How Obama Can Pummel the GOP With His Jobs Plan
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The biggest secret that’s not actually a secret in American politics is that President Obama realizes his $447 billion jobs bill will never be enacted — and that, as a result, the economy will not benefit from the increased growth and expanded payrolls that economists agree it would produce in advance of the 2012 election. But he’s pushing for it anyway, with unusual adamance and persistence, traveling the country to plead his case for an up/down vote in Congress and directly calling out GOP House leaders for refusing to give him one.
In the movie version, Obama’s push would rally the masses, force the GOP to deal in good faith, and spur the enactment of a Big Plan that jolts the economy to life and restores the public’s faith in Washington. The real-life reality, though, is that Republicans simply aren’t going to back away from their absolute opposition to new stimulus spending in any meaningful way. At most, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor indicated earlier this week, they may be willing to pass only a few of the most modest components of Obama’s plan. There’s just no reason for them to change course, not with Obama’s approval rating now barely over 40 percent — and not with the relationship between a president’s reelection prospects and the state of the economy so well-established.
This is why, as I wrote when he unveiled it a month ago, Obama’s jobs plan is really more of a reelection plan, one that stems from the White House’s realization after the debt ceiling fight that playing the Great Compromiser would not lead to actual compromises with Republicans and would not save Obama with swing voters in 2012 as long as the economy remained rotten. Since then, Obama has shifted his posture noticeably, with an eye toward sharply delineating the basic philosophical differences between him and his Republican opponents. The hope is to capitalize on the one good thing for Obama that came out of the debt ceiling saga — polls showing the image of the Republican Party slipping to its lowest level in the modern era — by convincing Americans that radical Republican obstructionism is keeping him from enacting ideas they like.
The jobs crusade is a big part of this. In theory, it should be simple: The individual components of the plan are all popular when pollsters ask about them (even among Republicans). But, of course, it’s not that easy — public opinion can be maddening to interpret, with voters frequently expressing contradictory views. Saying they support specific ideas in Obama’s jobs plan doesn’t necessarily mean they will support Barack Obama’s Jobs Plan. And even if they do say they support Obama’s plan, it doesn’t mean they’ll alter their overall judgment on his performance as president and his handling of the economy.
Thus do polls continue to show Obama in perilous territory: A new CBS surveyhas his job approval at 44 percent, while ABC pegs it at 42. When it comes to moving public opinion in a significant way, a miserable economy imposes profound constraints on a president. It’s tough to get around the public’s bottom-line desire to hold the White House occupant accountable for their anxiety.
But this doesn’t mean Obama’s strategy is foolish. It just means that if he’s going to break through to the public in this climate, it will be around the margins; there’s really nothing he can say or propose that will lift his job approval to 60 percent. But the 2012 election will probably be won or lost on the margins, with a swing of a point or two in either direction potentially making the difference. Obama right now is in real danger of being defeated for reelection, but he’s also capable of winning a second term. That’s the promise of the jobs push. Obama is making it clear that he’s going to make this his priority for the foreseeable future.