The Campaign Spot

‘There is no secret, brilliant strategy. This White House is in a bubble.’

It is not often that Cenk Uygur, formerly of MSNBC, and I concur in our assessments, but he’s now no longer a believer in the theory among some liberals that Obama is quietly playing the long game and is thinking two steps ahead of their opponents: “There is no secret, brilliant strategy. This White House is in a bubble. They think they’re winning when the roof is about to cave in.”

Uygur believes that Obama’s mistake was agreeing to move the speech; I’d argue that the defeat really began with the speech-timing brinksmanship itself.

Suppose Obama had successfully forced the Republicans to reschedule their debate to another date or time. Then what?

Sure, Obama would have had the spotlight all to himself on Wednesday, September 6. But it’s not like the GOP debate wouldn’t have gotten its share of attention on the new date, and the value of the speech spotlight depends entirely on whether Obama persuades the country that he really has a worthwhile agenda that could bring unemployment down from 9.1 percent, some grab-bag of innovative proposals that will succeed in ways that the stimulus didn’t, in the way that Obama’s housing policies haven’t, etc.

We’ll see what Obama offers on Thursday night, but many of us feel like we’ve heard it all before: “I inherited this,” “prevented another Great Depression,” “saved or created,” “green jobs,” “repair our crumbling roads and bridges,” “winning the future,” “we can’t afford not to invest in” blah, blah, blah. Never mind that just weeks ago, Obama was promising a “very specific plan.”

It appears that the Obama team more or less believes that they have no chance of passing a jobs plan through a GOP House, anyway. From Mike Allen’s morning newsletter:

TIME’s MICHAEL SCHERER, in the forthcoming issue — ‘Can He Step Up His Game? Obama’s next move: if he can’t fix the economy, make sure the Republicans get the blame’: ‘In June, . . . White House chief of staff Bill Daley arranged a secret retreat for his senior team at Fort McNair . . . Historian Michael Beschloss went along as a guest speaker to help answer the one question on everyone’s mind: How does a U.S. President win re-election with the country suffering unacceptably high rates of unemployment? The historian’s lecture provided a lift for Barack Obama’s team. No iron law in politics is ever 100% accurate, Beschloss told the group. Two Presidents in the past century — Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 — won re-­election amid substantial economic suffering. Both used the same two-part strategy: FDR and Reagan argued that the country, though in pain, was improving and that their opponents, anchored in past failures, would make things worse. . . . The President’s aides, all but resigned to unemployment above 8% on Election Day, now see in Roosevelt and Reagan a plausible path to victory. They intend to make sure voters believe a year from now that their fortunes are improving, and they plan to persuade the American people that a Republican in the White House would be a step backward. . . . Obama will try to divert the public’s frustration with Washington toward his main enemy, the GOP.’

Yet the next item indicates the problem with this spin; Obama’s team is arguing that opposition from Republicans is preventing passage of ideas that are supported by both Republicans and Democrats. What?

JAY CARNEY, on “Morning Joe,” re President Obama’s jobs address to joint session of Congress next Thursday: “He will make the case to the American people . . . that politics is broken, and that politics is getting in the way of the very necessary things we need to do. Now he hopes . . . that members of Congress will come back from their recess with a new sense of urgency . . . There’s nothing that’s preventing us from doing these things — both to grow the economy and to create jobs, AND to get our fiscal house in order — except politics. In both cases, as you will see next week, there are broadly supported, bipartisan options here that would SOLVE THE PROBLEM.”

Really? There’s no collection of ideas that Obama and House Republicans could agree on to stimulate job creation? No trade deals? No regulations that could be eliminated? No tax-code reforms?


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