Political Animal


October 26, 2012 2:10 PM Obama is Making his Best Case for Reelection…Behind Closed Doors

By Paul Glastris

On the eve of Obama’s convention speech, I was asked by NPR’s Neil Conan what the president’s most important task was. Here’s what I said:

GLASTRIS: Neal, well, the most important thing for tomorrow night is for President Obama to weave the substantial achievements of the first four years into a picture for the public so that they know what he’s done, remind them what he’s done and leverage that into a vision of what’s to come. We hear that he’s going to be more specific about a second term agenda. I’m hoping he will. It’s got to be rooted, though, in what he’s already done.

I wasn’t the only one offering this sort of advice. According to Politico, before the convention James Carville and Stan Greenberg “called upon Obama to use his acceptance speech as a mini-State of the Union address laying out a detailed agenda, as Bill Clinton did in 1996.”

Alas, that’s not what Obama did in Charlotte. He sprinkled his speech with mentions of his achievements, but not in a way that painted a coherent story, and he offered only a few goals for his second term (a million manufacturing jobs etc.) without any explanation of what he would do specifically to reach them or how they might be connect to the policies he’d already implemented.

In the first debate, Obama compounded a lethargic performance by again not making a coherent case for how the achievements of his first term laid the groundwork for job growth in the second and what he would do to build on those achievements. He failed to do so again in the second and third debates, despite being far more aggressive in taking on Romney.

Finally, in the last few days, the Obama campaign has put out a booklet that lays out in an organized way the specifics of a second term agenda, and in his speeches he’s kinda-sorta begun explaining how those specific policies relate to what he’s done in the first term. But the astonishing thing, as TNR’s Alec MacGillis notes, is that he’s articulating all this most crisply and effectively only behind closed doors. Read, for instance, the following passage from the “off the record” interview he gave to the Des Moines Register (which the White House reluctantly later released), and consider whether you think the president would be in better shape in the polls now if he’d been making the case for his candidacy this way in front of millions of voters when he had the chance to:

Obviously, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last four years. A lot of it was responding to the most severe economic emergency we’ve had since the Great Depression. And whether it was saving the auto industry, stabilizing the financial system, making sure that we got into a growth mode again and started putting people back to work, we have made real progress.
But people are obviously still hurting in a lot of parts of the country. And that’s why last night I tried to reiterate a very specific plan that we’ve put forward to make sure that the economy is growing, we’re bringing down our deficit, and we’re creating jobs.
So, number one, I’m very interested in continuing to build on the work that we did not just in the auto industry but some of the other industrial sectors, bringing manufacturing back to our shores; changing our tax code to reward companies that are investing here. There is a real sense that companies are starting to make decisions about insourcing, and some modest incentives I think can make a real difference in terms of us seeing continued manufacturing growth, which obviously has huge ramifications throughout the economy, including in the service sector of the economy.
Number two, education, which has obviously been a priority for us over the last four years — I want to build on what we’ve done with Race to the Top, but really focus on STEM education — math, science, technology, computer science. And part of that is helping states to hire teachers with the highest standards and training in these subjects so we can start making sure that our kids are catching up to some of the other industrialized world.

Two million more slots in community colleges that allows our workers to retrain, but also young people who may not want to go to a four-year college, making sure that the training they’re receiving is actually for jobs that are out there right now. And we want to continue to work — building on the progress we’ve done over the last four years — to keep tuition low for those who do attend either a two-year or a four-year college.
Number three, controlling our own energy. This obviously is of interest to Iowa. Our support of biofuels, our support of wind energy has created thousands of jobs in Iowa. But even more importantly, this is going to be the race to the future. The country that controls new sources of energy, not just the traditional sources, is going to have a huge competitive advantage 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now.
So in addition to doubling our fuel-efficiency standards on cars and trucks, what we want to do is make sure that we’re producing new technologies here — long-lasting batteries, making sure that we are developing the wind and solar and other energy sources that may provide us a breakthrough. In the meantime, we’re still producing oil and natural gas at a record pace, but we’ve got to start preparing for the future. And as I said, it creates jobs right now in Iowa.
Number four, I want to reduce our deficit. It’s got to be done in a balanced way. I’ve already cut a trillion dollars’ worth of spending. I’m willing to do more. I’m willing to cut more, and I’m willing to work with Democrats and Republicans when it comes to making some adjustments that bring down the cost of our health care programs, which obviously are the biggest drivers of our deficit.
But nobody who looks at the numbers thinks it’s realistic for us to actually reduce our deficit in a serious way without also having some revenue. And we’ve identified tax rates going up to the Clinton rates for income above $250,000; making some adjustments in terms of the corporate tax side that could actually bring down the corporate tax overall, but broaden the base and close some loopholes. That would be good for our economy, and it would be good for reducing our deficit.
And finally, using some of the war savings to put people back to work on infrastructure — roads, bridges. We’ve fallen behind in that area. And we can — this deferred maintenance, we can put people to work, back, right now, and at the same time make sure that our economy is more competitive over the long term.
So that’s sort of a summary of the things I want to accomplish to create jobs and economic growth. Obviously, there are other items on the agenda. We need to get immigration reform done, and I’m fully committed to doing that. I think there’s still more work on the energy efficiency side that we can do — helping to retrofit our buildings, schools, hospitals, so that they’re energy efficient — because if we achieved efficiencies at the level of, let’s say, Japan, we could actually cut our power bill by about 20-25 percent, and that would have the added benefit of taking a whole bunch of carbon out of the atmosphere.
So there are some things that we can do, but obviously the key focus is making sure that the economy is growing. That will facilitate all the other work that we do.
Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.


  • sjw on October 26, 2012 2:32 PM:

    There are MILLIONS out there who have been waiting for Obama to make the case. I was wanting this a year ago. My question is: Why has the Obama campaign kept all of this under wraps? Which leads to a bigger question: Why has Obama been so wimpy so often, whether with its legislative agenda or with its electioneering?

  • Mitch on October 26, 2012 2:40 PM:

    Democrats in general (and Obama in particular) seem to have a problem standing up for progressive ideology in public. Even when they are loyal to these ideals and even when they prove the ideals successful.

    Personally, I blame it on the "focus group" mentality. The entire nation seems to have bought into the GOP meme that we are a "center-right" nation, and Dems seem to have bought into it as well. Nevermind that most progressive programs are very popular. Nevermind that much of the success of America during the 20th Century is due to these programs.

    People have been told that "liberal" is a bad word, that progressivism equals communism and that the Democrats have ideals that are counter to the American way. Democrats are anti-business, anti-capitalist, etc, etc, ad nauseum. People have been told these things so often and for so long that it's "common knowledge" that such things must be true.

    Well, "common knowledge" indicates that the Earth is flat. Should we cater to flat-Earthers? Of course not.

    Neither should we cater to the GOP meme that America is Right Wing. But this is apparently what our Democratic leadership has chosen to do. Dems can make a great case for progressive ideals, but they seldom do it in front of an open audience.

    Today a very "conservative" friend of mine told me about his recent savings on medication. When I explained to him that this was a result of "Obamacare" he was at first apoplectic, but he eventually admitted that maybe it isn't as bad as he had come to believe.

    If Democratic leaders cannot champion their successes and articulate a clear vision that is broadly different than the GOP, then we will lose the gains of the past century. If Democratic leaders cannot be proud of the past successes of progressivism—and show people how such things are as American as American gets—then the nation will continue it's clockwise downward spiral.

    The leadership must take the lead. Little guys like me can only have a small effect. I'll try to change one mind at a time, but Fox and Limbaugh change millions.

  • LAC on October 26, 2012 2:50 PM:

    I clearly need my eyesight and hearing checked. Because apparently accomplishments and agendas have to be in a five point plan to reach folks, or at least the braintrust in the media. I read and listen to the President during this election season. When did you miss his listing of accomplishments and goals? And again, the rewriting of the debate performance by the fourth estate is why messages get lost. Did you listen to the substance of the debate, the actual words by the President or were you too busy watching Romney's impersonation of a coke addled salesman? The only being that could have been more lit up on that stage would be a five year old on a sugar high with no nap.

    I feel frustrated - I do my civic duty, take the time listen and learn like any sentient being, meet average folks who do the same, but open my browser or newspaper and am bombarded with tiresome media meme after tiresome media meme about this administration, invariably followed by someone complaining because they were not spoon fed information. I will be glad when this is over the night of November 6th because I will handing out lollipops and SHTFUP buttons and something tells me I will run out of lollipops long before the evening is over.

  • John B. on October 26, 2012 2:55 PM:

    Mitch has it exactly right. Time for a third party movement?

  • Peter C on October 26, 2012 3:04 PM:

    I fear that the only way we will successfully defeat Republicans is to learn how to punish them for their lies. I think the only thing that will work is indignation. I feel like, for the sake of politeness and civil discourse, we've locked on to a 'tsk, tsk' acceptance as our only recourse. But that puts us in an asymmetrical situation where no one expects the truth except we who expect it of ourselves. The 'tsk, tsk' strategy does not let us exploit the Republican's largest weakness - the fact that they've intentionally sabotaged the economy for political gain and are blatantly lying about the policies they will pursue and the disasterous consequences such policies.

  • Gandalf on October 26, 2012 3:06 PM:

    LAC you are right as rain but of course dillweeds like Mitch and John B didn't get unicorns from Obama so they need someone to promise them that because they obviously haven't been paying attention.
    Oh let's see. We've come through the second worst economic crisis in the history of the country in less than four years. The last big one took twelve years and a world war for us to get out of it. The republicans in the congress and senate have not only done everything they could to make it harder to get out of they said they were doing it just to make Obama look bad. Now if you assholes think a third party would have done a better job you are as Lewis Black says DELUSIONAL.

  • T2 on October 26, 2012 3:12 PM:

    the thing is, every accomplishment Obama mentions is immediately discounted with a lie from the Romney campaign and judged Mostly True or Mostly False by PolitiFax. The Media then can report that the accomplishment is "disputed by some". The voting public is left wondering which is correct, and the Media won't tell them. Sweet deal.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on October 26, 2012 3:22 PM:

    I think the best case for Obama's re-election is actually made by the GOP. Whatever Obama has or hasn't done, I certaintly don't want no parts of whatever the GOTea is hocking. With the Neanderthals running amuck, Obama could sit in a corner with his tongue cut out and I'd still vote to re-elect him...

    Captcha says: 1852-1853 ryingwf. Funny. I think this is the latest the Teapublicans would be willing to turn the clock back on progress.

  • Mitch on October 26, 2012 3:22 PM:

    @John B.

    I must reject third party options until such a time as the GOP crumbles. They are united in their desire to undo the gains of the 20th Century, and have the will and the numbers to make it happen. The Dems may often disappoint Progressives like me, but the only alternative is to allow the GOP to win. I cannot support any action that would do such a thing.

    Politics is the art of compromise. I will gladly compromise to do my part in preventing the greater of two evils from rising to dominance. I support Obama 100%, which does not mean, however, that I will refrain from voicing displeasure when I feel the need. Until the GOP falls apart, I will support the Democratic Party in every possible way.


    I like Obama more than I have ever liked a politician. And I do not think that his debate performance was as poor as the spin-machine would have us believe. But that does not change the fact that he (and the Democratic Party) has fallen short of pushing the case for Progressivism. I am not talking just about the debate, anyway, and I do not think that Glastris is, either. Personally, I don't think the debate made as big of a difference as Big Media and their pollsters are saying. To me, this is about the entire narrative. Long before Obama Dems caved to the GOP's ideology (during the Bush years, for example; many accuse Clinton of it as well) and failed to articulate the successes of Progressivism.

    Obama has done a much better job of doing so during this election period, but that is not enough. He needed to be pushing these ideas for his entire term—especially given the amount of lies and spin directed against him and his party.

    And, yes, accomplishments and agendas do kind of need to be a five-pint plan—or at least phrased in unambiguous terms and repeated at every opportunity. It is not enough for Obama and the Dems reach us, or even "independents" (whomever they may be); Dems need to work on educating and changing the minds of the vast population that continually votes against their own best interest, having fallen for the GOP spin. People like us can only do so much. We need our leaders to be as passionate about it as we are. You can bet the farm that the GOP leadership is committed to their goals.


    Name-calling is immature and does not help your case. I do not expect unicorns. If the best you can do is call me a dillweed and an asshole, I pity you. I have not denied any of his accomplishments, only his failure to make them known to the general public. I am sorry if this angers you, but I am not sorry for my opinion.

  • Cha on October 26, 2012 3:29 PM:

    Bullshit. President Obama has made his case for reelection for Millions of us.

    There will always be whiners..no matter what all he's done.

    Miss Steve Benen on this blog..yes, I do.

  • T2 on October 26, 2012 3:34 PM:

    "a five-pint plan" now there's some politics I can get behind !

  • c u n d gulag on October 26, 2012 3:51 PM:

    If Obama had been too detailed, the MSM would have picked-up on the "too professorial" meme.

    No matter what he did, the MSM had a right-wing meme ready and waiting to go.

    It was in their monetary best interests to make this race as close as possible.

    They'd have belittled any detailed plan, while at the same time lauding Romney's 5-Point non-plan.

  • LAC on October 26, 2012 4:15 PM:

    Mitch: Maybe Gandalf's phrasing was inelegant, but say that Obama hasn't made the case for a second term and that he has an clear agenda is to ignore reality, buy the media spin (in order to keep this a horse race against a horse's ass)and to keep acting as if there is another progressive purity test that has to be passed in order to be taken serious.

    All this yammering about progressive values from folks like you as if they are set on a tablet on some high mountain up yonder that only folks from Netroots and Daily Kos can give access to and not the reality of what has happened in the last four years to advance and move forward gay rights, healthcare access, supporting women's reproductive rights, and an economic vision that is inclusive. For this administration to have made the gains it did, as imperfect, against a tide of hate filled obstructionists and the professional left's tide of temper tantrums and whining, is progressive.

  • Mitch on October 26, 2012 6:17 PM:


    I am by no means throwing a tantrum or whining. I am fairly certain that I have been articulate and quite fair in my statements. I am entirely certain that my opinions have nothing to do with the horserace. I have been saying the same thing since the days of the Bush administration—when too many Dems bent over backwards for the GOP in order to appear "strong and patriotic" or whatever. I'm not picking on Obama.

    For the record, I support Obama 100% and I am both aware and proud of the accomplishments that have occurred under his watch. I said the same thing above, but apparently my rather mild criticism overpowers my support for Obama for "folks like you." I have no interest in a "progressive purity test" and to suggest that I do is to pretty much ignore a lot of what I wrote.

    Please do not think that I am an ideologue; such people are as toxic to the Left as they are to the Right. I am simply a believer in progressive ideals; they made America the dominant nation in the world today. I am NOT one of the "professional left" who will only be "satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon," as Gibbs snidely remarked. I have also repeatedly disagreed with anyone who would withhold supporting Obama and the Dems due to disappointment—on this very site, other sites and IRL.

    It is possible, you know, to admire, like and support someone while still being aware of their imperfections.

    We all know that Corporate Media is going to obfuscate as much as possible. Big Money has ALWAYS used every possible means to misinform the public and fight progress. It is even worse these days of media monopolies controlling 90% of everything Americans see, hear or read. FDR countered this sort of thing with his Fireside Chats. Obama has tried something of the same tactic, but whitehouse.gov and youtube are not going to reach that many people. The phrase "preaching to the choir" comes to mind.

    And that, I believe, is the point Glastris was attempting to make here.

    Obama does not need to win my support; he has it. But if we want to attempt to pull America out of it's dive toward Idiocracy, then educating the general public must become the prime focus. It can be done. I have faith in Obama and in the Democratic Party. That does not mean that I cannot or should not voice my own opinions about how well progressivism is promoted by the Democratic Party.

    After all, unquestioned support is as flawed a philosophy as mindless extremism.

  • Gandalf on October 26, 2012 7:14 PM:

    Dear Mitch please accept my apology. I know that those words make you cry but it's difficult to fathom how anyone cannot see the stark and real differences between Obama and the regessives.

  • Mitch on October 26, 2012 8:30 PM:


    Apology accepted, although you did not in any way hurt my feelings. As I said, I feel pity that you must express yourself so rudely. Pity is the only emotion that I feel towards you at this moment.

    I, for one, do not understand where you get the idea that I do not see a difference between Obama and the GOP. At no point did I or have I equated Obama to the Repugs. The closest that I came is in suggesting the Dems (including Obama) seem to fail to make a strong of a case for Progressivism due to (IMO) a "focus group" mentality convincing the Dems that the American people do not want to hear progressive ideals. That's PR, not policy, that I am referring to. You are apparently seeing something that is not there.

    I could reiterate the statement that "I support Obama 100% and I am both aware and proud of the accomplishments that have occurred under his watch" but you seem to be reading only the parts of my post that you disagree with, and somehow missing the rest, if not putting words straight into my mouth.

    Also, I do not understand why you feel the need to be abrassive and rude to others who support this blog, progressivism and Obama. We have agreed with each other many times in the past, but apparently all that matters to you is that I am of the opinion that Obama and the Dems could more strongly champion progressivism to the general public. This opinion of mine has apparently made you very angry with me. It's okay. I'm not mad at you.

    Oddly enough, while I have never equated Obama to the regressives (I do like that term, by the way) I must say that you are acting quite like one right now: viciously attacking someone due to a perceived difference of opinion in spite of the relevant facts at hand.

    Have fun with that.

  • castanea on October 26, 2012 11:41 PM:

    I refer to no particular commenter, but my god, the simpering emoprogs of the world who apparently want Obama and Democrats to bring them a glass of milk and plate of cookies when they tuck them into bed each night!

    Verbose complaints about Obama and Democrats not having gotten their message out when indeed all objective measures are that the message has been available for months to anyone who puts a few seconds of effort into looking are flat-out insane.

    Such complaints at this stage of the game--that is, less than two weeks from what might be a watershed election in which Americans reject fascism or accept it--are deadly and border on traitorous.

    I'm beginning to think that some on the left--to the extent that they really are of the left and are not merely rightwing trolls who have better writing skills than the norm--crave destruction.

  • pjcamp on October 27, 2012 12:51 AM:

    The problem is that he appears to be intent on continuing to pursue the 'grand bargain' on the budget and how are you going to sell that to anyone who cares?

    I despair for this miserable effing party. We have the corporate party and the corporate party lite to choose from.