Political Animal

Blog

June 04, 2012 10:22 AM Paths Out of the Blind Alley of an Economic Referendum

By Ed Kilgore

Now that we’ve all had a few days to absorb Friday’s dismal jobs report—the second in a row—it is indeed time to consider what the Obama campaign can do to counter what conservative gabbers are calling a confirmation of Romney’s indictment of the president’s economic stewardship, other than just hoping for better numbers in the months just ahead.

Paul Krugman, unsurprisingly, views the quandry as in no small part of the president’s own making:

[T]he Republican electoral strategy is, in effect, a gigantic con game: it depends on convincing voters that the bad economy is the result of big-spending policies that President Obama hasn’t followed (in large part because the G.O.P. wouldn’t let him), and that our woes can be cured by pursuing more of the same policies that have already failed.
For some reason, however, neither the press nor Mr. Obama’s political team has done a very good job of exposing the con….
[T]he Obama team has consistently failed to highlight Republican obstruction, perhaps out of a fear of seeming weak. Instead, the president’s advisers keep turning to happy talk, seizing on a few months’ good economic news as proof that their policies are working — and then ending up looking foolish when the numbers turn down again. Remarkably, they’ve made this mistake three times in a row: in 2010, 2011 and now once again.

So Krugman thinks it’s time for a big pivot by Team Obama to pin the current economy on the GOP, instead of taking credit or blame for whatever happens to the numbers between now and November:

They can point with pride to some big economic achievements, above all the successful rescue of the auto industry, which is responsible for a large part of whatever job growth we are managing to get. But they’re not going to be able to sell a narrative of overall economic success. Their best bet, surely, is to do a Harry Truman, to run against the “do-nothing” Republican Congress that has, in reality, blocked proposals — for tax cuts as well as more spending — that would have made 2012 a much better year than it’s turning out to be.

Perhaps another bad jobs report or two will make Krugman’s advice impossible to ignore. But I dunno: the politial scientists tell us that many swing voters—particularly those low-information indies who often compose a sizable percentage of the undecided—blindly attribute current economic conditions to the party of the president regardless of facts, logic or any contrary messaging. Voters have been willing, persistently if not overwhelmingly, to remember that George W. Bush left Obama a big mess. But it’s a more complicated “sell” to slog through the obscure maneuverings over fiscal and economic policy during the last three years and convince people that this is, as Krugman puts it, a “Republican economy.”

Personally, I’d go Krugman one better, and suggest that a “pivot” to a different message on macroeconomics is too limited an approach if Obama is to escape the potential trap of weak economic numbers. A President Romney with a Republican Congress is dangerous for reasons that go beyond jobs or GDP numbers. The Ryan Budget, which along with the repeal of ObamaCare (which it assumes) would be Job One for a GOP government in 2013, constitutes a virtual social revolution, whose implications would go far beyond its impact on any economic recovery, bad as that might be. Americans have shown no support for the deconstruction of the New Deal and the Great Society that Republicans are promising each other and their “base” every day, if not always in front of the cameras. Even more obviously, a Republican victory in November would not represent any mandate for a rollback of reproductive rights and non-discrimination efforts. But that’s exactly what the GOP would undertake, as even a cursory glance at the preoccupations of Republicans during the primary season shows.

Yes, Obama should make it clear he’s been dealing with a “do-nothing Congress” when it comes to effort to strengthen the economy and cushion the impact of hard times on Americans in need. But let’s don’t forget the reality of 2013 is a “do-damage Congress” that would seize on poor economic conditions to set the country on a disastrous course in a wide array of policy areas—just as the conservative movement has dreamed of doing every since Barry Goldwater went down to defeat in 1964.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • jjm on June 04, 2012 10:45 AM:

    Obama already did this yesterday as I recall. He's been noting that it is the GOP in Congress who is to blame...

  • stormskies on June 04, 2012 10:58 AM:

    The actual story here is the 'con job' the vast amount of the corporate media is purposefully creating in terms of the actual policies of buffoon Romney that mirror Bush, and worse.

    This con job is of course purposeful and with intent. And, of course, it is aimed at what we euphemistically call the 'low information' voter. Of course that simply means the typically stupid American who can not figure out how to get our of room that has just one door.

    The corporations and the media they own equaling the Repiglican/ corporate agenda is in fact dependent on these stupid Americans in order to enact their actual agenda that they keep hidden through the con job that manifest as the 'story lines' and 'narratives' that are aimed at these stupid Americans.

    On a week or so ago people like David "I am not a used corporate condom" were asserting on his "Meet The Propagandist" show that buffoon Romney great strength was his economic capacity because of Bain. Not once, of course, saying the buffoon's polices are worse than Bush's. Of course not.

    That is not how the con job is played by the vast amount of our corporate media. It's why they pay the likes of the used condom millions per year.

    This is why, to me, the vast amount of our corporate media is a clear and present danger to what is left of our once great country. The propaganda they purposefully create will lead to their goal which is the goal of the corporations themselves: a plutocratic country manifesting as America's own form of fascism.

    They are, to me, actual white collar criminals.

  • c u n d gulag on June 04, 2012 11:00 AM:

    This latest Congress isn't a "Do Nothing" one - it's a "Do Worse" Congress.

    And Obama better stop counter-punching, and start throwing some "left" hooks and hay-makers!

    If Mitt wins, and has a R Congress, rolling back the New Deal and the Great Society won't be the main worry.

    Establishing a Dominionist Christian Corporatist America will be.

    Fascism, with a patina of Biblical goodness - just not the Jesusy 'turn-the-other-cheek' goodness kind, but Old Testament 'smiting' and 'tooth-for-toothing.'

  • Tony Greco on June 04, 2012 11:13 AM:

    Excellent post by Ed. The plain fact is that today's Republican party is unprecedented in American history: a major political party that is genuinely radical. Democrats can and should argue that the Republican agenda, as reflected in the Ryan budget, is dangerously radical and reactionary. Of course, that kind of argument would bring on howls from the "sensible centrists" in the media who decry over-heated, ideological appeals. But it's not alarmist to call the Republicans dangerous reactionaries; it's just true.

  • Robert on June 04, 2012 11:25 AM:

    I know I'm not the brightest bulb burning......but even I can see the truth. I'm just surprised by the slack jawed voters around here...they usually are pretty smart when it comes to every day life......yet they believe the propaganda machine. I can't seem to break through the fog of Fox NUZ. I'm sooo discouraged, yet I continue to try, for my kids, for my grandkids, and for the survival of our Republic.

  • Peter C on June 04, 2012 11:49 AM:

    There are messages that the Obama campaign will not promote that we must spread.

    1. The Republicans have actively sabotaged the economy in order to gain political power. Republican Governors cancelled vital stimulus programs (like high-speed rail and the ARC tunnel under the Hudson), nullifying their economic impact.

    2. Republican governors have harmed the economy by squandering stimulus aid-to-states on corporate and high-income tax breaks instead of maintaining public sector employment (as the stimulus intended).

    3. The Republican controlled House created a default crisis that created real harm to the economy. Further, they have reneged on their budget sequester deal and are threatening to recreate the default crisis again in January.

    4. The Republican controlled House has blocked all the new job initiatives offered by the White House.

    Mitch McConnel announced this strategy back in the beginning of Obama's administration; they have done all they can to make him a one-term President and that has been their overarching consideration. They KNOW that low-information voters blame the economy on the current administration, so they've worked to keep the economy bad.

    It is up to us to educate the low-information voters since the media won't. It is up to us to pin the blame on the Republicans. It is up to us to highlight the perils of the Ryan budget. It is up to us to remind women that legal contraception is just as imperiled as legal abortion because Republicans have a religious objection to citizens planning their own parenthood (instead of God). It is up to us to harp on the fact that ALL of Mitt's economic proposals overwhelmingly benefit him personally and everyone else minimally.

    Also, it is up to us to make the Evangelicals worry about Mitt's mormonism; he's a bishop in the mormon church and believes that only converted mormons go to heaven.

  • stormskies on June 04, 2012 11:49 AM:

    Reality of the corporate media and it's agenda. The below article demonstrates how the corporate media is massively involved in a 'con job' towards are electorate.

    *************June 03, 2012 02:00 PM

    Both Sides Aren't Doing It

    By Nicole Belle

    It cannot be overstated in American politics that he who frames the debate wins the argument.

    What does it tell you when the media continually frames the debate into a false equivalence of "both sides do it" when talking about finding solutions to America's problems?

    The fact of the matter is that both sides AREN'T doing it, and the media is perpetuating this lie over and over.
    Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein--neither of whom could be accurately described as bleeding heart liberals--wrote a book on just how extreme the Republican Party has become and tellingly, not one of the mainstream Sunday shows would book them to discuss it, although Mann and Ornstein have numerous previous appearances to their credit. Oh, but they have room to book John McCain over and over.

    Mann and Ornstein point out something that won't be said on any other show: the Republicans are vastly abusing the filibuster, for no other reason than to reflexively obstruct anything that might be perceived as a victory for the president:

    We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

    The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

    When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

    “Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

    We have big issues facing this country and major choices that must be made on the kind of country we want to collectively be. But those desperately needed conversations aren't going to be had until the media stops pretending that this isn't a problem overwhelmingly caused by one party for their own short term political gain.

  • T2 on June 04, 2012 12:28 PM:

    Peter C, your words are true. But as far as I can see, the nation has become divided politically and all the finger-pointing Obama can do is just preaching to the choir.
    Democrats are going to vote for him, Republicans are going to vote for Romney and the so-called Independents will split. The best Obama can do is make a case that will get the notoriously wishy-washy Dem voters off their butts and to the polls on election day. I guarantee that every Teabagging Conservative GOPers will crawl on their knees if they have to in order to vote against Obama. We all know how corrupt and out of the mainstream the GOPers are. Thing is, they know it too, and like it.

    And for Ms. Belle is dreaming if she thinks the "Media" will wake up one morning and say "gee, maybe we should tell the country that the Conservatives are Screwing Us All".
    Note to Nicole Belle: Conservatives OWN the Media. literally and figuratively.

  • square1 on June 04, 2012 12:34 PM:

    You don't have to be a Nobel Prize winner to get this, although Krugman is entirely correct.

    This isn't rocket science. First, if you are the President and the economy sucks, it is either (a) your fault or (b) somebody else's fault.

    Second, even low-information voters can understand "somebody else's fault" if it is part of a simple, coherent narrative. This is why Democrats made gains in Congress in 1934, and why FDR won re-election 3 times, even though FDR did not immediately and completely fix the economy. But you can't just wake up in the summer before a general election and start rolling out new explanations for why the economy is "somebody else's fault".

    Third, it is likely difficult for Obama to blame the GOP for the economy because he has largely gotten the policy wins that he wanted. Sure, dirty fucking hippies like me can point to a long laundry list of economic policies that we believe would have improved the economy.

    But what is Obama going to point to? He got the health care bill that he wanted. He got the TARP II that he wanted. He got the FinReg bill that he wanted. The final stimulus bill was the same size as was proposed by his White House. He has the Fed Chairman that he appointed. He bailed out the auto industry, like he wanted. He got his payroll tax break. And when he cut budget deals with the GOP, Obama gushed over all the austerity goodness.

    Aside from the jobs bill that Obama proposed last fall, there is little that the White House can point to and say "if the GOP hadn't blocked ____ then the economy would have recovered. And even with that jobs bill, Obama allowed the GOP to pass portions a la carte, which undermined the obstructionism argument.

  • TCinLA on June 04, 2012 1:09 PM:

    The Republicans aren't "dangerous reactionaries."

    They are dangerous fascists.

    That's why this election is as important to this country as 1933 was to Germany. We really do need to keep pointing out to people what a Republican victory will bring, which is not what they think it will be. I am reminded of what an old friend now gone, who lived through the Hitler years in Germany, once told me: "Hitler wasn't elected by the Nazis, he was elected by the conservatives, who learned too late he wasn't one of them."

  • mudwall jackson on June 04, 2012 1:44 PM:

    stormskies

    congrats! you just set a washington monthly record for the most posts calling people stupid. let's review: males with a high school education categorically are stupid. residents of appalachia categorically are stupid. americans categorically are stupid.

    i do have a question: do you do this because it make you feel intellectually superior or do you just lack imagination?

  • Rabbler on June 04, 2012 1:45 PM:

    Speaking of con games, every election will be 1933 from now on. The direction of movement towards oligarchy remains unchanged regardless.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 04, 2012 4:29 PM:

    "...the politial scientists tell us that many swing voters--particularly those low-information indies who often compose a sizable percentage of the undecided--blindly attribute current economic conditions to the party of the president regardless of facts, logic or any contrary messaging."

    There is a reason for that. Those low-information indies get their information through societal osmosis. The message about where the fault lies must actually be told. Over and over and over and over..., so that it forms part of the atmosphere. Democrats are politically incompetent and impotent. They do like raising their voices because they fear it'll hurt somebody's feeling or cause a wingnut to get pissed off and then the Democrat will have to suffer the Useful Idiot rage. And that's why Democrats continually lose the war inch-by-inch-by-inch.

    You know Democrats aren't going to fight, don't you? You know Democrats won't do what is necessary to win, don't you? Get used to the phrase "President Romney." America gets the government it deserves and that will a return to 1789. Kiss the 20th century good-bye.

  • tommyudo on June 04, 2012 4:31 PM:

    I'm about in 95% agreement with stormskies.
    The lower info voter is not so much stupid, but preoccupied with trying to make ends meet, along with just being intellectually lazy. This is something the Right has known for decades. They are consistent with messaging and talking points and phrases, - somewhat like an indian tom-tom.
    Low info voters get their news in snippets. They don't watch hours of cable news each night.
    Dems and liberals in general cater to nuance, and "on the other hand" sort of reasoning. You have to go for the gut. When you strip off the "low info voter" tag most of these people would accept a progressive agenda if they heard it repeatedly. Of course, with the MSM, and people like David Gregory on Press the Meat, fat chance in that happening.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on June 04, 2012 4:31 PM:

    Oops...

    ...They DON'T like raising their voices...

  • gdb on June 05, 2012 7:35 PM:

    tommy.. you are correct. But BHO and Reed ain't got the personalities confront intractable opposition -- or the policies to solve the economic problem.. So suck it up. Unless you really believe the Repubs are fascists and Romney Adolph reincarnated (somebody invoke the Godwin Rule??), a Repub sweep is probably just what is needed for the Dems to re-organize around a Progressive core.

    If BHO wins, it really is four more years of Blue Dog policies prevailing , at best, unless Dems have veto-proof majorities in both houses [Highly unlikely-- and not a goal of BHO to date. BHO's goal to date has been about getting BHO re-elected, policies and house majorities are much more minor considerations.] Galston or Kilgore the other day opined that a BHO win would begin major debate/turmoil among Dems. I think that's backward-- it quelches debate. Progressives will be told to shut up-- and almost all will. And as for the old chestnut that a BHO win is needed to prevent SCOTUS from going further right-- forgettaboutit. Repubs will prevent any appointment not of their liking for four years, if need be..
    If BHO loses, that is what will really produce a debate among Dems.. and I'd bet heavily on Progressives prevailing in 2014 and especially 2016.

    I see no way for Progessives to prevail with a BHO win in 2012. If you think there is, what is your winning scenario??

  • gdb on June 05, 2012 7:36 PM:

    tommy.. you are correct. But BHO and Reed ain't got the personalities confront intractable opposition -- or the policies to solve the economic problem.. So suck it up. Unless you really believe the Repubs are fascists and Romney Adolph reincarnated (somebody invoke the Godwin Rule??), a Repub sweep is probably just what is needed for the Dems to re-organize around a Progressive core.

    If BHO wins, it really is four more years of Blue Dog policies prevailing , at best, unless Dems have veto-proof majorities in both houses [Highly unlikely-- and not a goal of BHO to date. BHO's goal to date has been about getting BHO re-elected, policies and house majorities are much more minor considerations.] Galston or Kilgore the other day opined that a BHO win would begin major debate/turmoil among Dems. I think that's backward-- it quelches debate. Progressives will be told to shut up-- and almost all will. And as for the old chestnut that a BHO win is needed to prevent SCOTUS from going further right-- forgettaboutit. Repubs will prevent any appointment not of their liking for four years, if need be..
    If BHO loses, that is what will really produce a debate among Dems.. and I'd bet heavily on Progressives prevailing in 2014 and especially 2016.

    I see no way for Progessives to prevail with a BHO win in 2012. If you think there is, what is your winning scenario??