Paths Out of the Blind Alley of an Economic Referendum
Now that we’ve all had a few days to absorb Friday’s dismal jobs report—the second in a row—it is indeed time to consider what the Obama campaign can do to counter what conservative gabbers are calling a confirmation of Romney’s indictment of the president’s economic stewardship, other than just hoping for better numbers in the months just ahead.
Paul Krugman, unsurprisingly, views the quandry as in no small part of the president’s own making:
[T]he Republican electoral strategy is, in effect, a gigantic con game: it depends on convincing voters that the bad economy is the result of big-spending policies that President Obama hasn’t followed (in large part because the G.O.P. wouldn’t let him), and that our woes can be cured by pursuing more of the same policies that have already failed.
For some reason, however, neither the press nor Mr. Obama’s political team has done a very good job of exposing the con….
[T]he Obama team has consistently failed to highlight Republican obstruction, perhaps out of a fear of seeming weak. Instead, the president’s advisers keep turning to happy talk, seizing on a few months’ good economic news as proof that their policies are working — and then ending up looking foolish when the numbers turn down again. Remarkably, they’ve made this mistake three times in a row: in 2010, 2011 and now once again.
So Krugman thinks it’s time for a big pivot by Team Obama to pin the current economy on the GOP, instead of taking credit or blame for whatever happens to the numbers between now and November:
They can point with pride to some big economic achievements, above all the successful rescue of the auto industry, which is responsible for a large part of whatever job growth we are managing to get. But they’re not going to be able to sell a narrative of overall economic success. Their best bet, surely, is to do a Harry Truman, to run against the “do-nothing” Republican Congress that has, in reality, blocked proposals — for tax cuts as well as more spending — that would have made 2012 a much better year than it’s turning out to be.
Perhaps another bad jobs report or two will make Krugman’s advice impossible to ignore. But I dunno: the politial scientists tell us that many swing voters—particularly those low-information indies who often compose a sizable percentage of the undecided—blindly attribute current economic conditions to the party of the president regardless of facts, logic or any contrary messaging. Voters have been willing, persistently if not overwhelmingly, to remember that George W. Bush left Obama a big mess. But it’s a more complicated “sell” to slog through the obscure maneuverings over fiscal and economic policy during the last three years and convince people that this is, as Krugman puts it, a “Republican economy.”
Personally, I’d go Krugman one better, and suggest that a “pivot” to a different message on macroeconomics is too limited an approach if Obama is to escape the potential trap of weak economic numbers. A President Romney with a Republican Congress is dangerous for reasons that go beyond jobs or GDP numbers. The Ryan Budget, which along with the repeal of ObamaCare (which it assumes) would be Job One for a GOP government in 2013, constitutes a virtual social revolution, whose implications would go far beyond its impact on any economic recovery, bad as that might be. Americans have shown no support for the deconstruction of the New Deal and the Great Society that Republicans are promising each other and their “base” every day, if not always in front of the cameras. Even more obviously, a Republican victory in November would not represent any mandate for a rollback of reproductive rights and non-discrimination efforts. But that’s exactly what the GOP would undertake, as even a cursory glance at the preoccupations of Republicans during the primary season shows.
Yes, Obama should make it clear he’s been dealing with a “do-nothing Congress” when it comes to effort to strengthen the economy and cushion the impact of hard times on Americans in need. But let’s don’t forget the reality of 2013 is a “do-damage Congress” that would seize on poor economic conditions to set the country on a disastrous course in a wide array of policy areas—just as the conservative movement has dreamed of doing every since Barry Goldwater went down to defeat in 1964.