Sunday, August 14, 2011

Where the White House goes next

I recommend "White House Debates Fight On Economy" from the front page of Sunday's NYT. It's hard to know what to believe about what's actually going on in the White House, so I think it should all be taken with a grain of salt. But it's interesting and scary.

Binyamin Appelbaum and Helene Cooper describe competing factions in the White House, with the political team (favoring small economic measures) probably set to win, and report that:
Administration officials, frustrated by the intransigence of House Republicans, have increasingly concluded that 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.
Republicans contend that the Obama administration has mismanaged the nation’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. Mr. Obama’s political advisers are struggling to define a response, aware that their prospects may rest on persuading voters that the results of the first term matter less than the contrast between their vision for the next four years and the alternative economic ideas offered by Republicans.
This "Just wait, we'll do better in 2013" doesn't sound like a winning political message to me. Obviously this will suffice for some life-long Democrats. But to a campaign so obsessed with winning "independents" this seems a rather stunningly bad message. They're not saying this message publicly yet, but someone's letting it out to a reporter here. If they actually take the next step and say it publicly, the Republican candidates will go after it fiercely.

Are unemployed people going to vote for a candidates who says "just wait a year and then we'll get on this economy thing" or the candidates who says "I'm running against the guy who told you to just wait a year"?

The articles goes on:
Mr. Obama and his aides are skeptical that voters will reward bold proposals if those ideas do not pass Congress. It is their judgment that moderate voters want tangible results rather than speeches.
I think there's some truth to this. But if this were fully true -- that having votes on things you aren't going to win isn't politically worth it -- you wouldn't see Republicans doing this all the time over the last many years. They know what they're doing.

And of course in the bigger picture, once you've publicly said "we're not actually going to win this vote" then you've lost much of the purpose to it. It would be one thing if this administration had tried to push Republicans into hard votes -- if it had actually tried what should have been one of the top strategies. But it didn't. And remember, a significant number of House Republicans are actually in moderate districts with close contests likely for 2012. The White House shouldn't try to negotiate with them; instead it should design bills that would create jobs and be politically difficult for these members to vote against. And then take the next step of working their districts.


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