I sometimes say things out loud that seem so obvious that I don’t bother flagging the idea to develop further. Usually, I forget what I was even talking about. That is, until I invariably bump into a news item or column that effectively summarizes my half-formed idea.
Such is life.
One of my recent epiphanies was that Obama’s sudden turn from bewildered compromiser to lionhearted populist has nothing to do with governance and everything to do with campaign positioning. Duh, right?
I mentioned to my wife that the president is on dangerous ground here. If the public gets the sense that he’s playing opportunistic with the electorate to win an election, they will turn on him in droves. This man got elected by promoting the notion that he was not your typical cynical politician. Whether he is or is not is not worth getting into. In politics, perception decides outcomes. And now that reporters are talking about it, perception could calcify.
Take Obama’s proposed “jobs bill,” for instance. There are many good things in it, but it has very little chance of passing in a divided Congress. In terms of how the public views all this, well, the less they know about how the sausage gets made, the better it is for the president. At least that’s what we learned from the health care reform negotiations. But can he convince voters that his plan has a snowball’s chance in hell of being approved without calling attention to process?
The right is already working overtime to paint the president’s proposal as “Stimulus, Part II.” There is some truth to the claim: Obama’s plan brings back aspects of his $800 billion 2009 package, as well as last year’s Social Security payroll tax reduction. Where it differs is how it’s paid for — the jobs bill would be covered by a 5.6 percent tax on income exceeding 1 million dollars.
Unlike deficit-financed stimulus, the jobs initiative gets its funding from a 5.6 percent tax on income over one million dollars. Moody’s Analytics predicts the package would add 1.9 million jobs and produce two percentage points of growth for the overall economy. It’s not a lot, but what are the alternatives?
News flash: the president is running against Congress. That’s not the best strategy in the world, even with legislative approval rating in the low teens. Which is why he also needs to present something affirmative, hence the jobs bill. The rhetoric has been upped, and the stumping has begun in earnest. But in order for the gambit to succeed, Obama has to hope the voters don’t start paying attention to how this bill is handled on the Hill. In “normal” times, this might not be a problem. But with so many Americans out of work, every last piece of economic policy faces tremendous scrutiny. It’s important to keep in mind that the public can get angry at Congress for not passing the bill, and still blame Obama for introducing a proposal that he knows will never gain a critical mass of support in both the House and the Senate. (How are Congressional dems responding? By breaking the bill into potentially passable pieces.)
Again, I get the strategy, but I don’t like the fact that there is no backup plan. Actually, that’s not entirely true: Obama can still try to stoke some stimulus through the various federal agencies. But that only plays into the Tea Party narrative of top-down, back-handed intervention. So it’s surely not the preferred approach.
Essentially, the administration’s entire hopes for reelection depend on two things: one, whether the electorate is paying attention to legislative skullduggery and two, a weak opponent for the Oval Office.
The latest polling doesn’t look great where the latter is concerned. A new Quinnipiac poll has Romney beating Obama in a general election 46 to 42 percent.
Better hope you can sell that unpassable bill, Mr. President.