Political Animal


August 14, 2011 12:40 PM White House ponders next step on economy

By Steve Benen

A few days ago, the Washington Post noted that the White House’s allies have been pressuring the West Wing to get far more ambitious when it comes to the economic debate. The article noted the President Obama’s aides generally respond that he feels “a responsibility to explore policies that have a chance of passage, rather than merely making a political statement.”

For good or ill, this is consistent with the president’s m.o. — he doesn’t like picking fights he expects to lose. Obama could immediately launch a bold and ambitious economic agenda, which would have real merit and garner considerable support from the left, but he won’t, not because he’s a secret conservative, but because he’s generally unwilling to invest energy in a plan that can’t pass, regardless of the ancillary political benefits.

Of course, choosing a more cautious approach carries its own costs, and forfeits an opportunity to draw stark contrasts with far-right Republicans, who are (a) wildly unpopular; and (b) chiefly responsible for blocking any hope at economic progress.

All of this, apparently, has led to an internal White House debate.

As the economy worsens, President Obama and his senior aides are considering whether to adopt a more combative approach on economic issues, seeking to highlight substantive differences with Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail rather than continuing to pursue elusive compromises, advisers to the president say.

Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Plouffe, and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, want him to maintain a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they may not have much economic impact. These include free trade agreements and improved patent protections for inventors.

But others, including Gene Sperling, Mr. Obama’s chief economic adviser, say public anger over the debt ceiling debate has weakened Republicans and created an opening for bigger ideas like tax incentives for businesses that hire more workers, according to Congressional Democrats who share that view. Democrats are also pushing the White House to help homeowners facing foreclosure.

Even if the ideas cannot pass Congress, they say, the president would gain a campaign issue by pushing for them.

The article notes that White House officials are aware of the economics, but can’t overcome the politics: another round of stimulus would make a positive difference, but it would fail miserably in Congress and most voters strongly disapprove of the idea anyway, merit notwithstanding.

So what are we left with? An agenda with (a) modest ideas that might make a modest difference if they can overcome Republican opposition; and (b) an eye on deficit reduction, which polls suggest would be popular, even if it offers no tangible benefits at all in the areas of job creation and economic growth.

Were Republicans less ridiculous, and had the midterms gone the other way, the White House would prefer a stronger policy. But the combination of GOP radicalism and voters’ misjudgment has left West Wing officials thinking that they have limited options.

For what it’s worth, I’m not unsympathetic to the hurdles, nor am I blind to the fact that Republicans can and will block any idea with merit. I can also appreciate why the president seems reflexively reluctant to deliberately fight a losing battle — no one wants to look inept on the issue that matters more.

But if it were up to me, I’d go big anyway and start pushing a meaningful economic agenda. Will the GOP kill bold ideas? Of course they will. But having the debate positions Obama as the leader with the right vision, who cares about getting Americans back to work. Picking the fight offers a chance to blame the do-nothing Congress and make Republicans the opponents of a real jobs agenda, dragging down the GOP brand even further in advance of 2012. All the while, there’s value in giving progressives something to fight for.

Tangible results are obviously more important than rhetoric, plans, and speeches — voters want jobs, not more talk about jobs — but Republicans won’t allow real progress anyway. The more Obama can make them own the results, while positioning himself as the leader fighting the good fight, the better off he’ll be politically.

So don’t lay down a bunt and hope to maybe get on base; swing for the damn fences.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


  • TR on August 14, 2011 12:51 PM:


    I think they can run well against the obstructionist Do-Nothing Congress, but that'll be a lot easier if they can dramatize just what it is that the Republicans in Congress are opposing.

    You can't say Congress is stopping me from doing X if you never even start doing X.

  • Jeff In Ohio on August 14, 2011 12:55 PM:

    Bold ideas or pragmatic initiatives. Why are these mutually exclusive? The White House will continue to lose the debate as long as they continue to play the GOP's game. They can push legislation that has a chance of passing AND they can make the case that bold ideas are what's needed while also seizing he framework for debate. You want a good example, look no further then what Sherrod Brown's been doing for the past year.

  • PTate in MN on August 14, 2011 1:02 PM:

    "I'd go big anyway and start pushing a meaningful economic agenda. Will the GOP kill bold ideas? Of course they will. But having the debate positions Obama as the leader with the right vision, who cares about getting Americans back to work."

    I wish you were advising Obama.

  • linus bern on August 14, 2011 1:02 PM:

    Another point, which I don't think you made is that by only advancing policies which they know can pass they allow all conversations to shift right. Republicans manage to get very extreme proposals implemented simply because they seem moderate compared to some of the batshit insane ideas they propose. On the left nobody in power wants to even mention actual progressive ideas because they think they will fail which makes their moderate proposals seem like they are on the extreme left fringe of political thought.

  • dalloway on August 14, 2011 1:02 PM:

    Yes! Obama is confusing championing good ideas and his own deeply-held beliefs with being "too partisan." He doesn't seem to understand that by LEADING the fight to restore the middle class, he'd unite the great majority of the country, not divide it. And where would the Republicans be, with their slash and burn orthodoxy? Left way, way behind.

  • TCinLA on August 14, 2011 1:02 PM:

    So donít lay down a bunt and hope to maybe get on base; swing for the damn fences.

    Sadly, President "Can't We All Just Get Along?" won't do this, but he should. He should give people a reason to want to go out and vote, which he hasn't done yet: calling around the country for politics, the most common reason I hear people say they'll give him their vote, a different thing than voting for him, is because he isn't "the other guy", and that is not an enthusiastic response, which is what he will desperately need since the other side is coming into the fight "fired up."

    Give people a reason to vote for him and for their Senatorial and Congressional candidates. Go out like Harry Truman did in 1948 and "give 'em hell," campaign against the "do nothing Congress" like he did.

    David Plouffe is a competent technician. he should not be dictating strategy. Figure out the goal then tell him to go take the hill, it's what he's good at. Infantry company commanders didn't decide to invade Omaha Beach, but they did take the objective.

  • foosion on August 14, 2011 1:03 PM:

    Jeff is right. There's no reason you can't do both.

    The most depressing part of the Times article: "the best thing Mr. Obama can do for the economy may be winning a second term, with a mandate to advance his ideas on deficit reduction, entitlement changes, housing policy and other issues." Notice the mention of jobs and growth? Want to bet what "entitlement changes" means?

  • Jon on August 14, 2011 1:05 PM:

    There are some sane policies that are unappealing to independent voters, largely due to gross disinformation.

    But there are a number that have broad appeal among independents, such as closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations and raising tax rates on the rich, etc.

    Obama should definitely push those policies aggressively exactly because the GOP will reject them. He has spent to long allowing the GOP to characterize him falsely; he now needs to spend sometime characterizing the GOP for what they are, drawing differences, and making them except the consequences of their own policy decisions.

    There is no policy worth enacting that the GOP will allow. All that is left for now is politics.

  • robert on August 14, 2011 1:06 PM:

    "But if it were up to me, Iíd go big anyway and start pushing a meaningful economic agenda. Will the GOP kill bold ideas? Of course they will. But having the debate positions Obama as the leader with the right vision, who cares about getting Americans back to work. Picking the fight offers a chance to blame the do-nothing Congress and make Republicans the opponents of a real jobs agenda, dragging down the GOP brand even further in advance of 2012. All the while, thereís value in giving progressives something to fight for."

    AMEN! AMEN! But regrettably Mr. Fluff and Mr. Doodle, whose non-expertise (STUPIDITY) on economics are matched by their confusion (STUPIDITY) regarding the politics, will not let it happen. The 'debate' is bone to Congressional Dems.They have convinced themselves that they should refight the last Presidential with the same weapons, independents. Losing Generals always plan to fight the last war.


  • SteveT on August 14, 2011 1:09 PM:

    Tangible results are obviously more important than rhetoric, plans, and speeches -- voters want jobs, not more talk about jobs -- but Republicans won't allow real progress anyway. The more Obama can make them own the results, while positioning himself as the leader fighting the good fight, the better off he'll be politically.

    Not to mention, the more ridiculous that Republicans in general are made to look, the more will get defeated in 2012 -- and the better off the whole country will be.

    I have to wonder, does Obama believe in anything at all?

    This is a chance to shape the national debate, to be a political game changer in the way he spoke approvingly about Ronald Reagan doing. But of course he has to believe in something besides believing in the merits of reaching bipartisan consensus.

    The United States has serious structural flaws in many of its institutions -- Wall Street, health care, education, energy, campaign finance, to name a few -- that will require bold, even radical, action to maintain our status as a world leader. Sadly, we are faced with a choice between a leader who will do nothing to change the status quo and whomever the Republicans nominate, who will take the country in a disastrously wrong direction.

    No hope. No change.

  • Lisa on August 14, 2011 1:09 PM:

    Advancing ideas that "can't pass" does not have to be just about the politics, it also can have practical benefits. Hasn't the WH learned anything from recent negotiations?

    If you start with the position you think will pass, you end up further to the right than you want to be. Especially since the modern GOP seems to reflexively turn against any idea Obama promotes, even if it was originally a GOP idea. So if Obama promotes something he thinks can pass a GOP House, the outcome is he gets nothing (because the GOP is, of course, against it).

    In order to end up with the measure he thinks can pass, he needs to START with a bolder, more Democratic agenda. Then, after the inevitable GOP pushback and "negotiation" he may end up with the small measure that can pass. But you don't START with that! Have they learned nothing?

  • patrick II on August 14, 2011 1:10 PM:

    Obama has created a reality where much of what people think he wants to do can't be done. Backing down from republicans has made them bolder in their intransigence and less of his agenda (if anyone knew what that actually would be) will pass. By backing inadequate economic bills, particularly the stimulus bill, he has left the economy weaker than it could be and once again has hurt his own political chances for stronger initiatives. By blaming "congress" and the "partisans" rather than republican intransigence and 18th century economic ideals, he does not instruct or change the minds of people who might support his move to a more modern economy.

    Obama's political dilemma is in part of his own making.

  • sjw on August 14, 2011 1:18 PM:

    When I read that article in the NYT this morning, I wasn't surprised, though it did depress me. Bottom line: Obama will do nothing or (less probably) next to nothing. Which is a shame, because not only will this undermine Obama's reelection efforts -- every day he dithers he loses more and more of his base and alienates more and more independents -- but it also dooms the country to what Krugman called "a lost [economic] decade." Geez, hasn't Obama heard of leadership??? What a pitiful wimp ass.

  • Old Uncle Dave on August 14, 2011 1:33 PM:

    American voters have a lot more respect for someone who tries to do the right thing and fails than they do for someone who won't even try.

  • c u n d gulag on August 14, 2011 1:34 PM:

    Dear President Obama,

    Years ago, the Republican Party was known as 'the Party of Ideas."

    Now, most of them were bad, I'll grant you.

    But the only ideas they've stuck with are tax cuts, and cuts to social safety programs.

    Get some other ideas out the, Mr. President.

    It can't hurt, even if nothing passes.

  • Citizen Alan on August 14, 2011 1:34 PM:

    If I thought that Mitt Romney would conduct himself in office as he did as governor of Massachusetts, I might vote for him. He'd probably be to the left of Obama and still be able to get Republicans to go along, and Democrats could start working immediately on getting a real Democrat to run in 2016 instead of a corporatist groveler. Sadly, the Republicans have only deranged lunatics and people posing as deranged lunatics in order to win the votes of deranged lunatics, so I'm compelled to vote for the corporatist groveler just because he's definitely not a deranged lunatic.

  • Quality Flooring Products on August 14, 2011 1:39 PM:

    -voters want jobs, not more talk about jobs-

    just change "want" to "need" and you're a lot closer to the target.

    'Member McDonalds National Hiring Day back in April? They were looking to hire 50,000 people. here's the quick quote offa' the google search: "over 938,000 applicants were turned away."

    There's a boatload of people who need to work, and any attempt to help would be a good political move.

  • the_dan on August 14, 2011 1:43 PM:

    Does the President really, after all this time, not realize that they will block small-bore crap just as passionately as they will block real, big solutions? Really?

    And even if he could get the little stuff passed, what on Earth is the political gain from passing things that won't help anyway, and then declaring victory?

    Either way, the optical result is the same: an out-of-touch President who believes in NOTHING except that "Washington is broken" and has no goddamn idea how to fix it. And in this case, perception reflects reality.

  • smintheus on August 14, 2011 1:44 PM:

    Not even bunting, though. He's looking for a base on balls. Obama is counting on a weak GOP candidate handing him the election. Even if he accomplished the tiresome little things that his advisers are said to be promoting, he still wouldn't have any achievements that voters care about. When the biggest idea anybody in the WH is pressing for is tax cuts for corporations, and even that is considered too audacious, you've truly got nothing to show voters.

    These are people so obsessed with keeping their jobs that they refuse to do their jobs.

  • golack on August 14, 2011 1:48 PM:

    Pull a Reagan--if you want to get to X, aim for X, Y and Z.

    That still leaves you getting to X whilst the POG's can claim they stopped Z. In this case Z would be what's really needed, but maybe X would help.

    X would be money to support local police and fire departments--aim to help teachers but that would be shot down by republicans...

    X would be tax breaks for veterans and active duty soldiers. For anyone serving since 9/11. Aim to pay off our war debt, so a temporary tax to do that, but it should not be on the back of our soldiers. POG's will shoot down tax, but leave tax break.

    X would be streamline regulations, set up a "one stop shopping" website, and where possible coordinate with state and local governments. Basically it's a business outreach center--not one for EPA and another for USDA, but truly a central location. POG's will try to shut down all the regulatory agencies....good argument to have.

  • Danny on August 14, 2011 1:50 PM:

    So donít lay down a bunt and hope to maybe get on base; swing for the damn fences.

    Swinging for the fences will always be the preferred strategy of the supporter, and of grassroots as well. And yet it's indisputably true that a team that swings for the fences every single time is destined to loose but a team that bunts when appropriate is more likely to be successful. It seems that we want to ridicule the opposition for their high stakes bets but when it's our turn we cant wait to go all in on a low pair.

  • Mike on August 14, 2011 1:50 PM:

    bigger ideas like tax incentives for businesses that hire more workers

    So the bold idea that is probably too far to the radical left for Obama is ... a tax cut.

  • CDW on August 14, 2011 1:51 PM:

    "Were Republicans less ridiculous, and had the midterms gone the other way, the White House would prefer a stronger policy." Seriously?

    And I must say that Obama and his team don't think much of independents.

  • Fr33d0m on August 14, 2011 1:52 PM:

    The repugnicons argue from the far right and the only "pragmatic" approach is to adopt policies as close to their position as you can get away with. Too far away from their position and they will not let it pass, and complete capitulation deservedly causes more of the left to walk further away from you. That at least seems to be what the argument is about.

    Isn't the more pragmatic approach in this situation to go bold?

  • mellowjohn on August 14, 2011 1:55 PM:

    well it's about damn time the white house starts worrying about "ancillary political benefits."

  • CDW on August 14, 2011 2:00 PM:

    Calculated Risk sees the great inside debate as a choice of doing nothing or doing very little.

  • Seem2me on August 14, 2011 2:08 PM:

    Of course you have to pursue policies that have a chance of passing. You also have to present what it is you want to do, ie, your vision. That's a no brainer. Plus, by laying them out now, even if they don't pass, they'll have a better chance of passing next time. You can swing for the fence and still get a single. It's better than striking out.

  • jcricket on August 14, 2011 2:11 PM:

    Republicans won't block Obama's plans because they are too big. Republicans will block them because they come from Obama.

    If Obama wants to fight the real economic fight, then he should do the right thing and go to bat for the people, regardless of whether he thinks Congress will pass it.

    In a recent speech / fund raising event, he made mention of the crowd having his back. If he wants us to have his back, then he'll have to drop the safe, tiptoeing through the scorched earth halls of Congress and start leaving some identifiable footprints that people will be willing to follow.

    That's what leadership is all about.

  • Purple Patriot on August 14, 2011 2:17 PM:

    Obama has nothing to lose by "going big". Republicans will oppose him no matter what he proposes, so he should put forth the best ideas anyone has for job creation and deficit reduction, consistent with progressive Democratic values, and force the Republicans to argue against them. They will, of course. By doing so, they will further alienate the majority of voters who want balanced and practical solutions. With smart planning and a little luck, the Democrats could take back congress and re-elect Obama 2012. Only then will real progress be possible.

  • SteveT on August 14, 2011 2:23 PM:

    Danny said:
    And yet it's indisputably true that a team that swings for the fences every single time is destined to loose but a team that bunts when appropriate is more likely to be successful.

    Why is this an either-or equation?

    Obama can continue hoping for a base on balls with the extremely modest proposals that he's put forward lately that just might pass.

    He can try for a bunt with some slightly more aggressive actions like putting more pressure on banks to renegotiate mortgages (which has the advantage of not needing approval from Congress. He can also propose specific legislation for infrastructure spending and closing tax loopholes for millionaires, which won't pass but can be used as campaign issues.

    And he can swing for the fences with things like proposing a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and proposing a voluntary option for people to buy into Medicare (and pointing out the subsequent reduction in the deficit that would result). The advantage of swinging for the fences with things that are popular with all voters would be to change the debate and offer a clear contrast with the Republicans.

    Obama should be proposing even more changes to the status quo but I don't think that would fit into whatever he believes in.

  • Alli on August 14, 2011 2:23 PM:

    Why go big now when no one will remember it by the new year? Why not wait until closer to the election when such a bold proposal is fresh in people's minds? the election is more than a year away.

    this is a matter of timing. He can do both. We should be actually pushing him to get what he can. The economy needs help and I don't see how push a non starter is going to help.

  • Michele on August 14, 2011 2:32 PM:

    Any West Wing fans out there? The episode is "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet" and it's all about "dipping our toe in the water" on a number of issues instead of taking a strong stand. Toward the end, when he decides to forget being concerned about being a one-term President and decides to speak, then he gets a spine it helps to energize the staff (like us voters), albeit in a hokey way (I serve at the pleasure of the President).

    Fiction, but not necessarily untrue.

  • samsa on August 14, 2011 2:33 PM:

    Does he not believe in his power of persuasion? How does he know which fights is he going to lose?

    On the one hand, he seems to want to appeal to the best instincts of the GOP by conceding to almost all of the Republican demands even before the first word is spoken in a negotiation, so much so that sometimes he lifts a whole Republican program (i.e. the health care bill) and call it his own, and on the other he thinks that the Republicans will be so intransigent that they will kill any proposals well thought out by his team to improve the economy and the general welfare.

    Anyone else see the dissonance here?

  • j on August 14, 2011 2:33 PM:

    If only everyone could read the article in Washington Post business by Steven Pearlstein.

  • Skip on August 14, 2011 2:44 PM:

    Obama, just give Americans what they want. Fuck the Republicans. You have the perfect key word: JOBS.

    How many times have I heard about some bit of smelly pork passing in Congress because it was couched inside a more honorable measure titled with resonating key words like Veterans or Family.

    Obama has the perfect key word: JOBS.

    Smelly pork or not, if he uses that key word and bundles elements to forward that key word inside whatever other big ideas he wants to push, voters will notice. Republicans will not vote for anything Obama does but not voting for things labeled JOBS, not voting for things that promote jobs will not excape the notice of voters. JOBS, the perfect 2012 key word.

    The Republicans may get sugar-coated treatment by our lamestream media, but if they deny the very thing Americans need, JOBS, they will not excape the retribution of voters. Obama, America needs more time to rebound from recession before we get another Republican president. We need you to stay in the fight.

    Just who are Obama's advisers anyway? Men of vision or court jesters? They should be advising him to push on the very thing Americans want: JOBS.

  • ameshall on August 14, 2011 2:48 PM:

    Here's my question: Is Obama running to be re-elected or not? He's correct that he cannot get the House to pass any effective economic policies, but that's not the only consideration here. The only hope of ending this GOP reign of terror is to win reelection and get voters to dump the tea party buffoons they elected in 2010. That's the long-term goal and that takes messaging and strategy. The President needs to push his economic agenda and let the GOP fall deeper into the political abyss by obstructing economic progress. Duh.

  • Trollopoly on emo on August 14, 2011 2:48 PM:

    We could always go for the "Hope" and "Change" deal again, as long as their is actually hope for changing somehting. Bit of a tightrope for the Obama team, not like the last election when anything inspirational was an automatic shoe-in. I will unfortunately be forced to vote Obama again even though I despise Guantanamo, rendition, no trials for US captives, Afghanistan, Pakistani spook war, capitulation to domestic terrorists with social security and medicare and whatever other humanitarian legislation of the last 100 years these sociopaths might frame in a ransom letter next. I swear though, if Mrs. Clinton were to start a campaign tomorrow, I would campaign on every street corner I could find, every day of the week to get her into the White House. Obama is a fuck-up in my book, for the obvious humanitarian reasons alone. Oh yeah, thanks for that public option and less importantly, those jobs!

  • Anonymous on August 14, 2011 2:56 PM:

    "So donít lay down a bunt and hope to maybe get on base; swing for the damn fences."

    Hmmm....while in principle I agree with this Steve...it still smacks of, "Yeah, I can say this because I don't have to deal with a bats@#! crazy House.

    I guess we'll have to wait and see, but we should also be pounding the point home just how much of the economic mess is the fault of the GOP.

    @Skip: "Obama, just give Americans what they want. Fuck the Republicans. You have the perfect key word: JOBS."

    Well....hate to break it to you, but there have been at least ten or so jobs bills that the Dems tried to get through the House over the past few months. The GOP/TPers shot them all down. The President has also been talking about jobs, but getting new ones out there requires bills to be passed, not just loud rhetoric.

    Of course, if we hadn't stayed home to send a message in 2010, we wouldn't be dealing with this....but that's just me.

  • Danny on August 14, 2011 3:10 PM:


    Well sure. Re: constitutional amendment re Citizens United I don't think it's very wise to have the President being the first advocate to float that idea. That's not usually how it's done and for good reason. But that's typical of a dysfunction in the progressive movement where we expect our Presidents to do stuff that should be handled by other actors.

    Typically you would want grassroots to push such an amendment, surrogates in progressive media, and progressive talking heads on TV to push it and build public support. And then congressmen to press the issue further. Then the President or Presidential candidate can come out and support it.

    But the progressive movement has been p-ss poor at getting that stuff done in the last 40 years or so, and instead of dealing with those structural problems we want the president to advocate it, like the superman we expect him to be. And then we're disappointed. It's fiction and escapism.

    But of course it's not an either / or proposition.

    I think there's a reasonable disagreement over the Obama teams macro strategy's virtues and weaknesses. I just dont subscribe to the popular prescription of boldness and swagger as a universal cure. That's mostly penis envy of Republican candidates running on boldness and swagger the last 30 years and we somehow conveniently forgetting how inadequate boldness and swagger were recently shown to be at dealing with the real world. IOW, applying the M.O. of George Dubya Bush to our day to day political challenges is forgetting a lesson we should have learnt well by studying a trainwreck up close for eight long years.

    At the moment, Obama is pushing extended payroll taxcuts and unemployment benefits and an infrastructure bank. It's maybe not swinging for the fences but it aint exactly bunting either. I'd say it's good policy that will help the economy while being realistic. It's also a hell of a lot better than what FDR did when he ran into the austerity crowd in 1937.

    Obama will still have the option to go big on Vision and bully pulpit-ing as a final hail mary if the economy doesnt pick up speed by early next year.

  • SecularAnimist on August 14, 2011 3:16 PM:

    Steve Benen wrote: "So donít lay down a bunt and hope to maybe get on base; swing for the damn fences."

    Uh oh.

    You are starting to sound like "the professional left" now.

  • jjm on August 14, 2011 3:18 PM:

    To "Anonymous" above. It's perhaps time to ENUMERATE the ten or so jobs bills that the Dems tried to get through.

    They received about zero publicity.

    Time to start listing them on all the blogs, no? At least give Obama a nudge or a higher profile on this issue.

    Really the Republicans are full of hot air, but hot air that grabs headlines and literally steals them from all Democratic initiatives.

    It was the press that created the Tea Party 'surge'; the press that made Bachmann (???!!!) a contender.

    Time for US to start making a lot of noise.

    I still hear a lot of people saying we should stay home to send a message like in 2010.

    The message received by the White House; "oh, the country is going right wing."

    Not exactly a brilliant strategy, is it?

  • Danny on August 14, 2011 3:26 PM:


    Yep, good way to influence policy: organize our own tea parties in favor of more short term stimulus, and "investment". Make ourselves out to represent middle america rather than Jane Hamsher and Brad DeLong. Attack the Ryan Plan and the austerity crowd rather than the president and say that they're a threat to the economy and to the country and we're doing this to save the country. Call our congressmen, no matter if we're in downtown SF or in Fayette, AL. Go to their town halls. Get on TV.

  • Texas Aggie on August 14, 2011 3:32 PM:

    And another point that you didn't mention is that if you ask for X and get X/3, you would be a lot better off if you had asked for 3X in the beginning. In both cases you end up "losing," but in the second case you end up with a lot more than you got in the first case. Granted that in the second case you might only end up with a quarter of what you asked for instead of a third, but 3X/4 is a lot better than X/3.

  • Neo on August 14, 2011 3:41 PM:

    " Attack the Ryan Plan and the austerity crowd ..."

    Great idea, but it doesn't make the fact the the record deficits and debt are still there.

    For Obama to make any headway on jobs, he has to find things the government can do that cost less than they produce. That battery factory he visited the other day, that added new jobs at $2 million a job, isn't the answer.

  • Danny on August 14, 2011 3:41 PM:

    @Texas Aggle

    I'll be sure to ask for a million bucks the next time I apply for a job opening at mcdonalds then. There are other factors at play. Just for the sake of argument, lets imagine Obama had asked for a five trillion stimulus instead of a 900 billion stimulus. Would he have ended up with a 4 trillion stimulus or no stimulus at all? The answer to that question is not perfectly obvious to me, but maybe it is to you? Clinton asked for slightly more with Hillarycare than Obama did with PPACA. Obama got 4/5ths of what he asked for, Bill got nuthin.

  • Danny Gail McElrath on August 14, 2011 3:50 PM:

    I am beginning to think Obama has serious psychological hangups and needs industrial strength counseling. I also am beginning to think he is dumb as a box of hammers. It is for sure he and his advisors don't know diddly about politics or about people. Imagine refusing to fight for something bold that would help people just because you don't want be seen as losing. And he and they think this this kind of attitude appeals to anyone and makes them want to vote for him? The middle and working classes, or whatever term you prefer, are out there suffering and scared of what may be coming that will be even worse. They want someone who will stand up and fight for them, win or lose. If theforefathers had refused to declare independence and fight without a guarantee they would win, we would be singing, God Save the Queen". What better way to get votes than to show, not tell, show, the contrast with the Republicans who fight for the rich. Maybe it hasn't been near as wonderful as he thought it would be and he just wants to get out. Someone needs to tell him, Mr. Obama, these advisors are not your friends. The only way he is going to get re-elected is if the Repugs nominate someone who is so batshit crazy they appear at the debates carrying an AK47 and foaming at the mouth.

  • Danny on August 14, 2011 3:51 PM:


    That's mostly nonsense and conservative talking points.

    The US had a 2% market share in advanced batteries in 2008, next year its gonna be at 20%. In 2015 at 40%. That's a brilliant investment and all on account of ARRA. That's how we "win the future" as the POTUS would put it. The Stimulus was very successful and saved us from a much worse recession, but it wasnt big enough to remedy all our ills. But arguably it wasnt politically possible to pass such a stimulus, and deficits are a real long term problem as you say. Problem is, there are no miracle cures. Stimulus is the best short term remedy to insufficient demand and unemployment and our ability to do stimulus is constrained by the political and fiscal situation. That was the case from day one of Obamas presidency; he had his work cut out for him and we all knew it.

  • samsa on August 14, 2011 4:09 PM:

    So late in the game and they are still pondering?

    Smacks of gross incompetence to me.

    Any competent White House team would have been fighting for a muscular jobs bill since early 2011. Even though nobody introduces a new marketing campaign in summer (a la' Andre Card re. the Iraq war), if they really had deep concerns about the continuing misery of the unemployed (and they should), they would have introduced something now, the customs and traditions of marketing strategies notwithstanding.

  • Kane on August 14, 2011 4:13 PM:

    Swing for the fences for the reasons that are highlighted, but also because if Republicans do decide to work on a jobs deal, there's room to compromise without signing on entirely to a Republican plan.

  • Anonymous on August 14, 2011 4:24 PM:

    Steve T wrote:
    "And he can swing for the fences with things like proposing a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and proposing a voluntary option for people to buy into Medicare (and pointing out the subsequent reduction in the deficit that would result). The advantage of swinging for the fences with things that are popular with all voters would be to change the debate and offer a clear contrast with the Republicans."

    These are big ideas worth swinging for.

    Whatever he ends up proposing is what he's going to have to defend in the campaign. His proposals will be his platform. These ideas give progressives issues to rally behind all up and down the ticket, from state legislatures all the way up to the presidency.

  • ElegantFowl on August 14, 2011 4:26 PM:

    The choice is obvious: do both. It's a stunning indictment of Obama political team that we have to say it.

  • sinz54 on August 14, 2011 5:14 PM:

    Mr. Benen,
    you just don't get it.

    It's way too late for Obama to "pick any fights." Nobody's listening to him anymore, except loyal Dems and his true believers.

    Obama's approval rating has now sunk to 39% in the latest Gallup poll. He's like Carter in 1980 or Gorbachev in 1991--lame duck material. The time is long past when Obama could sway anybody with soaring rhetoric and inspirational speeches.

    If Obama picked a fight with the GOP now, the purpose of that move would be pathetically obvious. Nobody would believe that Obama really intends to fight for anything, not given his past track record of caving in.

    Obama's only hope of winning re-election is to try to paint his Republican challenger (no matter who it is) as a dangerous extremist/racist/moron/etc. What else has he got left.

  • gaardvark on August 14, 2011 5:15 PM:

    I am so sick of this type of thinking. At one reason the public is against new stimulus is because the president allowed them to make stimulus a dirty word. Go tell us why that thinking is wrong. You can start with the NYT article that Steve pointed to a couple days ago where several Republican economist said we need more stimulus.

    Once upon a time Obama said a president would have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. I don't see why he can't be fiercely be beating up the Republicans rhetorically for they're stupid ideas while working in the background to get what he can passed. But he needs to show the public that a) he'd do if differently if not for the Republican house and b) that it's the Republican house that stopping him from improving the economy.

    We on the left were angry with Obama when he said he wanted to be a president like Reagan. Later he clarified he meant a trans formative leader. Then take a lesson from Reagan and harangue the right for obstructing anything that would actually improve the economy while having a drink with John Boehner.

  • bdop4 on August 14, 2011 5:32 PM:

    Wow, this is depressing.

    The ideas offered by both sides of this "internal debate" are complete losers.

    If "tax incentives for businesses that hire more workers" is their idea of bold economic proposals, we're in deep trouble. Without the prospect for increased demand, no business in their right mind is going to hire more workers in order to receive a TAX INCENTIVE. Their might be a limited PR angle to it, but it's a loser on any meaningful level.

    Free trade agreements are more likely to hurt than help the economy and patent protections would be OK as a micro component of a real bold jobs plan, but as standalone solution is a bad joke.

    We need direct spending on jobs through major overhauls of our physical, labor and energy infrastructure, while providing incentives to businesses that create new technologies/industries with global demand. Such an effort needs to be framed as an INVESTMENT in our country and yes, it will mean short-term deficit spending regardless of whatever tax increases or revenue measures are eventually passed.

    And yes, we also need to cut wasteful programs (wars, corporate welfare, etc.), but every dollar saved needs to be directed towards this effort and not reducing long-term debt.

    ATM, I don't see any of this happening in the next four years.

  • sunnyroberto on August 14, 2011 5:40 PM:

    Hard to run against a do-nothing Congress when your own party has controlled the Senate for your entire term.

    Unfortunately for the administration, the first stimulus was roundly considered an abysmal failure by the majority of the public, and a second one would just remind all about how bad the first one was.

  • bdop4 on August 14, 2011 5:42 PM:

    "Why go big now when no one will remember it by the new year? Why not wait until closer to the election when such a bold proposal is fresh in people's minds? the election is more than a year away." - Alli

    Yeah, that's the ticket. Wait until the election so people will see that and think, "just another campaign promise to be broken in 2013."


    Like others have said, conservatards aren't going to let anything pass this year. Might as well make it count and propose something that will actually SOLVE THE PROBLEM.

  • Garrett on August 14, 2011 5:48 PM:


    If it weren't for those pesky voters we Progressives could rule the land with our great benevolence.

    Damn Democracy keeps getting in the way.

  • bdop4 on August 14, 2011 5:49 PM:

    Hey sunnyroberto,

    Since you're obviously such a fucking genius, answer this question for me: When Obama took office, the economy was shedding over 750,000 jobs A MONTH. How would you have stopped the bleeding?

    If you can't provide a coherent answer, you're just another stupid clueless moron talking about how "abysmal" the stimulus was. The only problem with the stimulus is that it included too many stupid conservative ideas like tax cuts.

    If we had been stupid enough to elect McCain/Palin, we would have been losing 1.5 million jobs a month in February of 2009.

  • mobi on August 14, 2011 5:52 PM:

    For the first two years, the Democrat party controlled the entire federal government. Now, the Republicans control 1/2 of 1/3 of the federal government. And somehow all the nation's problems are the Republican's fault?

  • edb on August 14, 2011 5:55 PM:

    Steve - you are so right - swing for the fences - go big and compromise from there. This seems like a foreign concept for President Obama. Someone should tell him it is called "politics" - seems new to him.

    There's a chance he'll learn, I guess, but I am not counting on it.

  • alan on August 14, 2011 5:57 PM:

    Where's all this hope and change? Where's all of the working together to make America better? Everyone's focused on attacking Republicans and the "rich". And then you wonder why there are no jobs. Have you bothered to go to business owners and learn why there are no jobs? Try millions of laws and regulations with the states and the IRS attacking small business owners. Ask who would give up their job with health care benefits to launch a business? Look at the Democrats not even able to create a budget because they want to win the next election based on fear and hatred. Without a budget, thousands of people and trillions of dollars are frozen, waiting to see what happens next. But you can look forward to fifteen, maybe even sixty-three more months of the same. I am just trying to get out of business.

  • samsa on August 14, 2011 5:58 PM:


    It has always been thus since the eighties. When Dems are in power they are helpless. When they not, they are, duh, powerless.

    A bunch of shiftless eunuchs.

  • dick on August 14, 2011 5:58 PM:

    What does the white house need to do to actually help the country. Shouldn't that fall somewhere on the things to do list?

  • smike on August 14, 2011 6:01 PM:

    By admitting the administration is cowed by recalcitrant republicans, the president sets himself up as a loser and a coward, afraid to act like a leader because of the mean opposition - just what the opposition wants. The opposition will later declare that they were not on board with the extreme right, but if the president himself was afraid to lead, then what chance had they?

  • gordo on August 14, 2011 6:02 PM:

    What a ridiculous piece. I wish Obama would swing for the fences; that would seal his defeat in 2012. The only idea the progressives and Obama want to push is a second stimulus. In whatever parallel universe they float around in, a second stimulus is a great idea (Krugman seems to reside there as well). Voters know better now. The Obama progressives obviously don't. Batter up.

  • bdop4 on August 14, 2011 6:04 PM:

    @ Mobi - Yes, if you control the House with enough ignorant teatards, you can stop the legislative process and do absolutely nothing. Which is exactly what the House under Boehner has done. NOTHING.

    You should go over to the nearest elementary school and take a civics class with the other 5th-graders. They could teach you a thing or two.

  • samsa on August 14, 2011 6:09 PM:


    You call that nothing? They have achieved their main objective: to stop the Obama Presidency in its tracks.

    The sad thing is that Obama handed them the devices with which to apply the brakes.

    Obama apologia is going to be the next big industry after he loses to some idiotic batshit crazy teabagger.

  • Jeff on August 14, 2011 6:09 PM:

    Let's suppose he does something bold, knowing that it will fail due to the lineup in the House and Senate. Could one of the side effects of losing be a diminution of the little power left in the White House? Secondly, what happens if President Obama offers a bold, progressive agenda to contrast himself with Tea Party austerity, and the electorate opts for austerity?

    Let's not send saber-armed cavalry against machine guns simply to satisfy a minute part of the left-wing caucus.

  • bdop4 on August 14, 2011 6:10 PM:

    Wow, Grover Norquist must have sent an APB to all the teatards, ordering them to post on this thread.

    @ Gordo - what's the conservative solution to the economy?

    How does cutting spending increase demand and create jobs?

    How would eliminating taxes and regulations create jobs without consumer demand?

    How deep is your head buried up your ass?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    [Sorry, everyone, but when the Real, Clear ideologues show up, it's time to turn off the comments and unpublish the section of the thread they have befouled. -- Mods]

  • bdop4 on August 14, 2011 6:18 PM:

    Wow, Jeff, given your scenario, the only logical strategy is complete capitulation, as opposed to the current strategy of 85% capitulation.

    Clearly, the conservative movement is too big, too monolithic to oppose.

    Better we crawl into a fetal position and start sucking our thumbs. At least we'de feel more secure in our own minds.

    . . . or maybe, we should start offering voters a real choice. Nah, that's too much work and people would start being mean and calling us names.

  • bdop4 on August 14, 2011 6:20 PM:

    @ Samsa,

    Good point. What I should have said is "nothing CONSTRUCTIVE."

    But you're definitely right, they've accomplished a lot when it comes to ruining our nation's good faith and credit.