Jackie Calmes in the New York Times today, in analysis pretending to be a news report, actually does seem to be telling a truth about what lies behind President Obama’s words at his press conference yesterday. I know Bob Somerby, one of my original Internet heroes, would be annoyed by any presumption to know what’s in the mind of a politician beyond what’s in his words, but I’ll explain what I mean after the quote after the jump.
Calmes said of Obama:
He said that he was willing to take the heat from his own party to move beyond entrenched ideological positions and that Republicans should do the same. And he continued to insist on “the biggest deal possible,” saying that now is the best opportunity for the nation to address its long-term fiscal challenges.
Republicans dismissed his performance as political theater. But Mr. Obama’s remarks appeared to be aimed at independent voters as well as at Congressional leaders, and stood in contrast to the Republican focus on the party’s conservative base, both in the budget showdown and in presidential politics.
Mr. Obama’s remarks were among the clearest expressions yet of a repositioning effort that has been under way since the midterm elections last November, when Republicans captured the House and made inroads in the Senate.
Seeking to shed the image of big-government liberal that Republicans used effectively against him last year, he has made or offered policy compromises on an array of issues and cast himself in the role of the adult referee for both parties’ gamesmanship, or the parent of stubborn children.
Ordinarily I would have rolled my eyes right along with Somerby over Calmes’ remarks on Obama’s remarks. Like Somerby, my radar goes off when I sense a reporter’s rehashing of a campaign story line as though the world works like a Hollywood movie script. Was Obama seeking to shed the image of a big-government liberal that Republicans used effectively against him last year during the news conference? Bob Somerby has no idea. I, on the other hand, have a little inside information to confirm that Obama’s political team is, in fact, obsessed with “the independent voter,” a positioning that was the source of some frustration for my source.
Indeed, I can see no better explanation for the president’s words yesterday. Calmes reports:
“’I think the American people want to see something done,” Mr. Obama said, echoing the stance of many independent and moderate voters reflected in polls and focus groups. “They feel a sense of urgency, both about the breakdown in our political process and also about the situation in our economy.”
Full disclosure: I am not an independent of the sort the president is allegedly interested in. I’m a left-wing Democrat who is deeply disaffected by the behavior of the party’s elected standard bearers, including, especially, that of Obama. So perhaps my priorities are not the same as those moderates who allegedly voted Obama into office in 2008 and whom his politicos are targeting again for 2012. Personally, I think it’s a huge mistake at this moment in history to let moderate American voters in focus groups determine US economic policy. Not just a political mistake, which is bad enough, but a huge economic mistake, if the purpose of economic policy is to create shared prosperity. I do hope that Obama’s fumbling around with the next-to-irrelevant deficit problem is explicable by this misplaced priority, because then, at least, there would be a symptom that could be treated by a shift to a more relevant priority, i.e., taking action to stop the slide back toward economic catastrophe.
Ironically, this seems to be exactly what the focus groups are saying, if Calmes is right that they reflect Obama’s words. “The American people want to see something done…They feel a sense of urgency…” Well, yes, many of us do. But do we want a deficit fix? Now of all times?
In March, Gallup reported on just this question of how Americans breakdown by political affiliation on their top concerns:
If you look at just these numbers, you might agree that independents are much closer to Republicans on the deficit. But notice that the number 3 concern for Republicans (Size/Power of gov’t) was not a top issue for more than half of independents. In fact, only 48% of all respondents said the size and power of government was a top concern for them. Imagine the upward pull on that number from the Republicans in the poll! Notice also that taxes didn’t even make the Republicans’ top issues. Unemployment, on the other hand, was a concern for each of these groups.
So what makes the president think now is the time to tackle the budgetary issues? Now? In the middle of a jobs crisis? Now when weak demand is dragging the economy down? Now we have to get anal about the budget?
What if the government spent less energy on this futile problem, made all the more futile by Republican pig-headedness and fealty to the false idol of supply-side utopianism, and invested its energy into boosting demand? Would unemployed Republicans have a leg to stand on if the job market opens up as economics 101 strongly indicates demand-side measures would stimulate it to do?
People want to work, regardless of party affiliation. They want money in their pockets and bank accounts. And if they are able to have all of these things–bread and butter, stupid, not just peas–they will return demand-side politicians to office in 2012.
What are we waiting for, Mr. President?