico today. It covers a fair amount of ground, but it also includes a fair amount of misjudgments.

The article, written by John Harris and Jim VandeHei, ostensibly seeks to explore why President Obama keeps racking up historic accomplishments, but is nevertheless struggling politically. We see that the left's unhappy; the right's enraged; "independents" (whatever that means) have "turned decisively against the man"; and House Dems "are in near-insurrection."

Harris and VandeHei have come up with a half-dozen possible explanations, but some of their assumptions leave much to be desired.

[O]n the issues voters care most about -- the economy, jobs and spending -- Obama has shown himself to be a big-government liberal. This reality is killing him with independent-minded voters -- a trend that started one year ago and has gotten much worse of late. On the eve of his inaugural address, nearly six in 10 independents approved of his job performance. By late July of 2009 -- right around the time Obama was talking up health care and pressuring Democrats to vote on cap-and-trade legislation -- independents started to take flight.

Looking at "independents" as a coherent, self-contained group continues to be a mistake -- there are different kinds of independents, and most don't even agree with one another. But more importantly, Harris and VandeHei state, simply as fact, that the president "has shown himself to be a big-government liberal" on the economy. That's an exaggeration that badly misleads readers.

Indeed, "big-government liberals" wanted a far bigger, more ambitious Recovery Act last year, but the president accepted a scaled-back package, despite the fears of White House economists, in order to overcome Republican obstructionism -- GOP "moderates" wouldn't let a better stimulus bill come up for a vote. The result was a Recovery Act that was very effective and did exactly what it set out to do, but has struggled to help generate a robust economic recovery because it needed to be bigger.

In other words, Harris and VandeHei have it largely backwards. Obama would be in a stronger position if he was more of a "big-government liberal," not less.

It's not just the stimulus, either. The White House has generally held back from pushing for more government intervention in the economy, in part because of legislative paralysis brought on by scandalous Republican obstructionism, and in part because the political team in the West Wing perceives the public as being hostile to more spending and higher deficits. Harris and VandeHei make it seem as if the president has been using Krugman columns and EPI reports as the administration's economic game plan. That's not even close to true.

I've found some of Obama's moves to be terrific, and others far less so, but for Politico to simply accept as fact the notion that the president "has shown himself to be a big-government liberal" on the economy, which in turn sends voters fleeing in the other direction, just doesn't match up to reality.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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The Politico piece illustrates the folly of trying to appeal to appeal to independents or the GOP. The GOP has learned that obstruction is a useful tool politically. The media will characterize your efforts using their traditional templates irrespective of your actions. You best serve the nation and yourself by doing the right thing.

Posted by: rk on July 15, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Someone should ask the new Tea Party Leader, Mel Gibson, why the President has low polling numbers.

http://thefiresidepost.com/2010/07/14/mel-gibson-to-lead-tea-party/

Posted by: Ohg Rea Tone on July 15, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Obama would be in a stronger political position if he showed himself to be more of a leader. To correct a categorical judgment I made in a comment earlier today, polite and deliberative do have their place, but so do controlled anger and, yes, occasional insults hurled at Republicans.

Posted by: sjw on July 15, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Harris and VandeHei state, simply as fact, that the president "has shown himself to be a big-government liberal" on the economy. That's an exaggeration that badly misleads readers.

I'm shocked -- shocked! -- that Harris and VandeHei would mislead readers with boilerplate conservative narrative.

Posted by: Gregory on July 15, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

"but for Politico to simply accept as fact the notion that the president "has shown himself to be a big-government liberal" on the economy"

Please, Steve. What else do you expect from a right wing message marketing entity?

Posted by: reduced on July 15, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Amazing how time and again people like Vandehei write articles as if perceptions of politicians occur in some vacuum: as if the MSM are not constantly spinning one another and the public with self-referential claptrap like this very piece.

Who exactly evaluated what the president has shown himself to be? Vandehei himself? Other journalists he talks to? GOP spokespeople? People he sees on TV?

Ever since Al Gore invented the Internet, and before Bill Clinton got a $4,000 haircut that shut down LAX for six hours, these folks have been vomiting the same stuff into one another's mouths and then spitting it as us.

Posted by: ManOutOfTime on July 15, 2010 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Seems Politico took the lazyman's way out on this report.
Ignoring the facts and going for the easy headline.

Shame on them!

Posted by: MrsD on July 15, 2010 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

"On the eve of his inaugural address, nearly six in 10 independents approved of his job performance."

On the eve of his inaugural address he had not yet performed; he was not yet president! Once he took office and actually started to, you know, do things, he was constantly criticized by RWNJs. Which media like Politico repeated as gospel.

I wish the media would, just once, admit its role in shaping the opinion on which it reports.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on July 15, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

To expand on a comments I made earlier:

I would like to see Obama reply that he wants to see government that's big enough -- big enough to guarantee that every American has access to clean air, pure water and safe food. And that anybody who prefers to see government shrunk until it's small enough to be drowned in a bathtub, and who wants to play Russian roulette with their children's food, should vote Republican.

Passionate, visceral and provocative is what Americans will respond to.

Posted by: SteveT on July 15, 2010 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

The result was a Recovery Act that was very effective and did exactly what it set out to do...

Sort of. Keeping the unemployment rate in the 9% range is better than double-digits, though as the Daily Show pointed out recently, 9% unemployment was the worst-case scenario the stimulus was supposed to avert.

Still, Obama's unpopularity reflects a phenomenon that was remarked upon a few weeks ago: Democrats aren't rallying around him the way Republicans rallied around Bush (until they abandoned him, too, and Bush's popularity bottomed out). So Obama faces the committed opposition who will never like him, counterbalanced by his disappointed supporters.

Posted by: Grumpy on July 15, 2010 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I think Politico has to recognize that a lot of those independents are the liberals who do not think Obama has done near enough or fought anywhere near as hard as they think he should have on the economy. They are not going to vote for the GOP but they are not energized to support the Democrats either. I actually thought that Obama's performance on the economy was what he had done best until recently.With the recovery sputtering and unemployment showing no signs of even modest improvement. more is needed and neither Obama nor the Democrats seem to have the stomach to at least lay down the gauntlet to the GOP

Posted by: Terry on July 15, 2010 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

This is just another example of journalism only commenting on an issue and not reporting on it. Politico should be researching objective data and form its conclusions afterwerds. Today, the opposite is true.

Posted by: Darsan54 on July 15, 2010 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

"On the eve of his inaugural address, nearly six in 10 independents approved of his job performance."

well, considering he got [depending on the pollster] about 52-54% of the independent vote, there wasn't a lot of honeymoon in those numbers...plus independents in the south [except fla] voted against him by big numbers...they started out disapproving

without regonial crosstabs i can't gleam too much meaning out of this stuff

Posted by: dj spellchecka on July 15, 2010 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

There's a really simple, stupid explanation for why Obama's political fortunes have gone down: the economy sucks, and we're up to our ass in major problems. Problems that were almost entirely inherited from his predecessor, and that will take a long time to fix.

That's all. You don't need any overwrought inside-the-Beltway bloviation to explain it. We're in the shit, and the President gets the blame. Whether he deserves it or not.

Posted by: jvwalt on July 15, 2010 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Politico is Faux News in print. You're kidding yourself if you expect anything more from them.

Posted by: bdop4 on July 15, 2010 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Grumpy: Obama's unpopularity reflects a phenomenon that was remarked upon a few weeks ago: Democrats aren't rallying around him the way Republicans rallied around Bush...

Um... polls certainly don't support your idea of "Obama's unpopularity." He's maintained a stable approval rating right around 50%, above his disapproval rating, for many months.

As they say, you can have your own opinions, but not your own facts.

Posted by: cr on July 15, 2010 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

What did Progressives want?

Well we wanted a Stimulus Bill a lot closer to the $1.2 trillion that economists in and out of the Administration insisted we needed to keep unemployment below 8%. What else did we want?

Well how about a HCR bill closer to either the House Tri-Committee Bill or the Kennedy-Dodd HELP Bill as approved by four Congressional Committees? What did we get?

A stimulus bill artificially held under $800 billion which had a third of its spending diverted to tax cuts, making it half the size of where it needed to be, and eliminating about half of trillion of long overdue infrastructure and job support spending. Plus a HCR bill that maybe will cover 94% of the non-elderly adult population rather than 97% as the Tri-Committee bill would have. And that 3 point difference represents maybe 6 million Americans.

And this Administration gave up on both at the very outset, compromises on both were their OPENING gambit!

Which Congressional caucus was the FIRST to get a meeting with Obama? Why that would be the Blue Dogs.
http://www.washingtontimes.com/weblogs/potus-notes/2009/Feb/09/obama-to-meet-with-conservative-dems-tuesday/
Meanwhile the Progressive Caucus cooled its heels for weeks

This Administration made it clear within two weeks of the Inaugeration that its operating principle was going to be making every day 'Punch a Hippie Day' in the (fairly well-founded) belief that we had no place to go. And sure enough we sucked it up and chanted 'Please Sir, Can I Have Another'.

What did we get out of all this? A stimulus package that was too small and a Health Care Reform plan that phases in too late and will cover millions fewer Americans than the one reported out of the House and Senate HELP. And as a result a fucking disasterous outlook for the House in the upcoming midterms. And having taken our humiliating paddling and marginalization they have the balls to ask why we are not grateful for the plate of gruel we were served?

Maybe it was unrealistic to think we could have gotten everything we wanted, but this Administration decided they wouldn't EVEN ASK. I kind of knew we were fucked when Reid turned over HCR to Baucus and allowed him to form the Gang of Seven turned Six that booted his own SFC Sub-Committee on Health Chairman out the door. God forbid liberals actually have a role shaping this legislation and BTW screw dying Teddy Kennedy and his HELP Bill, this job belonged to Max and President Snowe. And Obama and Reid just let that happen. (And don't tell me they had no choice).

What me bitter? And I still am defending Obama against assorted FirePups. But man it ain't easy and it is not easy finding reasons to be thankful for the privilege.

Posted by: Bruce Webb on July 15, 2010 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Lest we forget. On HRC three House Committees passed out HR3200 which even at that was compromised at the insistence of Blue Dogs on Energy and Commerce. And Senate HELP passed their own version which was even watered down from that in a attempt to get some Republican participation. Now the HELP Bill was incomplete, under Senate rules the Medicare component was under the jurisdiction of Senate FInance and so Max Baucus. Who summarily announced that the Tri-Committee Bill AND Kennedy-Dodd HELP were simply irrlelevant and that his Committee would start essentially from scratch. And not with full Committee Hearings, oh no he would go right to the final compromise by negotiating with FOUR Republicans (Hatch, Grassley, Enzi, Snowe) while only having THREE Dems (him, Conrad, Bingaman) in the room, and BTW kicking Sub-Committee on Health Chairman Rockefeller to the curb. Hatch dropped out in short order making the Gang of Six we ultimately got. But however you slice it the whole process was bi-partisanship and Punch a Hippie run amok. And what had been a firm August deadline got dragged out and what was a perfectly fine Democratic Tri-Committee/HELP HCR Plan got transformed into the barely acceptable bill we ultimately got (and in the process alienating the FDL folk seemingly forever).
http://www.angrybearblog.com/2009/07/was-it-gang-of-seven.html

It didn't have to be this way. We could have had a better Health Care Act by August 2009 simply by going direct to negotiations with the Conservadems and telling the Republicans to piss up a rope and BTW from a starting position of Kennedy's HELP Bill. But somebody (and can you spell 'R A H M'? I know I can) decided they could just establish a pattern of post-partisanship/screw the hippies by compromising with the other side right from the start. And people wonder why Pelosi is pissed.

Posted by: Bruce Webb on July 15, 2010 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Webb: Maybe it was unrealistic to think we could have gotten everything we wanted

Ya think? Even my 13-year-old only child of two liberal parents knows that. Not only that, he can also COUNT TO SIXTY!

Posted by: cr on July 15, 2010 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

The White House has generally held back from pushing for more government intervention in the economy, in part because of legislative paralysis brought on by scandalous Republican obstructionism, and in part because the political team in the West Wing perceives the public as being hostile to more spending and higher deficits.

Nonsense. The [white house] political team doesn't give a shit what "the public" thinks. The political team perceives their large wealthy donors as being hostile to more spending and higher deficits. Also they are afraid the Rs will call them bad names. Which the Rs will do anyway.

Posted by: elbrucce on July 15, 2010 at 11:16 PM | PERMALINK

ATTENTION STUPID WHITE PEOPLE:
You can only blame Obama for the economy if you want Big Government to CONTROL the economy. Since many of you DO blame Obama, then you support BIG GOVERNMENT and therefore

YOU ARE ALL SOCIALIST PIGS.

I'm just calling a Cracker a Cracker.

Posted by: Juicy Brucey on July 17, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

ATTENTION STUPID JUICY BRUCEY

OBAMA IS ONE HALF CRACKER.

ARE YOU GAY BECAUSE YOUR NAME IS?

Posted by: Jack on July 19, 2010 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK
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